Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention Act

An Act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code

This bill was last introduced in the 37th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in May 2004.

This bill was previously introduced in the 37th Parliament, 2nd Session.

Sponsor

Diane Bourgeois  Bloc

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Not active, as of Sept. 24, 2003
(This bill did not become law.)

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

May 5th, 2004 / 5:55 p.m.
See context

The Acting Speaker (Mr. Bélair)

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-451 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was negatived on the following division:)

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2004 / 6:55 p.m.
See context

Canadian Alliance

Paul Forseth Canadian Alliance New Westminster—Coquitlam—Burnaby, BC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-451 is an act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code. Bill C-451 addresses something very real. Harassment in the workplace is an aspect of wrongdoing in the workplace and/or an aspect of violence in the workplace or its precursor.

The sentiments of the bill are correct. That is why there has been a public service policy for over 20 years that guides the conduct of public employees about harassment between workers, or within a hierarchy, or in a supervisory relationship. The problem comes from assessing whether in the public service the current policies are working or if a formal regime of reporting, examination and remediation is necessary as a distinct system beyond and separate from the range of normal activity of a supervisor and employee relationship.

It is the normal duty of management to create and maintain a safe, reasonable work environment, not only physically but also in the psychological sense. The workplace should not be toxic or dangerous in real terms of physical harm or in a psychological sense. This is the business of personnel administration and the wise management of human resources, but the employer and the employee must both have obligations.

Currently, the situation is that the department deputy head or deputy minister has the main responsibility to deal with the matter of harassment in the workplace. The deputy head may call upon the Public Service Commission to investigate or suggest solutions, or the deputy head may go outside to psychological specialists as contractors who are completely independent. These reports then come back to the deputy head and it is management's responsibility for remediation.

The present private member's bill is within the spirit of the present government policy, but it also sets out a formal regime and makes the Public Service Commission the recipient of reports, the investigator and the one to direct remediation. That particular part may be a mistake and I did try to speak to the Public Service Commission today about that.

However, I like other aspects of the bill that spell out what harassment is and the penalties involved if it is not dealt with. The private member's bill raises the issue of the importance of the subject. The problem around harassment in the workplace, which is most often between co-workers, is likely much more common than the matter that we are dealing with in Bill C-25, which is a regime for reporting an administrative wrongdoing. We are developing a proper regime for reporting wrongdoing. The government's Bill C-25 is currently before the House.

That is where there may be a synergy here. This private member's bill is not going pass, we know that, but the topic is correct. Perhaps what could be done is to expand the definition of wrongdoing within Bill C-25.

Clause 8 of Bill C-25 defines wrongdoing. Of course it talks about the misuse of public funds or a public asset, but it also talks about an act or omission that creates a substantial and specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or to the environment, or a serious breach of a code of conduct established under clauses 5 and 6 of the bill and the taking of a reprisal. That really involves what we are talking about, which is harassment in the workplace.

Clause 8(d) is of special interest, where the health is mentioned and where harassment affects both mental and physical health. It may now already be covered by Bill C-25. Perhaps the definition in this clause could include an expanded definition taken from Bill C-451 so that there is a broader aspect of wrongdoing to be dealt with appropriately within the formal regime of reporting, investigating, remediating and providing a fair process and appropriate confidentiality that is envisioned in Bill C-25.

Bill C-451 on page 2 defines for its purposes psychological harassment. I want to briefly put that into the record. It states:

--any vexatious behaviour in the form of hostile, inappropriate and unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures that affects an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful workplace for the employee; and

(b) any abuse of authority, including intimidation, threats--

It defines that even a single incident of such behaviour that has a lasting and harmful effect on an employee also constitutes psychological harassment.

There is an extensive definition and I am sure there has been some research on that. It may also parallel some legislation in Quebec.

I could envision that elements of this definition perhaps could be included in Bill C-25 where it talks in the definition in clause 8(d) about an act or omission that creates a substantial or specific danger to the life, health or safety of persons or to the environment; or, in clause 8(e) where it talks about the code of conduct which in the public service we already have this code of conduct; or clause 8(f), taking reprisal against a public servant.

There is a parallel here. There is an opportunity for the bill's sponsor to do the necessary background research and prepare a convincing brief. She could bring it to the government operations and estimates committee to see if the members now seized with that topic can be convinced to expand Bill C-25 to give effect to the spirit of Bill C-451.

The government had a policy about reporting wrongdoing which I called a memo policy out of the Treasury Board. It really did not work very well because few public employees had confidence in it. The government brought forward stand-alone legislation to create a defined regime of reporting wrongdoing called Bill C-25. Similarly, we have a 20 year old policy now on harassment in the workplace which is in effect as a memo policy. The member, through her private member's bill, is saying that this harassment policy is not good enough and it also needs a formal regime.

