House of Commons Hansard #14 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was post.

Topics

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:30 p.m.

NDP

Peggy Nash Parkdale—High Park, ON

Mr. Speaker, could the hon. member comment on how the proposed legislation would harm not only those hard-working Canadians who have union representation but also those who do not have union representation and are really struggling with a lot of part-time jobs and poor working conditions in Canada today?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:30 p.m.

NDP

Malcolm Allen Welland, ON

Mr. Speaker, I welcome the hon. member for Parkdale—High Park back to this House. It was a great thrill to see her come back to this Parliament. I know she was here in the 39th Parliament, then skipped the 40th because she had other things she needed to do and then came back to see us again in the 41st.

The member is absolutely right. When we talk to other workers who are non-unionized in communities around the country, they want the unionized workers to get as much as they can when they bargain because the higher their wages the more competitive it is in a wage-structure sense for those who are unorganized. In other words, employers out there who have non-unionized places will need to compete with the unionized places for labour, which actually pulls up wages for non-unionized workers.

When it runs the opposite way and unionized workers are suppressed. put down and lose benefits and wages, the non-unionized workforce heads in the same direction, the only backstop being minimum wage. Once employees are at minimum wage, it is the law and they are not allowed to be suppressed below that. Some employers take advantage of that in different ways by making folks contractors and doing other things, but that is a debate of another kind.

Clearly, this is a fight not just for the unionized members of the postal service but for all workers across this country who are actually trying to get ahead when it comes to labour relations aspects.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 2011 / 12:30 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will first thank all the Speakers who have been doing their rotation in the chair. I think we are all aware, as there are only four Speakers who occupy the chair, that their time off from the chair is much less than those of us who are on different and various shifts. We very much appreciate the current Speaker and all the Speakers who have been involved in this debate. Although it has sometimes been a little bit hot in the House, I think, overall, there has been very good order and the Speakers have really assisted.

I also thank all of the other House of Commons workers, whether it is the clerks or the security. There are so many people involved who keep this place going so that we can actually be here to debate. I think all of us very much appreciate the long hours people are keeping so that this debate can happen and so that democracy is alive and well in the House of Commons. I do think, regardless of our political perspectives, we all agree on that point.

As we approach 39 or 40 hours, I do not know as it is still Thursday in the House, I want to make a point. The point, which was made in the debate but maybe not well enough, is that this so-called filibuster was created by the Conservative motion that allowed us to do this. That is the reality. I hear the hon. members saying “oh, no”. Maybe they are having second thoughts now about what they said in motion. The motion that they created for the debate on this bill has in effect allowed for ongoing debate because there is not a time closure and that point has been made. Maybe they thought members of the NDP would somehow just give up after a couple of hours and pack it in and that would be the end of it. I think the Conservatives are beginning to see that they have a very strong, tough and principled official opposition in the 41st Parliament. We are here to stand up for the rights of the people and we will do that job. Maybe there is a little bit of surprise over on the other side that this debate is now in its 39th hour. However, it was the government that created that optic and space to do that and we are certainly using the opportunity we have to speak loud and clear about why this back to work legislation is so offensive, not only to the members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, but also to all workers and Canadians generally.

After listening to the debate now for many hours, I heard two themes, at least from this side of the House. One of those themes is the need to respect and uphold fair collective bargaining versus the proposition that we have before us which is a lockout and back to work legislation.

This issue of upholding a regime, a history, a reasonable environment of collective bargaining is very important in this country. Member after member on both sides have talked about the economy, small business and our local communities, and surely part of a stable economic environment is having healthy labour relations where two parties can sit down and negotiate. That the sensible way to do things. We have had many examples put forward in the House where, in other jurisdictions and in other countries, there is an emphasis and importance around collective bargaining that the stability is there. We have had examples where workers have representation on the board, where they are part of the governance structure.

It has been a very interesting debate from that point of view to examine the things that work and the things that do not work. The sorry state that we are in right now, where we are facing back to work legislation, is an example of the direction that we do not want to take in this country. Many of us have been raising questions as to what it will lead to. What are the implications of this legislation, not only for the employees at Canada Post but other workers in this country. I think that is a very important element of this debate.

The second theme that has emerged is the overall impact on Canadian society because of what Canada Post has done and what this back to work legislation would do.

