House of Commons Hansard #129 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:40 p.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:40 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, by its actions the government has telegraphed to Canadian businesses that they do not need to bargain in good faith with their unionized employees.

All businesses have to do is let time run out, leaving workers with no option but to withdraw services. Then, like a white knight, the government will ride to the rescue and force the workers back to work.

The Teamsters negotiators understand that the world economy has suffered and that the Canadian economy, while in a better position than most, is still fragile. Teamsters came to the bargaining table willing to work with Canadian Pacific in order to come to a fair and equitable contract, a contract that was fair for Canadian Pacific and its shareholders and fair for the men and women whose work ensures that Canadian Pacific earns the profits necessary to continue to pay its shareholders the highest premiums in 30 years.

Canadian Pacific has taken advantage of the government's willingness to play white knight. Its negotiators refused to negotiate with the union. Its position on all issues has been, “This is what we want; take it or leave it. The government will legislate you back to work.”

Canadian Pacific was counting on the government to step in. The government's willingness to introduce back-to-work legislation has become the elephant at the negotiating table. Management can make unreasonable demands, say no to reasonable negotiation proposals and bargain in bad faith. There is no incentive for the company to negotiate.

The government must let corporate Canada know that it will not solve all its labour problems. The government must let corporate Canada know that trampling on workers in the name of corporate greed will not lead to back-to-work legislation. The government must tell corporate Canada, “It is up to you to negotiate a fair and equitable collective agreement with your employees, not the government.”

When it became clear that the only option for the union was the withdrawal of work, Teamsters indicated that in order to ensure that commuters in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver were not affected, it would continue to operate the commuter trains. They said their disagreement was not with the Canadians who were trying to get to work so that they could support their families, it was with Canadian Pacific.

Canadian Pacific's reaction to this offer was a flat “no”. Canadian Pacific was willing to make thousands of Canadian commuters suffer because it was not willing to bargain in good faith. Thankfully saner heads ruled, and Canadian Pacific finally agreed to allow the commuter trains to operate.

Many Canadians are probably asking themselves what the issues are and why the two sides cannot come to an agreement. I can answer the first one. The issues are pensions and fatigue management. I will have to leave the answer to the second question up to fair-minded Canadians to judge for themselves.

Canadian Pacific is asking the men and women who operate our trains and ensure that they run safely to take a 40% cut to their pensions. It is asking a 30-year-old employee with 10 years' service, who has another 25 years to work before getting a pension, to take a pension cut of $30,000 a year. Is that fair?

There are over 2,000 Canadian Pacific non-unionized management employees who are members of the CP Rail defined benefit pension plan. These non-unionized employees pay less money into the pension plan and receive a larger pension income than the unionized employees.

These employees are not being asked to take a 40% cut in their pensions. In fact, the non-unionized employees are scheduled to receive an increase at the end of this year. Is that fair?

The clawback of the unionized employees' pension benefits will put this money into the hands of Canadian Pacific. This is not money that Canadian Pacific earned; it is money that the employees earned. This windfall for Canadian Pacific will be paid out to shareholders that are now dominated by an American hedge fund investor. This is corporate greed at its very worst. This is not fair.

A tired worker is not a safe worker. We have learned this the hard way in both the trucking and air industries. I was parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Transport when the issue of fatigue management in the trucking industry was raised, reducing the 18-hour work day to a 13-hour work day.

I had the pleasure of getting in one of the Teamster trucks and going from Montreal to Ottawa to Toronto. It took us 18 hours. By the time we came back, the driver was exhausted. The same thing that applies to the people who are driving our trucks and to the pilots who are flying our planes should be applied to the people who are driving our locomotives.

That trip earned me a lifetime membership in Teamsters Canada. A good friend of ours who sits in this room, from Vancouver, is also a Teamster. Therefore, we have a union of two. Maybe we will start a local here.

While the 13-hour workday is not perfect, it is much better and safer than the 18-hour workday.

The House has spoken on the issue of worker fatigue and how it affects the safety of the individual workers and Canadians at large. We have defined hours of work in transport and in air.

Earlier this month, the Railway Safety Act received royal assent. The House spoke in one voice. We need to have defined hours of work in the rail industry. We need to have fatigue management incorporated into the rail industry.

The Teamsters' negotiating team proposed a fatigue and fitness clause that incorporated a successful pilot project, which was conducted in eastern Canada from 2007 to 2011. Canadian Pacific refused to consider this proposal.

