Thank you, Mr. Chair.
My name is Jason Koshman. I'm general counsel with the British Columbia Maritime Employers Association.
We wish to thank the committee for this opportunity to appear before it on Bill C-257.
The BCMEA is a federally regulated not-for-profit employer association representing 70 member companies on Canada's west coast. All our member companies are involved in port operations and in shipping. The BCMEA is the labour relations and collective bargaining agent of west coast waterfront employers. Our partner and counterpart is the ILWU Canadian area. The union represents our valuable employees from as far north as Prince Rupert, British Columbia, to as far south as Delta, B.C., and ports in between, including those on Vancouver Island.
In appearing before the committee today, the BCMEA wishes to draw two important points to the committee's attention. The first is the Sims task force. In 1995 the federal Minister of Labour appointed a task force to conduct a comprehensive review of part I of the Canada Labour Code. Wide public consultation with federal employers, trade unions, academics and other interested parties took place over several months across every major centre in Canada. The task force took almost two years to complete its work and produced a report with recommendations on amendments to the Canada Labour Code. That report was entitled “Seeking a Balance”.
A very specific section of that task force's mandate was to examine the issue of the need for and possible scope of restrictions on the use of replacement workers. In short, the issue that is now the subject matter of Bill C-257 was thoroughly analyzed and reviewed by the task force. In chapter 9 of its report it described the issue as follows, and I am going to cite from the report itself:
No issue divides the submissions we received more than the issue of replacement workers. Labour was virtually unanimous in favouring a legislated prohibition on the use of replacement workers (a so-called "anti-scab" law). Management was equally unanimous in its opposition to such a proposal.
The task force carefully and thoroughly analyzed arguments for and against such a measure in the federal sector. Ultimately they concluded as follows, and I'll quote again:
Replacement workers can be necessary to sustain the economic viability of an enterprise in the face of a harsh economic climate and unacceptable union demands. It is important in a system of free collective bargaining that employers maintain that option, unrestrained by any blanket prohibition. If this option is removed, employers will begin to structure themselves to reduce their reliance on their permanent workforces for fear of vulnerability, to the detriment of both workers and employers alike.
Once the strike or lockout commences, we believe that it should be fought out on the bargaining issues, not on the question of representation. Replacement workers should only be prohibited where they are used for an illegitimate end. Our recommendation can achieve this while preserving the basic balance of collective bargaining.
The Sims recommendation on this very issue saw the enactment of subsection 94(2.1) under the current Canada Labour Code. It is our view and that of our members that Bill C-257 clearly undermines the significant consultative work of the task force and the resulting enactment of subsection 94(2.1).
Bill C-257 substantially amends the code and is far more draconian than existing B.C. replacement worker legislation. It is our view that balance was achieved with the enactment of subsection 94(2.1), and Bill C-257 threatens this balance. We believe that Bill C-257 pushes the pendulum too far. Moreover, it amends the current code just a few short years following the enactment of subsection 94(2.1), and it should be noted that since the subsection's enactment, Parliament has not on a single occasion had to enact legislation forcing a federal labour dispute to an end.
The second point the BCMEA wishes to draw to the committee's attention is the nature of Canada's federally regulated industries. Federal industries regulated by the code are infrastructure industries necessary for the economy of Canada and the well-being of all Canadians. The ability of federally regulated employers to operate and to sustain their economic viability is important to all Canadian businesses, not simply those under federal jurisdiction. A halt to the provision of port services, telecommunications, air travel, banking, or other federally regulated industries has profound effects on all of Canada. Indeed, Parliament has been forced to intervene in work stoppages in west coast ports on several occasions through back-to-work legislation, due to the negative effects on Canada's economy when trade stops moving through the west coast ports. Examples are the West Coast Ports Operations Act of 1972; the West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1975; the grain handling operations acts of 1991; West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1994; and the West Coast Ports Operations Act, 1995--and this list does not include legislation relating to national railways, which occurred in 1995.
We feel it important to note that a work stoppage at a unionized pulp mill, mine, or factory in the province of Quebec or the province of British Columbia, although detrimental, does not carry national ramifications to Canada's economy. A halt to port operations or national rail operations clearly does. Restrictions on the use of replacement workers for federally regulated industries must be seen in the context of this reality, one that the Sims task force clearly recognized when recommending enactment of what is now section 94(2.1).
In conclusion, the task force chaired by Andrew Sims thoroughly reviewed the issue of restrictions on the use of replacement workers in Canada's federal sector. Its recommendations were reasoned and thorough, following extensive and wide-reaching consultation and resulting in the enactment of section 94(2.1). Balance was achieved and has been maintained without Parliament having to end federal disputes since its enactment.
Bill C-257 is not provincial legislation affecting one local region. Canada's national industries regulated by the code are the lifeblood of the economy and essential to all Canadians.