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 air.

Topics

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst for requesting order in the House while I was speaking. I appreciate that.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

I wanted to hear you talk.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

8:50 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Thank you.

As I was indicating, however, things have not progressed toward a negotiated agreement between the pilots and Air Canada. Indeed, after the first meeting with the mediators, I received a notice, unfortunately, from the external mediator assigned to the file to indicate that she was resigning. She wrote this:

I should also mention to you that I am very surprised that the first session of mediation has been made public by ACPA in its entirety. It is a well known ground rule that mediation is a confidential process. Failure to observe confidentiality will not help the resolution of the dispute and will make it impossible for a mediator to function effectively as a neutral.

Air Canada tabled a final offer to the pilots union on March 8, 2012. The ACPA issued a press release stating that while Air Canada pilots would vote on this final offer from their employer, the association recommended that the pilots reject the offer and send the message to their employer to get serious about negotiations. On that same date, Air Canada advised that it intended to lock out the pilots as of March 12 as well.

I would like to be clear on this: Resorting to a work stoppage is not the norm for labour disputes in Canada. There are over 300 collective agreements negotiated in the federal jurisdiction each year and over 94% of these are settled without a work stoppage ever taking place. These agreements would not have been reached without the good faith efforts of the parties involved. It is also important that employers and the unions carefully consider maintaining the strength, viability and competitiveness of their company while continuing to work closely together to negotiate a deal, because work stoppages and labour instability can only lead to long-term impacts on the future of their company, on job prospects, on Canadians and the economy as a whole.

I have personally seen cases where this commitment at the table has provided results. As an example, the ILWU decided early in its negotiations with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association that it did not want a work stoppage to occur. It understood that it could result in a loss of jobs for its members, and it also understood the importance of the Pacific gateway to the economic prosperity of the country. Both sides remembered throughout their negotiations that the economic health of their companies was of vital importance, and this helped the parties work together to reach two historic eight-year agreements.

When parties commit to working together co-operatively and keep the shared interests of both workers and the business as their foundation for all decisions, strong labour–management relations and lasting collective agreements are the result. The bottom line is that negotiated agreements do work.

The best and longest-lasting solution to any labour dispute occurs when the parties resolve their differences together without a strike or a lockout. However, there are cases where the parties are just too far apart to reach this compromise. These are cases where concessions on either side will be deemed just not enough because of the longstanding history of disputes, because of economic factors or for a variety of reasons that we hear today. In situations where there is no resolution in sight, where work stoppages are being proposed and the lives of Canadians and the health of the economy will be directly affected, the government must act and that is why we are proposing legislation to prevent these work stoppages.

I truly believe in the right to free collective bargaining and I would prefer in every case to see labour disputes resolved by the parties involved and not by government intervention. The federal government only intervenes in situations where the public interest is seriously threatened. This is true, for example, when the national economy could be adversely affected by the threat of a work stoppage. Unfortunately, that means we need to pass this bill to avert a work stoppage at Air Canada. Therefore, I am asking for this House to support Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations.

Last June, there was a three-day strike by Air Canada's customer sales and service agents and I am glad to say that it was quickly resolved by the parties and that the harm caused to Canadians was limited.

Also in 2011, our government introduced and passed the Restoring Mail Delivery for Canadians Act because of the crucial economic importance of reliable mail delivery. I should mention that this legislation was supported by hon. members on the other side of the House, who also saw the potential danger to our economy of the threatened work stoppage. Again, Canadian workers and businesses, as well as citizens in general, were spared the continued hardships that an interruption in the mail could cause.

Today we are facing the prospect of work stoppages at Air Canada that would damage our economy. Once again, we have to take extraordinary measures. Just as it did last year, the spectre of a strike or a lockout at Air Canada is causing confusion and doubt where we need stability and certainty. I would ask the members in the House to ask their constituents or in fact anyone in Canada right now and they will hear what I have been hearing, that we cannot afford a work stoppage. It is that simple. The risks are too great and we have a responsibility as parliamentarians to act.

Let us talk a bit about the risks of a work stoppage. I have referred the matter of maintenance of activities to the Canada Industrial Relations Board because there is the possibility that health and safety issues could be created by a work stoppage. The CIRB will review each case independently and determine if a work stoppage would pose a threat to the safety or health of the public, and if so, it can issue orders that would compel Air Canada and the unions to continue services to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public during a work stoppage.

While the CIRB is considering the case, the parties are prevented from proceeding with a strike or a lockout, but once a decision is made a work stoppage could still occur. We cannot let this happen. That is why our government is introducing this bill, to prevent a work stoppage and compel the parties to accept binding arbitration. We are not happy about bringing this legislation forward, but this measure is necessary because vital interests are at stake.

