moved that Bill C-224, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, at the outset, I would like to tell all workers currently locked out, who fall under the Canada Labour Code and cannot reach an agreement, that it is with them in mind that I introduced Bill C-224 and that I am bringing it forward for debate in this place today.
I wish to thank all those who contributed directly or indirectly to the drafting of this bill and those who agreed to support it, including my hon. colleague from the NDP who wrote a letter of support. When I held a press conference, my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre came along to show support for the bill. I want to thank all these people for their support, both at my recent press conference and in today's debate.
I will begin by describing the purpose of the bill. This is a bill to prohibit employers under the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or have been locked out.
At present, no area of staff relations is attracting more attention than the prohibition on the use of replacement workers. These are also referred to as strikebreakers or scabs.
Regardless, there is no general prohibition on the use of replacement workers, or strikebreakers, in the Canada Labour Code, while this is prohibited under Quebec legislation. Hon. members are aware of the fact that, in Quebec, we have anti-strikebreaking legislation. Later in my speech, I will quote figures about the drastic drop in percentage of days lost since this legislation came into effect.
Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code does contain a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but this prohibition must be read carefully because it applies only if an employer uses them “for the purpose of undermining a trade union's representational capacity”.
This prohibition is a very weak one, because all the employer needs to do is acknowledge the union in place, and therefore not undermine its representational capacity, to be entitled to use replacement workers or scabs. In other words, if an employer refuses to negotiate and then uses scabs, the Canada Industrial Relations Board can forbid their use. All that is necessary, however, is for an employer to negotiate, or pretend to negotiate, with the union for it to get around this prohibition and continue to use scabs. It can be seen, therefore, that this measure is ridiculous and opens the door to the use of scabs.
I am very pleased to see that the Minister of Labour is present in the House today during this debate, and I thank her for that, because this matter is a priority for certain companies at the present time, especially in Quebec.
In reply to a question I asked her in the House on June 19, 2002, she acknowledged this, stating:
The Canada Labour Code does not prohibit the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage.
This situation has created two categories of workers in Quebec: those who work in areas governed by the Canada Labour Code and those who work in areas governed by the Quebec labour code. What this means is that if the employer, even if the company is unionized, leaves the union in place but does not negotiate directly with the union, or if the employer allows tensions to flare up, it can hire scab workers under the current Canada Labour Code.
I do not know if members know what that does to workers when they see people going in to work every morning, doing their jobs and leaving at night when they are on the picket line and have no income. Quite often entire families suffer.
I can tell you that there is mounting discontent. Only Quebec and BC have legislative measures that prohibit the use of strikebreakers. The ban on scabs in Quebec and BC helps foster and maintain civilized negotiations during labour disputes.
I have a few statistics to share. They will most certainly get members of this House thinking.
There has been anti-scab legislation in Quebec since 1977, that is for 25 years. Hon. members will be surprised at the results. In 1976, the average duration of a strike was 39.4 working days. This figure dropped to 32.8 days in 1979, and to 27.4 in 2001. We have succeeded in providing employers and employees with equal power. We are able to get items on the bargaining table promptly, get negotiations moving faster, because there is legislation obliging us to sit down and reach an agreement that is good for the employer and the employees. Negotiators are involved, as are unions. There is give and take. We have seen many instances of this in Quebec, moreover.
The unions sit down with the workers to tell them “Come on now, if we want to save the company, we have to put some extra effort into this”. There are many examples of workers doing just that. Is it because this made-in-Quebec legislation, the anti-scab legislation, has given people a position of strength? This is not there on the federal level. It is time things changed, because there are situations where action is required, and required right away.
British Columbia has also had anti-scab legislation since 1993. Between 1992 and 1993, the amount of time lost to strikes dropped by 50%.
