moved that Bill C-340, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I rise with a lot of emotion today.
This bill, which is unfortunately non-votable, because it was decided otherwise—perhaps it is a little too forward looking for the government—deals with preventive withdrawal of pregnant or nursing women.
We must realize that more and more women enter the labour force every year. Women now account for 45% of employees in general. Consequently, the number of women involved in occupational accidents has also risen.
These new realities beg the question of not only reconciliating family and professional responsibilities, but also of adapting working conditions to the presence of mothers and pregnant employees.
The labour market is also facing other new realities. Indeed, pregnant women tend to stay at work longer than before, because of their often uncertain financial circumstances.
The statistics are eloquent: 82% of single parent families are headed by women; 83% of these families live under the poverty line; 91% are on welfare; and 61% of workers receiving minimum wage are women.
When it comes to preventive withdrawal, Canada has a two tier system and it is women in Quebec, whose jobs are governed by the Canada Labour Code, who are footing the bill. We in the Bloc Quebecois have made countless efforts to remedy the situation, including moving an amendment to Bill C-12.
In May 2000, during debate on Bill C-12, which amended part II of the Canada Labour Code, we proposed an amendment that would have entitled Quebec women who were pregnant or nursing and whose jobs were governed by the Canada Labour Code to benefits under the Loi sur la santé et la sécurité du travail du Québec.
I would note that, during the debate on this bill, we worked very hard and brought in an incredible number of witnesses to appear before the committee. And I do not think that the Bloc Quebecois was alone in its efforts.
We asked all the unions to appear, including the CSN, the FTQ and even a lawyer specializing in the area of preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing women. This lawyer has also written a book and teaches at the University of Montreal. She has worked on specific cases involving preventive withdrawal for pregnant or nursing women.
She appeared before the committee and told us horror stories about how women in federally regulated jobs, jobs governed by the Canada Labour Code, were not entitled to the benefit of preventive withdrawal. It is so complicated that it is ridiculous.
When one is expecting a baby is often the most important period in a woman's life. It is incomprehensible to me that, in this day and age, a woman is not allowed to go through her pregnancy with peace of mind, knowing that her child will be born healthy and that she will be able to raise it herself and give it everything it needs.
I feel obliged to give a historical overview of the repeated calls that have been made for changes since 1991, and not from my party or even this side of the House.
First, Joy Langan of the NDP introduced Motion M-147 on May 13, 1991, which read as follows:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should pass a bill for the protection of pregnant or nursing employees from workplace hazards, guaranteeing them continuity of employment in a hazard-free environment.
Again that year, 1991, the same NDP member introduced a similar motion, Motion M-143.
On May 17, 1990, the hon. member for Abitibi--Baie-James--Nunavik, who is still sitting in this House, but at that time was a member of the Progressive Conservative Party, also introduced a motion, M-655, calling for the same thing.
The current leader of our party, the hon. member for Laurier--Sainte-Marie, also called for changes to Bill C-101, on June 1, 1993. My colleague the member for Québec also introduced a motion along the same lines once again, in March of 1995.
I could go on. For instance, during the revision of the Canada Labour Code, part II, I personally proposed major amendments to protect women workers
There are two points relating to that. I was told that when the Canada Labour Code, part II, was revised, as it was last year, amendments would be made to protect female workers, to ensure that women working under federal jurisdiction would have the same rights to preventive withdrawal as women under provincial jurisdiction.
When we came to carry out that revision of the CLC, part II, we presented some major amendments and these were rejected by the minister. Her response: “We will reach a decision when we revise part III of the Canada Labour Code”. This makes no sense any more. This has been going on for ten years.
I have proof of this. They did not want this bill to be votable. That is very disappointing. It is disappointing for women who decide to become pregnant and whose workplaces are not necessarily safe during pregnancy.
Yesterday, a woman named Annie Poirier came to my office. For a while now she has been fighting and working for precautionary cessation of work. I would like to congratulate her for what she does. Her task is certainly not an easy one, because she works in a detention center. Such a working environment is not friendly, especially at the federal level. The employees are not dealing with angels, they are constantly in direct contact with prisoners incarcerated for two years or more.
