moved that Bill C-404, An Act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act (mail contractors), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker it is a pleasure to rise today to speak in the House before my colleague, the member for Champlain.
In his riding, there are many letter people delivering mail in rural areas. We can see them, on rural routes, stop at every mailbox and put the mail in. This bill concerns these people specifically.
Let me explain my reasons for introducing Bill C-404 and the working conditions of these people, most of whom are women. In closing, I will describe how their working conditions are negotiated and their agreement with the Canada Post Corporation.
There are 6,000 rural route mail couriers and suburban service contractors in Canada and, as I said, most are women. Their swages is often below minimum wage. They have no job security and are not entitled to employee benefits. Because of subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act, they are not entitled to collective bargaining. They cannot unite to face their employer.
At the outset, this is unhealthy and unusual. You will understand why, Madam Speaker, and I am convinced that, as a woman, you will understand the request that I am making here on behalf of the vast majority of women who work as rural route mail carriers.
What does subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act say? It says that for the purposes of the application of part 1 of the Canada Labour Code to the Canada Post Corporation and to officers and employees of the corporation, a mail contractor is deemed not to be a dependent contractor or an employee within the meaning of those terms in subsection 3(1) of the code.
What does that mean? It means that part 1 of the Canada Labour Code, which deals with the acquisition of bargaining rights and regulates the collective bargaining process, applies only to employees of the federal public sector, under the definition in subsection 3(1) of the code.
There court decisions deal with the status of rural route mail carriers as employees under the Canada Labour Code. In 1987, the Canada Industrial Relations Board, or CIRB, ruled that rural route mail carriers were employees.
However, the federal court later supported the position of the government and of the Canada Post Corporation by ruling that subsection 13(5) had specifically been included in the Canada Post Corporation Act to prevent rural route mail couriers from being considered as employees.
We can see what use the Canada Post Corporation has made of this court decision. In some cases, rural route mail couriers are treated no better than animals.
Why does subsection 13(5) deny rural route mail carriers such a fundamental right as the right of association, since the freedom of association is already protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Why is it that in their case, because of this legislation which favours a crown corporation, those rights are being denied?
In 1980, the then minister responsible for Canada Post, André Ouellet, who, by some strange coincidence—there are many happy coincidences—is now the president of the Canada Post Corporation, said that subsection 13(5) was necessary to preserve the financial health of Canada Post.
At the time, we all remember, Canada Post was racking up a deficit year after year of several hundreds of millions of dollars. However, we know that since 1995, Canada Post has been making a profit and is paying handsome dividends to the government. Between 1995 and 2000, $260 million have been paid to the federal government. Mail is a money maker for the sole shareholder of the corporation, which is the federal government.
Are Canada Post and the government not saying that rural route letter carriers are contract workers, and not employees? Letter carriers on rural routes are not contractors. I will explain why.
Their contract with Canada Post forbids them from working for other companies while they deliver the mail. Therefore, they are not able to deliver, in their car or truck, other products, other pamphlets, or ad-bags. They work exclusively for Canada Post. They cannot serve any other master than Canada Post.
Canada Post determines the sorting and delivery deadlines, and the delivery order. They cannot start their route at one end and return, or the opposite. The route is determined by Canada Post, and they must adhere to it strictly.
The number of returns to the post office and the way the mail must be handled and delivered are also regulated by the Canada Post Corporation. Letter carriers on rural routes must hire their own replacements, not because they are contractors who manage their own work, but because their contract requires that they find their own replacements when they are sick or on holiday.
Canada Post has complete administrative control over the daily work of rural route letter carriers. Canada Post does not simply give them the mail and let them deliver it as they see fit. It imposes a series of rules on how the work must be carried out. Furthermore, it also supervises them directly.
In some post offices—I am referring to rural areas here—even if it is not in their contract, they are told they must clear the snow around rural post boxes. They are not paid for it.