Many of us have been raising important issues about the growing inequality in our society. In fact, some amazing information has come forward. For example, three decades ago the gap between an average worker's salary and a CEO's salary was maybe 85 times higher. Now it is up to over 250 times higher. The income gap is growing, whether it is due to the erosion of pensions, or downward pressure on wages, or wage restraint.

Again, those of us who are standing and fighting against the legislation can see what is taking place under the Conservative regime and we are deeply concerned about it. It not just for the members of CUPW, but for all working people and what this would mean in the future.

A very important Canadian value is that sense of equality and equal opportunity. It is the sense that if people go into a work environment, they will not get less wages because they come at a later date or they happen to be younger. We faced that in British Columbia when we had a two-wage minimum wage. People were outraged. Eventually the provincial government had to get rid of it because it was such a bad fiscal, social and economic policy.

These are some examples of terrible directions that have been taken. Some of that discussion has come out in this debate over the last 39 hours.

I want to draw attention to other situations that are taking place because we are discussing and debating federal labour relations.

I draw the attention of the members to another lockout that happened a couple of days ago. About 130 attendants who work for the Rocky Mountaineer Rail Tours were locked out. They are members of Teamsters Local 31 in British Columbia. This is a very popular rail company because of what it provides for tourists and residents who go from Vancouver into Banff. A couple of days ago it locked out .

Adele and her co-workers came by my office to make us aware of what had gone on. I want to let them know that we support them in their struggle and we know what they face. As members of the NDP, we want to show our support and will do everything we can to ensure that their employer does not mirror what Canada Post and the government are doing.

When the member for Toronto—Danforth, the leader of the NDP, began this debate on Thursday night, he spoke about the implications and consequences of the legislation. He expressed his concern about what it would mean in other collective bargaining. We already see that another employer, under federal jurisdiction, has now locked out its employees and not allowed collective bargaining process to take place. We have to be very concerned about this.

I remember the huge campaign that took place on Parliament Hill to bring in anti-scab legislation. We almost got it through. I also remember going to the Ekati Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories north of Yellowknife to visit workers who were on the picket line and faced strike breakers. A lot of areas of federal law and labour relations need to be addressed.

What is happening with the postal workers and the back to work legislation serves to remind us that we need anti-scab legislation. We need to reinforce and uphold free collective bargaining, and this debate is about that.

I am very proud of our members who have participated in this debate. I only wish the Conservatives would. They will ask a few questions and have some comments, but we have been unable to question them. We can only guess what their answer or position might be. It is a great shame that they have not participated in this debate.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:40 p.m.

Conservative

John Williamson New Brunswick Southwest, NB

Mr. Speaker, I have a couple of questions. I have listened to the debate on and off, around the clock, as most members, and trying to get some sleep. The debate seems to be stuck on two different views. On the issue of fairness, I am curious to know the thoughts of members on other side of the House. There was an allusion made to hypothetical workers, ones who come in one day and ones who come in the next day.

The first question I would like answered is this. Would it be better, for example, to simply roll back wages or benefits to all workers in that scenario as opposed to having two different wages? If that is the case, it opens up all kinds of possibilities. I suspect the answer is no, but I would like to hear that from the other side.

If the answer is no, then let us get out of this stale debate and into the world of numbers. Canada Post has had a declining circulation rate of 17% in letter mail volume since 2006. It has a $3.2 billion pension liability. Canada Post members receive, on average at the top year, seven weeks of vacation. Their wages are 17% higher than they are in equivalent jobs in the private sector.

If the solution is higher wages for all, or equal benefits at the high end for all, how on earth does the opposition suggest we pay for this? I do not think it is up to taxpayers across the country to pay for these lavish benefits.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, on the issue of wage control or wage constraint, I am sure the member and other Conservatives would probably love to see that across the board. However, would they take the same position when it comes to wage restraint for the 20 vice presidents, the president, the CEO and the chairman of Canada Post who make hundreds of thousands of dollars, or the bank presidents? There is a question of basic equity and fairness. This is why we have collective bargaining.

The question begs the answer. That is why it exists, to have that discussion between the two parties as to what is a fair and reasonable compensation. This bill strikes that down. The bill nullifies that process and imposes a wage restraint that is lower than what the employer originally offered.

How could the member possibly support that?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:45 p.m.

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my question is a follow-up to the question from the previous member.

