House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rail.

Topics

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

NDP

Charmaine Borg Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

Mr. Speaker, over the weekend, I met an Air Canada employee who said that he was fed up because he is unable to buy a new car or a new house and because he does not make enough money to live comfortably.

The Minister of Labour is saying that the entire community and the whole country will benefit from this bill on the resumption of air service operations. What does the minister have to say to workers who are fed up with not making enough money to live comfortably?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, we are not going to talk about one isolated case. I do not think that Air Canada employees are the worst paid in the country. That being said, I recognize that all workers deserve the salaries they earn.

I also work in Ottawa and, like a number of the hon. members in the House, I travel by plane every week to go home. It takes two flights because there are no direct flights to my region. Every week, I meet employees of airline companies such as Air Canada, Air Canada Express and Jazz, and all they want is to do their work well and provide services.

When two unions, the pilots union and the machinists and aerospace workers association, have been negotiating a collective agreement for 18 months, but cannot reach an agreement; when both bargaining committees recommend accepting the offers proposed by the bargaining committee but the workers reject their recommendations; then it is clear to our government that the parties are not prepared to reach an agreement and it makes the decisions necessary to protect the Canadian economy.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

Liberal

Marc Garneau Westmount—Ville-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have a very simple question for the minister. Does this government think that air transportation for passengers is an essential service? The way it has handled this file over the past year seems to indicate that it considers it to be an essential service, but it will not go so far as to say so. Is it an essential service or not?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:20 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, in 2010-11, there were 302 instances of collective bargaining in federally regulated businesses, and no bills were introduced. No action was taken. We want to always foster the mutual resolution by union and management of any discussion and any dispute. Naturally, air transportation is a very important component of our economy. I would like to remind my Liberal colleague that they used similar laws on several occasions when they were in power.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:25 p.m.

Conservative

Royal Galipeau Ottawa—Orléans, ON

Mr. Speaker, with your permission, I would like to ask the minister a question. In his opinion, what effect will an Air Canada work stoppage have on Canada's fragile economy? Can he explain why we should expedite approval of this bill today?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:25 p.m.

Conservative

Denis Lebel Roberval—Lac-Saint-Jean, QC

Mr. Speaker, the Minister of Labour previously referred to Air Canada's 26,000 employees and many others who are indirectly dependent upon it. Air Canada needs food and other services as well as aircraft maintenance. Thousands of workers would not be able to work. There is a very significant direct economic impact every week. Last year, Air Canada had a budget of $1.7 billion and direct weekly spinoffs of $22.4 million.

I heard an NDP member say that $22.4 million was not a very large contribution to the economy. We find that it is quite sizeable. It is very direct.

The union has made a decision. Why introduce such measures when more than one million Canadians are on school break? We made a decision to support Canadians. This evening are still hoping that the union and management will come to an agreement.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:25 p.m.

Simcoe—Grey
Ontario

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development and to the Minister of Labour

Mr. Speaker, today I hope to help hon. members present in the House understand why the Government of Canada is getting involved in the two most recent Air Canada labour disputes that threaten to disrupt air travel. Since the 1980s deregulation of the Canadian airline market, there have been six work stoppages involving Air Canada. History has shown us that these stoppages have taken a significant economic toll and disrupted the lives of Canadians, passengers and business entrepreneurs alike.

Once again we are faced with the possibility of a work stoppage at Air Canada, and once again we face potential economic damage and disruption to Canadians. Parents in my riding of Simcoe—Grey who are away on March break are quite anxious and concerned about this uncertainty and disruption. As the saying goes, those who do not heed the lessons of history may repeat them. At a time when our economic recovery is still fragile, the Government of Canada must act to protect the economy and air services. Up to now, the news about employment in Canada has been encouraging. We have recovered all the jobs that were lost in the recession and created some new ones. Do we really want to take chances with our economy?

The point is that work stoppages can be very costly, especially if they occur in a major industrial player such as Air Canada. They have the potential to cascade down through other sectors, hospitality, food, travel, manufacturing, public relations and marketing. It has been estimated that losses to all sectors of the Canadian economy could easily add up to about $22.4 million a week, for every week a stoppage drags on.

Then there is the impact on jobs. Air Canada is a major employer of almost 26,000 full-time workers across the country. There are also about 250,000 employees indirectly related to Air Canada. There are a lot of employees and their families who would be affected by a work stoppage. A work stoppage involving half of Air Canada's employees, approximately 3,000 pilots and 8,200 machinists, baggage handlers, technicians, mechanics and support workers, for a total of over 11,000 employees, would cause a major disruption and stop air services. The airline risks losing too much money in business transactions and productivity. The elements of the air service system are interdependent. If one element is weakened, they are all affected.

It is no surprise, then, that if jobs are lost at Air Canada, there will be jobs lost at Air Canada's partners and suppliers. According to Transport Canada, over 50% of airport revenues are attributed to Air Canada and its related activities. It stands to reason that any reduced operation at Air Canada will adversely affect Canada's airports and Air Canada's third-party suppliers. Canadian businesses could be impacted again while they are still struggling to shake off the effects of the recent economic downturn.

Why are we here? Surely it would preferable to let Air Canada and its employees, represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, work it out for themselves. Yes, it would, but I ask what happens when the parties in the dispute cannot resolve their issues on their own? What happens when the tentative agreements are rejected by the union members?