Often, when a Canada Post employee who is responsible for sorting the mail is absent, sick or not at work for some reason, the rural route mail courier has to sort the mail himself and prepare his delivery, without being paid for doing so, when this is absolutely not part of his contract. Otherwise, he might incur the wrath of the postmaster and often of the Canada Post Corporation immediately afterwards.
According to the Organization of Rural Route Mail Couriers, the president of the Canada Post Corporation, André Ouellet, is hiding behind parliament—and I believe they are right—by saying that he cannot do anything because the act that governs him prevents him from acting. We will remember that he himself introduced this legislation and had it passed when he was the minister responsible for the Canada Post Office.
The government's position is reflected in the answer given by the minister responsible for crown corporations, the current Deputy Prime Minister, to a question asked by one of my colleagues from the New Democratic Party on April 25, when he said “the hon. member knows that Canada Post Corporation is an arm's length crown corporation. I do not direct it as to how it manages its day to day operations”. He was talking about the corporation. It is not so much at arm's length, since the legislation that governs it originated from here and was passed here. The arm's length or non-arm's length relationship is highly questionable in this case.
We know very well that the federal government has always called the shots when it comes to the Canada Post Corporation. When the federal government got tough with the Canada Post Corporation in the past and told it to start making money, that it was tired of carrying it, the corporation had to knuckle under.
Suggesting that there is no connection between the Canada Post Corporation and the federal government is hardly an indication of goodwill and sincerity. We all know that Canada Post is the exclusive property of a single shareholder, the Government of Canada.
What are we asking for on behalf of these workers, most of them women, in Bill C-404, which I have introduced? The Bloc Quebecois is asking that rural and suburban route carriers be exempt from the provisions of paragraph 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act.
This would enable them to join forces, to take stock, which is perhaps what is scaring the Canada Post Corporation, that they are human beings, that they have a right to earn a decent living. In the world of today, in 2002, one cannot treat workers this badly, as though we were living in the 19th century. These people have obligations like everyone else: they must make a living, raise a family, feed their children, put a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs.
It would seem that, for the Canada Post Corporation, these concerns simply do not matter. The only thing that counts for the Canada Post Corporation and its current president, and I really hate to say this, but it is true, is making money. Making a profit justifies everything. We on this side of the House cannot accept this.
About two years ago, a similar bill with basically the same object was introduced in the House. I remember that the bill was rejected by a vote of 114 against 110. Four government members had made the difference. As is often the case on their side, several government members had followed the example of their leaders, who had risen first. When a minister rises, the others follow suit without asking any questions, without even knowing what they are voting on. After the vote, everyone went home. On the way to the West Block, at least four members asked me “What did we vote on? What were the implications?”
I told them, and they replied “Ah, if only I had known”. But not knowing, they harmed people who have a right to earn a decent living.
The worst in all this is the malice displayed by the Canada Post Corporation when the time comes to renew contracts. I hope that the term is not unparliamentary, but it is totally disgusting.
The rural mail contractor who buys a car or a small truck must make payments over a four year period, but his contract is only a three year contract. Canada Post is well aware that the contractor has to make payments for another year. Before his contract expires, when it is time to renegotiate, the contractor is told “You know, there are seven, eight, nine or ten people who want your contract, who are eyeing it. If you do not take a pay cut, you will lose it”. Rather than lose everything and end up in dire straits, the contractor agrees to a pay cut.
At Canada Post, some people make it up the corporate ladder by stabbing in the back poor people who earn minimum wage. Allowing this is unworthy of a government. It is even more unworthy of a corporation like Canada Post, which is an employer. Such an attitude is unspeakable.
Unfortunately, by using their majority, the Liberal members of the government in office prevented this bill from being made a votable item and, unfortunately, it cannot be voted on.
However, today's debate may at least develop an awareness among Liberals who may be too cold-hearted these days, although not with their friends from Groupaction and Groupe Everest, where millions and hundreds of millions fly like there is no tomorrow. Yet, these same Liberals refuse to give the minimum to people who work so hard to make a living.