As a young person, my generation is entering the workforce. Along those lines, would it be fair for younger workers to be discriminated against?

Also, we know that Canada Post Corporation has recently attempted to implement employment equity, which means it is trying to recruit more persons of visible minorities, women, younger workers, persons with disabilities and aboriginal peoples.

As a result of the government's interference and support of Canada Post Corporation, does this mean these types of workers will enter the workforce and earn a lower wage rate? Would my colleague comment on that?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:45 p.m.

NDP

Libby Davies Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, Canada Post, like all other federally regulated businesses or enterprises, is required to implement employment equity to ensure its workforce reflects Canadian society at large.

We have to remember that Canada Post is a profitable crown corporation. How many times have we said that? It has a revenue of $281 million. It is not losing money. Therefore, the idea that it would have a two-tier wage system and would discriminate between existing and new workers, again, sets an incredibly low bar. This is not about a race to the bottom. This should be about fairness, equity, free collective bargaining and the right of people to have decent wages and a decent standard of living.

I cannot understand why the Conservative members do not understand that or see it as being something that is equitable and reasonable in Canadian society.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:45 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, let us talk about logic because unfortunately I think some of my colleagues on the other side of the House really need that today.

First of all, let me clarify something. Everyone wants mail delivery to resume immediately. That is wonderful; all the parties in the House agree on this point. Canada Post employees are not asking for anything more than to start delivering the mail again. Small businesses that make frequent use of Canada Post services to deliver their bills and merchandise, and all Canadians who are waiting for cheques, letters and probably postcards from their cousins who are travelling abroad also want mail delivery to resume. The mail is an essential service that all citizens rely upon.

How did we get to this point? This is where the logic really starts to unravel. To the delight of my colleagues, I will review the events in the month of June that led to the lockout.

On June 2, at 11:59 p.m., Canada Post employees began rotating strikes. On June 8, Canada Post cancelled delivery services throughout the country on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On June 10, the union proposed suspending the strike to continue negotiations and reverting to the previous collective agreement. That same day, Canada Post refused and rejected the union's offer. Four days later, Canada Post declared a national lockout. It is management that has been keeping people from getting their mail since June 14. It is management's fault that the postal service has shut down completely.

I would like to remind the members on the other side of the House and the new CPAC junkies who are currently watching the debate that Canada Post is a crown corporation. The government has the authority to act and it must do so. The government is calling for an immediate return to work with this bill that will impose a labour contract on the workers. This seems a bit inconsistent for a party that favours non-interference.

The Conservative Party need only do one thing if it wants the employees to return to work. It simply needs to do its job and request that the doors be unlocked immediately so that the employees can return to work. It is as simple as that.

It is a fundamental right for employees to be able to negotiate their collective agreement with their employer. The government wants to pass a labour contract that, as my colleague for Gatineau said earlier, the Supreme Court of Canada has deemed illegal. Imposing a labour contract and denying employees the right to negotiate their own collective agreement is completely unjust, especially after these same employees were locked out. Canadians fought too long for a just and fair workplace.

Let us talk about this bill, particularly its lack of logic. Canada Post was proposing a salary increase of 1.9% for the first three years and an increase of 2% for the fourth year. However, this government is proposing an increase of 1.75% for the first year and 1.5% for the second year. That is less than what the employer was offering in its most recent offer. This proposal is totally unacceptable for new employees and we will not accept it. This represents a loss of $875.50 over four years for young families.

Where is the logic in all this? The government wants to lower the salaries of a generation that is already having trouble making ends meet. The government wants to worsen the living conditions of thousands of people simply for partisan purposes and to keep a few friends happy. It is unacceptable to diminish the quality of life of people who are just entering the labour market. It is unacceptable to cause so much disappointment for young people.

In addition, clause 15 of the bill, which imposes these salaries on employees, has already been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, the highest legal authority in Canada.

On top of all that, this same generation will have to work five years longer before they can retire. Employees will have to contribute much more than their predecessors, up to 10% more, to be able to live with dignity. This is completely illogical. They will be doing exactly the same work as the employees who were hired before them but they will have much more precarious working conditions. They will be doing the same work, but will not have the same rights. Equal conditions for equal work.

On May 2, the Prime Minister promised to work for all Canadians. That includes workers. It is the duty of all members of Parliament to defend their rights and to not attempt to impose an unfair contract.