Last Saturday, I had visited the Teamsters members at the McCowan rail yard when they were striking. I spoke with one of them. He told me that when he was called out to work, he was away from home for up to 53 hours, either working, or on call, or taking the legislated rest periods. Due to the maintenance on the tracks, a 6-hour trip can take up to 10 or 11 hours. He then has downtime. If he is lucky, he can get on the train to bring him back home to Toronto if it is ready. Unfortunately, this is not often the case. Therefore, he must wait. However, he must be ready on two hours' notice to get on the train to bring him back home, which is another 10- or 11-hour trip.

Canadian Pacific requires all of its employees to be fit and rested for duty at one time they are called to work. However, Canadian Pacific does not permit its workers to report that they are unable to work because of fatigue without threat of disciplinary action.

The workers are asking for two 48-hour periods of rest per month to help manage fatigue and to assist in the recovery of sleep deprivation. This proposal would allow employees to sleep in their own beds on two consecutive nights, twice a month. This is not unreasonable.

We should never have a strike on the issue of worker fatigue.

Canadian Pacific has thumbed its nose at the House and has said, “We don't care what you think about worker fatigue. We will do what we want”.

It is time for the government to tell Canadian Pacific that Parliament makes the rules, not CP.

I ask the Minister of Transport to ask his department officials to immediately begin the necessary fatigue science studies so that regulations can be prepared as soon as possible. It is time to ensure that the men and women who operate our trains have reasonable, defined hours of work.

Teamsters Canada has filed a bad faith bargaining complaint with the Canadian Industrial Relations Board. It believes that Canadian Pacific has not bargained in good faith, but has relied on the government to legislate the workers back to work.

I believe that all fair-minded Canadians also believe that Canadian Pacific bargained in bad faith. That is why we are in the position we are today.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:50 p.m.

Conservative

Stephen Woodworth Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciated my friend's comments although, quite frankly, he was entering into details of collective agreement negotiations when all this legislation would do is refer those matters to arbitration, where I am quite certain that an intelligent and reasonable resolution would be reached.

One thing we know for sure is that all around the world economies are in trouble and are faltering and we are walking on eggshells. We want to ensure that the Canadian economy remains strong and remains vibrant. Every time we have a major national disruption, the opposition votes to continue it. It refuses to support our efforts to limit damage to the economy.

I would like to know why the member opposite does that when the parties have been unsuccessful in their talks for so many months, since late last year.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, I wonder if my colleague across the way realizes that one of the issues we are talking about is worker fatigue.

I live in a constituency that has right beside it Agincourt Yard. The trains go back and forth. It is up to the employees, especially the Teamsters, when they drive the trains, to ensure that nothing happens. Should a derailment happen and dangerous goods are involved, my constituency would be in harm's way.

Therefore, it is up to us, this House, to ensure that employees' rights are not trampled upon. The government is allowing Canadian Pacific's corporate greed to enter into it and is legislating the employees back to work. That is all it is doing. It does not care about negotiations. It does not care about unions' right. It says, “Let's trample upon them. Let's throw them away. Let's support Canadian Pacific.”

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:50 p.m.

NDP

Anne-Marie Day Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I first want to congratulate the 4,800 workers who are currently on strike and who have continued to provide services, whether in Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver.

For those workers, the government talks about the need to protect the economy. What would the economy be without working people? What are universities without students? There is no possibility of doing anything without workers. There are alternatives, like Canadian National, that can offer services and other options.

Can the member explain why he thinks they are so intent on not bargaining directly with the workers?

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:50 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, negotiations were in place. Canadian Pacific all of a sudden decided to thumb its nose at the Teamsters union and walked away. What happens? The Conservative government steps in to legislate them back to work.

It is interesting. I met workers on the line in Toronto, Scarborough and in Winnipeg. I heard the same story, that should something happen while they were driving the train if they did not have the appropriate sleep or rest, who would stand up and take the risk? Who would step up and be responsible? They are responsible, but when they go in and say that they cannot do the shift, Canadian Pacific steps up and says that it will take care of them later on.

Therefore, negotiations have to take place and the government should stop being on the side of Canadian Pacific, with the greed of the company.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, as we look back at what has taken place with the back-to-work legislation put forward by the government over the last number of months, it is like several bad episodes of Hell's Kitchen, where preparations may be ongoing, but when it comes time, the government has one temperature over there and it is on fry. What it has done is just toasted the relationship between workers and the company. We have seen that with Air Canada, Canada Post and we see it again here.

What is at risk is that for other corporations and federally-regulated industries, this will become common practice, that they will rag the puck. They will come down to a decision time and know that the minister will be coming in with back-to-work legislation. I would like my colleague's comments on that.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Jim Karygiannis Scarborough—Agincourt, ON

Mr. Speaker, indeed, in one year three unions will have been legislated back to work: Canada Post, Air Canada and now the Teamsters.