Here are some other statistics that speak for themselves. From 1992 to 2002, the average number of days of work lost under the Quebec Labour Code was 15.9. Under the Canada Labour Code—and hon. members will not believe their ears—the figure is 31.1 days, which is more than 95.6%. From 1992 to 2002, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees under the Quebec code was 121.3 days. Under the Canada Labour Code, the figure is 266.3 days, or more than 119.5% .
These figures do not tell the whole story, but they are troubling enough to force the government to seriously consider this important issue. The Liberal government has to explain to workers why it does not want to implement the initiative I am proposing today. But let me warn the government that workers will not give up. The labour minister can rest assured that neither will I.
I would like to talk about some labour disputes that are going on right now and that are really hurting the people. There is the dispute at Videotron. Things are really bad there. We know that a negotiator was appointed and that some people have been working really hard. It has been six long months now and they still cannot find a middle ground. I do not know how many issues have yet to be resolved.
Videotron workers were relying a lot on this anti-scab legislation. They had hoped that the bill would have been made votable, but unfortunately, that has not been the case.
If we could have voted for this bill, we would have given some support to these workers by ensuring that they could negotiate on a more equal footing.
This bill protects not only the employees, but also the negotiations. That is how I see it. It protects the negotiations. It ensures that people sit down and come to an agreement more quickly.
With the employees and the employer on a more equal footing, it is a lot easier to go back to work after a few days of strike or negotiations. People are much happier to go back to work, after negotiating an agreement that is good for the workers and good for the employer. It does not force the employer to agree to some kind of increase or anything like that, but it does force him to sit down more quickly at the bargaining table and find a middle ground.
A more equal footing ensures quicker negotiations and a better climate afterwards, when work resumes. Without such a footing, how do you think the workers at Videotron or Secur--which is another company whose workers went on strike for several months and were offered pay cuts--reacted? The workers had no bargaining power. They went back to work. Do you think they were happy to go back to work the following morning? Not at all. But they had to because they and their employer were not on a level playing field.
It is far from over. I have the feeling that in the years to come the number of labour disputes will increase, because more and more collective agreements will have to be renewed. We have reached the point where we need to negotiate new agreements. After 10, 15 or 20 years of big profit business, some corporations now have to sit down with their employees and negotiate. Other companies have run into trouble and now have to open their books and renegotiate with their employees.
It has happened in Quebec. This is something the unions have had to face on a regular basis. They have come to some agreements. Workers have even invested to save their companies. That is the spirit we need. It is a very responsible attitude, but we must be able to provide these workers with the tools they need to make it through and eventually succeed.
I would like to talk about another company that is important to me. For us here in the House, it may not seem important, but for me and for others as well, it is extremely important. I am talking about Cargill. Employees have been on strike for about 30 months now. Some 40 or so employees—just a small group of employees, but they are employees with specialized skills—have been on the street for 30 months. The company even had the gall to put up a fence, so its people would not have to see them picketing on the street out front.
When the situation comes to something like this, it is because somewhere, someone has not done their homework. It means that people do not have the tools they need to get to the table and to negotiate an agreement. Right now, the employer has no willingness to negotiate a settlement; none whatsoever. So, for three years now, these employees have been out on the street, with no income, in Baie-Comeau, where it is not easy to find work with another company or in a specialized area.
If we do not act now, the problems will extend beyond Cargill, Vidéotron and Sécur; there will be problems across Canada. It is even more maddening to experience these problems in Quebec, because we have anti-scab legislation. What is more, in Quebec, the labour code protects employer-employee negotiations. However, workers who are under the Canada Labour Code are out of luck and are not looked after by their government.
There will be a debate. We will continue to discuss it here in the House. I hope that all parties will take part and make a contribution to the legislation. I will end on that. Since 1989, we have been talking about this here, I could quote all the speeches. I have the names of members from all of the parties in the House who have introduced anti-scab bills. Even the Liberal Party has voted for such a bill.
I eagerly await comments from my colleagues, and I will come back to complete my comments during the five minutes I have left.