This government has not used common sense in handling this dispute, and it is directly attacking my generation, the generation that is just entering the job market, by violating its fundamental rights.

I find it most disturbing that this government, with its irresponsible policies, is increasingly distancing itself from the people just a few weeks after being elected. Young people, like other citizens, have never been a priority for this government. To this entire generation, or should I say to my generation, which is disappointed in this attempt to reduce its rights, I say that I will always stand up for our shared principles. I will tirelessly defend the gains we have made and that to which we are entitled, namely freedom and justice.

I realize that, with this government, we must travel a road that will be long and hard. We have no choice and history will judge us. In closing, I will quote a poet whom I really like, Quebecker Valérie Forgues:

Caught in the trap, your life and your dreams taken hostage, your hands tied. When you have heard what is left of that voice, some white stones, a few minutes, the silence, this blue ray up above.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:55 p.m.

Cambridge
Ontario

Conservative

Gary Goodyear Minister of State (Science and Technology) (Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario)

Mr. Speaker, I would like to congratulate the member on her speech.

I would like to take a moment to congratulate the workers and management at Cambridge Toyota auto manufacturing in my riding, which just won as the best auto assembly plant in the world. I am very proud of them. Congratulations to them. The plant is non-unionized, by the way.

Folks in my riding have written to me indicating that they would be quite happy to work at Canada Post right now. They would be happy to take a few bucks an hour less, and less benefits. They want the job and would be happy to do the job.

Based on “fundamental rights”, if I could use the member's own words, does that person, male or female, young or old, have the right to work for Canada Post and not join the union? Is that fundamental right not to join respected by the union?

Current postal workers are being denied the right to vote on the offer. Why is that not a fundamental right?

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for that charming question.

Gains were made in the past by people who currently work for Canada Post. What the government is doing is imposing another condition on the new generation of workers entering the job market. So we have two classes of people who are totally equal but who will have different rights and wages. That is the thing that makes no sense. Here, we are going to have equal workers who will make different wages and have to work more for the exact same thing. That is what we have a problem with.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to follow up on the last question.

The Conservatives seem to think it is justifiable to expect people to work for less money. Before the election, I noticed the Conservatives raised the severance pay for all of their high-level officials. They did this at a time when people in this country were facing a $40 billion deficit.

This is a bloated cabinet. It is the second-largest in Canadian history. At a time of recession and restraint, there are more parliamentary secretaries and more cabinet ministers. It is always the height of irony to hear people who make $200,000 a year ask why people cannot take less and work for $18 an hour. It is easy for them to say that.

I also want to point out that when the Conservatives gave billions of dollars of loan guarantees to the banks, they certainly did not put the condition that the executives had to take reduced compensation.

I am wondering if my hon. colleague could comment on that double standard.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:55 p.m.

NDP

Rosane Doré Lefebvre Alfred-Pellan, QC

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the hon. member for his question, which is very relevant might I add.

Yes, we have a problem. When it is convenient in other circumstances, the discussion will be different. But here, our problem really has to do with the rights and freedoms of workers across the country.

We are prepared to work together to make the bill a fairer piece of legislation. I want to ask the hon. members across the way whether their hearts tell them to come together at the table to figure out what can be done.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 12:55 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, it was reported on the news this morning that this debate has been going on in the House of Commons for close to 50 hours, and that this was a record. I would have liked to see us agree on a settlement after going at it for 50 hours. What has happened between Canada Post and CUPW is a complete failure. When parties are unable to sit down and negotiate and when a dispute results in a strike or lockout, I call that a failure.

As parliamentarians, we have decisions to make. I am aware of what is happening in the world today. Wages are being eroded and small and medium-sized businesses are having problems. I am also well aware of what workers are experiencing. They are the ones whose wages are being eroded and who are living in uncertain times, facing the possibility of a two-tiered system. Our job is to come up with a solution. As our slogan so aptly states “Let's work together”. If every person was willing to give a little, then we would be able to find a solution, instead of imposing legislation that comes down hard on people.

Bill C-6 will impact people's everyday life if adopted by the House. The workers are the ones who will feel the effects. As parliamentarians, we must also think about that. We pass legislation and that is the end of it. However, these workers will have to live with the consequences of this legislation for four years. This bill will help to create an unhealthy climate. No other outcome is possible when a lockout is ordered, when a strike is called or when strikebreakers are called in. I have experienced these situations firsthand and the climate is most unsettling. One can feel the tension in the cafeteria. Disputes arise among workers, harassment occurs, undue pressure is brought to bear, scuffles break out and verbal assaults take place. What will happen next?