If we look at what happened with the post office, there was such a big wedge driven in between the employees and Canada Post that relations, even after almost a year, have not gone back to normal. It is the same with Air Canada. There are pilots today who are looking at options. They are saying that they were forced back to work and are using work to rule in order to not fly a plane.

I can assure my colleague that not only the Teamsters and Canadian Pacific will be at odds for a long time, but other companies in other jurisdictions will say that they have the government to protect them, that those people will legislate anybody back to work. That will be the history and the morality of the Conservative government of today.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

9:55 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I rise to talk about this from a different perspective. I want to talk about the back-to-work legislation from the point of view of what I see as abuse of power.

As we sit in this very privileged place, all of us who have pensions, medical and dental benefits and work in a safe environment, it is easy for us to talk in the abstract about the economy and what it needs, forgetting that an economy must be sustained by workers. If workers are not there to make corporations survive and therefore make profits, then they will soon die. It is cyclical. We cannot do one without the other.

That is why negotiations are so important and why a responsible government would not enter into the business of negotiations unless it believed it had come to a point where things had to be handled because they had gone awry. We saw that in 1995, when we had three rail strikes going on at the same time. The whole country was crippled. No one could go anywhere. The government was then forced to step in and the NDP supported us in our back-to-work legislation.

However, one has to allow that to take its time. One has to allow negotiations to occur. Negotiation and the psychology of it builds trust between employers and employees. It creates a sustainable environment in which employees work productively to the benefit of the company. That is psychology 101, not rocket science.

When a government intervenes, it plays a hand that it should not play. As we have heard everyone in the House say before, it is signalling to the employer that it is prepared to step in at any time. The employer then does not negotiate in good faith, the employees become mistrustful, angry and frustrated, tensions occur, we see strikes happen and then the government steps in.

This is a great short-term solution. Sure it gets people back to work. Certainly, it makes everyone think that the economy is doing well. However, in the long term it creates such a toxic labour environment that companies and workers can no longer sustain each other and have to break apart. There will be workers who will no longer want to work in certain sectors even though that is the only skill they have, mainly because they know the minister will intervene in those sectors so they will not have their constitutional right to bargain.

The idea of a constitutional right to bargaining goes back to something else I want to mention, and that being the slow bleeding of democracy in this place. A democracy adheres to the rule of law. The Constitution is the major umbrella law by which any government governs itself and its country. When a government decides that it can turn over and ignore the Constitution any time it wishes to, that again is not only an abuse of power, it is a flouting of the rule of law. The government knows that the rule of law is an important principle to any democratic country. Here we have the government again abusing its power, flouting the rule of law and the constitutional rights of its citizens.

Today we heard about the economy. The point is the economy will not survive unless in the long term there is some kind of trust, peace and a relationship between employers and employees. The government is ensuring that in the long term that will no longer occur and we will have continued decades of labour unrest and businesses not being able to thrive. That is the long-term blow to the economy about which the government talks.

Let us talk about the specifics. My colleague talked about the issue of safety. I am not surprised at all that the issue of safety is ignored by the government. Look at what it has done. It has been cutting back on Coast Guard rescues and food inspections. It seems to think that everything that deals with the safety of Canadians is not worthwhile and disregards it, playing instead into the hands of companies, corporations and businesses and ignoring the safety of the public. Safety is an issue.

Over the last four years, an average of 1,198 accidents have occurred on railroads. That is 1,198 accidents, 61 main-track derailments in a week on an average, 210 at crossings, 160 accidents involving dangerous goods in any one year, 81 fatalities in any one year over the last four years. This is about the safety and security, not of workers but of the communities through which the railroad passes and in which the railroad crossings are located. This is an important issue. Do we think the economy is more important than that? On the issue of fatigue, this is a short-term solution and it actually ignores the safety of Canadians once again.

We sit here very privileged. We have pensions. We have medical and dental benefits. We can sit here on our high perch and talk about what other people need. There is a huge gap in this country between the rich and the poor. The middle class, which is a solid indicator of a good democracy, no longer exists. The way we would go with EI, in which we would force people to take low-wage jobs and the way we would treat workers, in which we would force them to take lower-wage jobs and not negotiate with them appropriately for pensions, means the state would have to take on the burden of caring for every person who is in the low-income bracket, as we would see rising poverty and the rising number of low-income workers.