These women work with prisoners all day long. They occasionally face very problematic situations and, in some cases, situations that can be dangerous for their own health and their baby's health. They live under permanent and very heavy stress. I do not know if you ever visited a federal prison, but it is quite difficult for a woman to work in such conditions. Those who do are not allowed precautionary cessation of work, and that is incredible.
I asked the Quebec department of labour—the CSST in fact, because we are enforcing the legislation with the CSST—to conduct a study in order to see if the CSST could manage the precautionary cessation of work program at the federal level if ever the federal government made commitments in that regard. I was told that it was possible, that the only requirement was that we come to an agreement with the federal government and that the legislation could very well be enforced at both levels of government.
All we need now is some political will on the part of the present government, but it is not forthcoming. Do not tell me that something will be changed in part III of the Canada Labour Code. It is not true.
When part II of the labour code was revised, we invited non political witnesses to appear before the committee because we wanted the minister to understand that it is crucial that living conditions of women be improved. She did not do anything, and it is very disappointing, all the more so because the minister is a woman. She knows what it is like to be pregnant, and what the risks are.
I wanted some action, but nothing happened. I introduced this bill, but it cannot be put to a vote. What is going to happen? I know all my colleagues are going to speak on this issue.
I am deeply disappointed, but I swear I will not give up. Things will change. We will find a way to bring about some changes, because,this situation is unconscionable.
I would like to tell the House about what happened to a young woman who is a flight attendant. Flight attendants are under the Canada Labour Code. If they want, female attendants can withdraw from work, but they must have worked a total of 600 hours, and they will only get 55% of their wages, because they will be receiving employment insurance benefits.
If they could avail themselves of preventive withdrawal, they would get 90% of their salary without having to rely on employment insurance benefits. This is something altogether different.
This young woman, a flight attendant, was on an airplane and a problem occurred. At one point, she had to remain on board four extra hours because of a mechanical breakdown. She could not avail herself of preventive withdrawal, and she lost her baby in her seventh month of pregnancy.
It is unacceptable that such things still happen in our modern society. The employment insurance fund has a surplus of $37 billion and yet we are unable to use a small amount of money to allow women to avail themselves of preventive withdrawal. This is a ridiculous.
However, I believe it is wonderful to see young women like Annie Poirier out there creating coalitions so that women can benefit from what I call a natural basis, a normal basis to survive and give birth.
Giving birth is the most wonderful thing in the world. If one cannot do it in total security, in total health, I wonder in what kind of country we are living. We spend money for all kinds of useless things but we are unable to address particular circumstances to allow women to give birth to healthy babies.
This measure would not cost a fortune. Let us look of our birth rate. The problem is not there. The problem is the absence of will on the part of the government at this time. This is something I cannot understand.
I hope that members who are here will give serious consideration to this bill. I know that I will not be able to introduce it again under its present form. However, I do hope that we hold this debate, because it addresses a critical issue. It has been under discussion for ten years now.
The Bloc is not alone. As I said earlier, the New Democratic Party and the Progressive Conservative Party also took initiative in that regard. I am sure that there are many backbenchers who would like to see this happen one day, but they do not dare to speak out because of the party line. That is part of the political game.
I hope that the rules of the House will change because I find it unacceptable to introduce such an important bill—I consider it important, as important as any other bill introduced here—and then to be unable to vote on it.
However, I would like to see my colleagues, and all the women in this parliament, vote on this bill. There is a lack of will in this regard, because they made sure that we could not vote on Bill C-340.
We work here in the House and also at the committee. We work hard. We invite people to appear before the committee; there is a FTQ-CSN coalition—we can name them all—and they all agree that things have to change.
Do members know what excuse was given by the government the last time? I was told “This is all fine and well, Ms. Guay, it is done in Quebec; we admire you for that, but it is not done in other provinces”. My goodness, let us lead by example. Let us do it here at the federal level.
Let us take our responsibilities toward women, toward our children and toward our families. Let us support them. Let us pass a bill at the federal level. This will force the provinces to do the same in their jurisdictions eventually.
But no, here we never make the first move. We cannot do that; it would be dangerous. We must not speak out too much. There is a lack of political courage. The government has proven to me that it lacks political courage to an incredible extent.
And they had better not talk about the cost, because this will not cost much. In Quebec, we would even agree to have such legislation entrusted to the CSST.
I will listen very carefully to what my colleagues have to say about this bill and I will come back at the end of the debate to draw my conclusions.