The number of workplace accidents will increase, because employees will be angry and will work faster. They will fall and injure themselves. The problem of workplace accidents will then need to be addressed. Workers will file grievances, because they will be dissatisfied and unhappy. More money will be spent and the climate will deteriorate even further. One can imagine what this will mean for managers and for employees forced to work in these conditions. For four years, the situation will be unmanageable, akin to conditions at the Tower of Babel. What can we do to help these people?

As parliamentarians, we have to find a solution to allow the workers to go back to work. We have to work together, democratically, without imposing legislation. We could force the two parties to sit down, negotiate and find a solution. But we are forgetting that even after we have passed a law, life goes on. And so we have to think about the people involved. We cannot get along amongst ourselves, so how can we impose legislation on people who are not getting along either?

And so I am asking that we amend this bill, in order to get the parties to negotiate within a certain period of time, with the help of an arbitrator or a mediator. As I have said before in the House, the workers, the employer and society are going to have to pay the price for sick leave, work accidents, an unhealthy work atmosphere and the grievances that are going to follow in the wake of this. We could even see another conflict break out when the agreement expires in three or four years.

Consequently I am asking the Conservative government to put water in its wine and amend Bill C-6 so that this law is not rammed through, doing damage to everyone and making people angry. I am aware that things aren't going well for anybody. If we want to do this, we can do it together, and if we can't agree, this too will have failed. Bill C-6 will go through, but we will not have solved the problem. Yes, the workers will have returned to work, but we are going to create a whole other set of problems. This is not right, not logical, and not the kind of work we should be doing. Our work is to rally a strong and united country, where people work for good wages and live in decent conditions, with fair pensions.

And insofar as the two classes of workers or the “orphan clauses” are concerned, obviously it is not very pleasant in a factory or an office when one employee has this while another employee has that, and another employee does not have this or that. You can just imagine how difficult that is going to be to manage later. Think about the quarrels and the work atmosphere this could bring about. We have to look at the human side of the equation. I know that there are going to be decreases in salaries, but these people are not cattle. They are workers who pay sales taxes and income taxes and who keep Canada's economy going.

I want to say it and repeat it, and I will beat this drum until the last possible minute in the House: this bill needs to be amended.

We have to come to an agreement and force the two parties to sit down. We need cut-off dates to make sure there is a positive outcome so we can overcome this impasse and so everyone will be a winner—the government, Canada Post and its workers. That is how we will get out of this crisis. We must not create a climate that would be unfavourable for us. People will be up in arms and we will pay dearly for it once again.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 1:05 p.m.

Conservative

Bernard Trottier Etobicoke—Lakeshore, ON

Mr. Speaker, I thank the member opposite for his contribution to the discussion this afternoon.

I just want to inject some facts into the discussion. Some facts were given earlier. It is good to have passion about these issues. It is important that people have a good living and a good pension. I want to talk briefly about the Canada Post pension plan and ask a question.

Canada's pension liability in 2011 is $14 billion. Currently Canada Post Corporation employees receive a fully indexed defined benefit pension by age 60, including comprehensive health benefits. Good for them.

Close to 22,000 employees, about a third of the workforce, will retire in the next 10 years. Canada Post employees and the corporation pay into that pension plan. The employees contribute about 40% and the corporation contributes another 60%. Currently there is an unfunded liability in that pension plan of $3.2 billion.

I would like to ask what helpful advice the member opposite can give to Canada Post to find that $3.2 billion to ensure that those workers have a viable pension going forward.

Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act
Government Orders

June 25th, 1:05 p.m.

NDP

Claude Patry Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I come from a company that has a shortfall of $540 million currently. Agreements have been negotiated with the employer, which over a given period will slowly inject money to make up the shortfall. We cannot ask the employer to pay that whole amount tomorrow morning. It is not possible. It is possible to make a commitment to pay an amount every year over the next 6 to 10 years to make up the shortfall. That is how we can manage this situation.

Where I come from, contributions were suspended at times in the past. Not any more. Yet the employer will inject $98 million this year. Next year or in other years, it will pay a bit more to make it up over six years. If we can do this, so can Canada Post.