At the end of the day, the state would have to be responsible for the pensions and the health care and the well-being of our seniors. It is not long-term sense. It does not add up. It is not good math. It does not show the outcomes as very feasible and helping the well-being and benefit of this country on the whole in the long run. Then again, the government does not seem to care about that.

I will talk about the fact that when we look at the responsibility of government it should be not only to take care of this country immediately and in the short term, but to prepare a path in the long term for a strong economy, a strong social system and a strong society in which all people are able to pull their weight and build an economy. When people are in low-paying jobs or do not have jobs and are dependent on the state, who is going to pay the taxes to enable the state to support the people who are dependent on it? If anyone does not see that the government is turning what should be a virtuous cycle into a vicious cycle, this is exactly what the government is doing.

Here we are. If the government thought it won in the five times it intervened in labour negotiations in the last year, we now see it has created chaos that continues. It has created bitterness, long-term anger and unrest. We have two court challenges. The pilots' union is carrying on a court challenge and Canada Post carried on a court challenge.

Finally, I will refer members to what the judge who looked at the court challenges under Canada Post had to say. He said that the minister “would like the exercise of ministerial power...to be unobstructed, unguided or not subject to any criteria of qualification or competence for the arbitrator. In other words, the Minister would merely have to act in good faith and deem the person qualified for it to end the Court's judiciary review exercise.” He also said that “this is not indicated by common sense, case law, the economy of the Act or the specific labour relations context that govern the parties to the collective agreement”. In other words, the minister is interfering and not allowing justice and negotiations and the citizens to have their rights in this instance. This is bad for Canada in the long run.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

May 29th, 2012 / 10:05 p.m.

Conservative

Harold Albrecht Kitchener—Conestoga, ON

Mr. Speaker, I listened with interest to my colleague speak to the issues that are before us tonight. One thing she avoided mentioning was the amazing cost to the economy of this ongoing strike. We talk about it in terms of the weekly cost of roughly $0.5 billion to the economy, but more important is the local cost to our ridings. I have heard from people in my area who have indicated that unless they are able to bring raw materials into their company within a few days, their company is in jeopardy and the jobs of the people that the company employs are in jeopardy.

Does my colleague not care that if this strike continues there would be many more hundreds of people, or probably tens of thousands of people, out of work?

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, maybe the hon. member nodded off at some time during my speech because I did say that the economy was important. I did say the government had a responsibility to ensure that the economy was strong, but not on a short-term basis. It is like, as a physician, my patient walking in and me not really caring about the long-term survival of the patient, but putting on a Band-Aid and saying “look, the bleeding has stopped, everything is fine” and sending the patient home. That is not how we deal with problems. They have to be thought out because the economy will suffer in the long run.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

NDP

Pierre Nantel Longueuil—Pierre-Boucher, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask the hon. Liberal member a question.

In this kind of intervention, does she not see a parallel with the undue use of antibiotics in the world of medicine?

This is like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. Large companies are used to this kind of reaction now. They are used to the government's interventionist attitude.

This government's greatest sin, in my view, is having a short-term vision. The result of constantly prescribing various antibiotics for toothache is that the antibiotics no longer have any effect.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, I want to quote George Smith, who, ironically, was a former labour relations director for both Air Canada and CP Rail on the employer's side. He stated that the government is “worsening employee relations at federal employers by their constant interventions”. He went on to say “you cannot legislate labour peace” and that the government’s intervention brings long-term instability and distrust between the employees and employers that are ultimately unpredictable and unproductive and harm the economy in the long run.

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:05 p.m.

Liberal

Rodger Cuzner Cape Breton—Canso, NS

Mr. Speaker, one thing I have picked up from the questions being posed by the Conservatives throughout the evening is that they are not sensing that in each piece of back-to-work legislation that the minister has brought forward, including this case, even before the legislation is tabled, she tips her hand well in advance. She told the parties that she was going to introduce back-to-work legislation.

I am sure the executives at CP Rail spent the weekend on the golf course. As they knew that the legislation was coming, they did not have to focus on any negotiations so they could get 18 or 36 holes in. It was a great weekend. Why not? These are the actions we have seen time and again from the minister. Would the member like to comment on that?

Restoring Rail Service Act
Government Orders

10:10 p.m.

Liberal

Hedy Fry Vancouver Centre, BC

Mr. Speaker, my colleague is absolutely right, which is what we have all been saying. When the minister tips her hand before the process even begins, she wonders why nothing comes of it. She wonders why the negotiations have not come to a resolution. The reason that they do not is because she has tipped her hand. She says, “It really doesn't matter what you do. I will come in like Supergirl and fix everything for you”. The bottom line is that she is not fixing; she is harming.