What do we do when we have exhausted all the avenues, such as direct negotiations, conciliation and mediation, with no solution in sight? I will tell the House what we do. We do what the Minister of Labour is recommending. We take action. We act on behalf of Canadians and in the best interests of the Canadian economy. We put an end to all the uncertainty and doubt there is right now and ensure continued air services. We bring in legislation, like Bill C-33, an act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.

It will soon be one year that the collective agreement of the two unions has expired. Where are we today? On February 22, 8,200 members of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers voted by a margin of 65.6% to reject the tentative agreement that had been negotiated with Air Canada with the help of a conciliator appointed by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that 78% of those members had voted in favour of a strike. The union advised that it would be intending to begin legal strike action on March 12, 2012. As for the Air Canada Pilots Association, it recommended to its 3,000 members that they reject the most recent offer by Air Canada, and on March 8 Air Canada advised that it intended to legally lock out all of the members on March 12, 2012.

In terms of labour relations, this has been a busy year for Air Canada. Members will recall that in June 2011, Air Canada finalized a four-year collective agreement with its customer sales and service agents, but this happened only after there were three days of labour disruption and the tabling of back to work legislation. In October 2011, Air Canada reached an agreement with its flight attendants, but only after the Minister of Labour referred the matter to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board and the parties agreed to arbitration. However in February there was a bright spot as Air Canada ratified agreements with two CAW-Canada units and the Canadian Airline Dispatchers Association bargaining unit.

The Canada Labour Code recognizes the principles of freedom of association and free collective bargaining. The code gives the parties in labour disputes many ways and opportunities to reach a settlement with or without the help of the federal government.

The Government of Canada respects the rights of unions to strike and the rights of employers to lock out their workers. When a work stoppage could undermine the national economy, Parliament must respond to protect the public interest.

The stakes are even higher today given the fragility of the global economic recovery. Every day of lost business could have an impact on the bottom line of a company that has been struggling to stay solvent for most of the past decade. The viability of a company is important to many people normally served by Air Canada. Some of these customers do not have easy access to an alternative carrier, and even if they get a seat on another airline, they may face long waits or more costs. The lives of hundreds of thousands of frustrated travellers could be disrupted. In fact during this busy March break period, over one million people are scheduled to travel with Air Canada. That is a lot of Canadians and a lot of Canadian families with disrupted or cancelled travel plans.

That is why we need Parliament's support. We have a duty to balance the rights and interests of employers and unions with those of the broader Canadian public. The need for legislation is clearly demonstrated when we consider the needs of 33 million Canadians.

There is really very little to debate here. We must do what is right for all Canadians and the Canadian economy. I am calling on all parties to give the legislation speedy passage so that we can restore peace on the labour front and get back on the road to economic recovery.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:30 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, in her presentation, the member said that they had done everything, negotiating for one year and going through the arbitrator and conciliation and everything.

Now the government is saying that it has no choice, but the Charter of Rights gives workers the right to vote, including a vote to strike, just as any other Canadian or worker has. The Conservative government is taking those rights away.

I have heard the Minister of Public Safety say he is the type of guy who likes the law to be followed, but is this not a law in our country? If the government believes so much in the economy, what did it do with Caterpillar in London when it locked out its people and left with the government's money? It did nothing to help the economy of London, Ontario.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, as I have said before, the best solution is one that the parties reach themselves. Despite very hard bargaining over the last number of weeks, the parties have actually failed to come to an agreement.

That is why last Friday, in an effort to protect the Canadian economy, we put on notice legislation in the event of a work stoppage. Our government is extremely concerned about the disruption at Air Canada and the damage it would cause to Canada's fragile economy. That is why we have taken action and we are moving forward.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to say a few words and ask the member a question.

What I find contradictory in the government's position with respect to Air Canada is simply this. On the one hand, the government, including the Minister of Finance and everyone else, is saying how strong and robust the Canadian economy is, how well things are going, how Canada is leading the way, how we are ahead of the G7, ahead of the G8, ahead of the G20—

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

Some hon. members

Oh, oh!

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

Order, order. I am sure the hon. member for Toronto Centre would appreciate it if colleagues would hold off on their applause until he finishes putting the question. The hon. member for Toronto Centre.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 10:35 p.m.

Liberal

Bob Rae Toronto Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, obviously the party opposite knows nothing about irony, because on the one side it says what I just noted, and on the other side it says that this economy cannot possibly withstand a work stoppage at Air Canada, that there is no possible way to withstand it.

I ask the parliamentary secretary this simple question. If Air Canada is an essential service, which is essentially what the Government of Canada is now saying, why not declare it an essential service and give the workers the equivalent right to strike instead of this terrible improvisation and imposition it is making? The government is making a travesty of labour relations, it is making a travesty of collective bargaining and it has nothing with which to replace it.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

Conservative

Kellie Leitch Simcoe—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, all I can say is that we are acting in the best interest of Canadians and the best interest of the Canadian public. This Conservative government was given a strong mandate to stay focused on the economy. That is exactly what we are doing. Ensuring that there is no work stoppage at Air Canada means that Canadian employers and Canadian families will continue to be able to fly, cargo will continue to be able to be moved across the country, and businesses will be able to continue to thrive.

I encourage the member opposite to support us in what we are doing to try to build the economy across the country.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

10:35 p.m.

Green

Elizabeth May Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, the essentials of labour law in this country are well understood: The union has a right to strike, the management has the right to lock out workers, and the two parties must be able to come to terms.

If the government consistently has back to work legislation when there is a threat of a dispute, how will we not have so undermined labour-management relations to have irreparably broken them and hurt this economy?