As I said before, as parliamentarians we have to take a stand on the issue. We need to take a stand for Canada's economy, Canada's businesses and for Canadian citizens.

Like other industrialized economies around the world, Canada is coming out of a difficult recession. Our government is proud of its record of sheltering Canadians from the worst effects of this downturn. We have laid the foundation for recovery. However, the economy remains fragile and we know that our country is not immune to the problems affecting greater nations. There could always be more turbulence, but our government is committed to taking the necessary actions to protect Canadians, to create jobs and to lay the foundations for long-term growth.

As of March 2012, our unemployment rate stood at 7.4%, a definite improvement over last year and considerably lower than the rate in the United States of 8.5%. More people are working now than before the recession hit. However, to maintain our progress and promote economic growth we need to be careful. We cannot afford to have labour disruptions in this major Canadian industry. A labour stoppage in this key sector of our economy would be a serious impediment to recovery and growth. A prolonged work stoppage at Air Canada could negatively affect our economy. Indeed, estimates of the overall impact of the stoppage on the Canadian economy vary, but some put it as high as $22.4 million for each week of work stopped.

Consider what this could mean to businesses. A work stoppage at Air Canada would mean the loss of sales at home and abroad. Even a short work stoppage could be costly. To give members an example, in 2005 a one-day wildcat strike involving ground crew workers at Air Canada in Toronto led to 60 flights being delayed and 19 being cancelled. That was only a single day. If we let another work stoppage happen, thousands of Canadians will be affected directly or indirectly because there is more at stake here than the issues on the bargaining table.

The employees represented by the ACPA and IAMAW want to be treated fairly. They demand respect for their rights under the Canada Labour Code, and I understand that. The code does give the parties in a dispute the right to strike or to lock out, but Canadians have rights too. Therefore, I ask my fellow members to stand up for the rights of Canadians and pass this bill.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9 p.m.

NDP

Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, the minister is telling Canadians that she does not want this. She is saying to Canadians that 94% of the collective agreement is getting negotiated. That leaves 6%, and for that 6% the government will legislate the workers back to work. That is really what the minister is saying.

The minister is saying that she would like the other party to work with government and so forth. Instead of last-offer bargaining, why not give the power to the arbitrator to make the decision? Let the arbitrator do their job and take the responsibility. I think that is the least the government can do.

At the same time, if the government does not like this, then why does it say in the bill that “No order is to be made, no process is to be entered into and no proceeding is to be taken to court”?

That takes rights away from Canadians. If they do not like the law or feel there has been a misinterpretation of something, Canadians have the fundamental right to go to court. They have the right to seek justice, as the postal workers did and won their case.

Is this in the bill because the postal workers went to court and the arbitrator was thrown out of the negotiations?

The Minister of Labour is now saying that she does not like it but that she has to do it. Why is she going that far? Why do the Conservatives hate workers so much?

I will say it again—

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

The hon. Minister of Labour.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, to aid the hon. member in the facts, the number of collective agreement negotiations in 2010-11 was 302 and the number of times the federal government was asked for help was 215 times. The number of back to work bills introduced before today was zero. I believe that in and of itself speaks volumes.

With respect to the method of arbitration, a final offer selection is the appropriate measure when negotiations have been going on for this length of time with respect to both the IAMAW and the pilots, which in the case of the pilots was 18 months. In both cases, the parties had a tentative agreement on which they shook hands and agreed. We believe this is the appropriate method to bring closure, certainty and security.

On the last part of his question with respect to the clause in the bill that he quoted, the hon. member should know that this was of course challenged by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and that in January 27, 2012 the constitutionality of this clause was upheld by the court.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, what the minister would also know is that the appointment of the arbitrator was challenged. We know the judge's ruling in that particular case with regard to the minister's ability to appoint, without any consultation, an arbitrator. I quote:

In the case at hand, the lack of transparency inherent in the appointment process followed by the Minister, the little evidence or rationale provided by the Minister and the laconic nature of her communications raise serious questions and indicate that the Minister appears to have excluded...relevant criteria....

Is the minister not fearful that the same response will be given by the courts in this case?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, absolutely not because in the same court case it was very clear that the discretion of the minister in appointing an arbitrator was not impeached.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9 p.m.

Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to see that the minister has put together a process that can be followed to bring some sort of conclusion to these pieces between the parties that they cannot resolve.

If there were a lockout or a strike, there would obviously be a disruption to air service that would cause harm to the Canadian economy. Has there been a work stoppage in the past? Did the government intervene? Was there a time period where economic losses were suffered?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed, there was a strike of Air Canada pilots in 1998. It was a different climate, and it was a 13-day strike. They were not ordered back to work, and as a result, there was an loss to the economy of around $100 million, and an economic loss to Air Canada of about $300 million at a different point in time. It was also a point in time when there were two national carriers, so the ability of one carrier to pick up the passengers for the other was present.

I think it is important to note that when we are talking about Air Canada with its 26,000 employees, we need to remind ourselves that by comparison General Motors Canada has 9,000 employees and Chrysler Canada has 11,000 employees. Air Canada is far greater than putting those two car companies together. It is also three and a half times larger than WestJet with a total of 330 planes.

The sheer capacity situation, if there were to be a work stoppage at Air Canada, is such that there would not be an ability in this country for the passengers to be accommodated. Indeed, it would have a distinctive effect on the economy of Canada as a whole.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

March 13th, 2012 / 9:05 p.m.

NDP

Carol Hughes Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have an email from a Dave Laurin, who happens to be an Air Canada pilot. He says that the Air Canada Pilots Association has not freely negotiated a contract in at least 10 years. For 10 years it has not freely negotiated a contract.

He goes on to say that the employer has tried consistently to get them into some kind of industrial action or wildcat strike so that they could push the pilots into arbitration. As they have publicly stated, they are not interested in striking as they feel it would negatively impact passengers and corporations. They only want a fair contract.

Again, they are saying they want a fair contract. He goes on to say that the last offer included a 10% reduction to a retiree's pension, shame; a 25% cut to an active employee's pension, double shame; and a slight wage increase that would not even cover cost-of-living increases and would still leave them with wages that are well below what they were making in 2000, which they gave up as a concession to help the corporation.

Here we are; we have employees who have given up their wages, have made lots of concessions over the years, and the government is unilaterally forcing them to not be able to bargain.

Again, I want to ask a question. The member for Vancouver South talked about the average, ordinary workers. Do you not think these workers have already given enough concessions? Do you not think they are the average, ordinary workers in Canada?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

The Speaker Andrew Scheer

I do not have a comment to make on that. I would encourage the hon. member to address her comments through the Chair and not directly at the minister.

I will give the floor to the Minister of Labour.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed, the history of bargaining at Air Canada in the last two rounds since 2003 has been quite fraught with difficulties. In 2003, while under bankruptcy protection, Air Canada looked for relief from its unions. In 2009, again, there were difficulties at the table with respect to pensions.

This current round of negotiations started early and started promising. It has been 18 months, however. While I am sensitive and I appreciate the issues at the bargaining table, those are not mine. We do not pick sides at the bargaining table.

What we are doing is looking after the interests of Canadians on the whole. This is about the economy. This is about the public interest. This is about the travelling public. These things matter. It is a very large organization, and we have to ensure that any kind of shock to the economy is prevented, especially in these fragile times.

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:05 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, to hear the Minister of Labour, we are redefining the word “joke”, because what she is telling us here today is a joke. If it is so essential, why does the minister not amend the legislation and make Air Canada an essential service, and then this can go to binding arbitration?

However, with the way this works, she is going to talk to the management at Air Canada and ask them how they can reach an agreement. The bad guys here are the union members.

At some point, we must be pragmatic. In 2003-04, employees made sacrifices worth $2 billion. Meanwhile, people like Milton and Brewer were earning $80 million. As for the new president, not only is his salary $2 million a year, but he will get a $5 million bonus at the end of the month.

Is the government not creating its own little game in order to be able to kill the union and to ensure that management will definitely come out ahead?

At some point, there is a constitutional right we must respect. I agree with the NDP on this issue. The right to negotiate is a constitutional right.

Why does the minister oppose negotiations? If she does not want the two sides to negotiate, what is she waiting for to declare this an essential service?

Protecting Air Service Act
Government Orders

9:10 p.m.

Conservative

Lisa Raitt Halton, ON

Mr. Speaker, the way the Canada Labour Code is crafted allows for the overriding Canadian public interest to be taken into consideration in exceptional circumstances. This is an exceptional circumstance.

In the Canada Labour Code, there can be a maintenance of activities, as I mentioned in my remarks, with respect to health and safety.

What matters here today is that what is happening at the bargaining table is separate and apart from what would happen to the Canadian public in the event of a work stoppage. That is what we are acting on, and that is the reason we are bringing this legislation forth this evening. It is because of the economic issues with respect to the greater work of Air Canada, how many people it employs, 26,000 employees, and a 250,000 spinoff from that, who service Air Canada. It is a significant portion of our economy, one that we need to ensure does not have a work stoppage, so we are providing a process for the parties to find their way to collective agreements that are stable and that are certain.