I do not think we should have two separate formal regimes, one for administrative wrongdoing and another for harassment of psychological wrongdoing. It could even be argued that Bill C-25 fully accommodates already the intents of private member's Bill C-451. I say to bring the two together. Maybe that is the way to go, and have the government examine the additions within Bill C-451 and incorporate them into Bill C-25.

There is a precedent for this. I had this done with my own private member's bill relating to the Bankruptcy Act. My private member's bill went through all of the barriers and it was made a votable bill. It amended the discharged list section of the Bankruptcy Act. Later on the government brought in a comprehensive system-wide bill to revamp the whole thick piece of legislation which was a much broader, comprehensive piece of legislation.

I immediately checked the government bill in the specific part that related to my private member's bill. My private member's bill, because it had been thoroughly researched and discussed in that narrow area, was much better than the government version of that particular section. I began to negotiate with the minister. The minister of the day agreed and incorporated my private member's bill as the government provision. I withdrew my bill and went to committee and moved the motion as if it were a government motion. Therefore, the law of the land today in the Bankruptcy Act is my private member's bill as part of the government bill. Synergy can happen where we bring things together.

Perhaps there is something here as well. The committee has been charged with looking at Bill C-25 before second reading. Therefore, it is certainly within the latitude and purview of the government operations and estimates committee to make those kinds of adjustments if it sees fit.

Certainly psychological harassment in the workplace is wrong. Unfortunately, it is all too common, perhaps most often between workers rather than from management in a supervised relationship. Harassment is wrongdoing. There may be an opportunity here to bring matters together.

Everyone seems to agree on the legitimacy of the subject. It is indeed part of the public service policy now. If Bill C-25 can be expanded in a way to actually have the spirit of Bill C-451 put into the law, then I am certainly willing to explore it and give it a most sympathetic ear if it comes to committee.

It is up to the member to do the homework and try to have Bill C-25 meet as much of what is in the spirit of Bill C-451. The member should make the brief, do the homework and come to committee. As the vice-chair of the government operations and estimates committee, I will encourage the member to do so. I promise that the member will have a sympathetic ear from our side.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

April 28th, 2004 / 6:45 p.m.
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Liberal

Judi Longfield Liberal Whitby—Ajax, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to this bill.

Workplace violence, including the specific issue of psychological harassment raised by Bill C-451, is a very important matter. It is a matter that this government takes very seriously and we share the concern of the member opposite on this issue. While we share her concern, I do not agree with the proposals for change in this bill, for a number of reasons.

To begin with, bringing forward new legislation on psychological harassment at this time would conflict with other major policy work that is already going on in the area of workplace violence.

I am referring to the work of the tripartite working group that is now preparing recommendations for new regulations on identifying, controlling and responding to workplace violence in the federal jurisdiction. This tripartite working group includes representatives of both employers and employees in the federal jurisdiction, including representatives of the Government of Canada unions and the Treasury Board Secretariat, as well as officials from the federal labour program.

This group was set up some time ago to follow up on changes made to part II of the Canada Labour Code and passed into law in 2000. Part II of the code deals with health and safety issues. A few years ago, this part of the code was extensively reviewed by representatives of both employers and employees in the federal jurisdiction as well as federal officials. The issue of workplace violence was considered very carefully at that time.

Pursuant to that review, it was agreed to amend the code to provide authority under part II to require employers to “take the prescribed steps to prevent and protect against violence in the workplace”. These “prescribed steps” meant regulations. The members of that tripartite group have been hard at work to prepare a set of draft regulations that will address the issue of workplace violence and will add substance to the legislative provision that was made to part II in 2000.

I understand that developing these regulations is a complex task. There are many issues to study and many points of view to consider, including the kinds of issues raised by Bill C-451. The working group is making steady progress. The group met as recently as last November and is believed to be close to a final report. Once the few remaining issues are resolved, a final report will then be submitted to the Minister of Labour.

Since the tripartite group is actively addressing the issue of workplace violence, I do not think it is appropriate at this time to bring forward new legislation that might interfere with the ongoing collaborative process. That is the first reason I do not support the bill.

The second reason is that I disagree in principle with the proposal to deal with psychological harassment in the workplace under part III of the Canada Labour Code, as Bill C-451 proposes. Workplace violence is a health and safety issue and therefore a matter for part II of the code, the part that deals with health and safety issues, and not part III, the part that deals with workplace standards.

I feel it is also important to make it clear that the target group of Bill C-451, the Public Service of Canada, is not in actuality covered under part III of the Canada Labour Code. Instead, they are regulated by Treasury Board policies. However, the federal public service is covered under part II of the code and the most recent amendments to part II do apply to them.

When part II of the code was last amended, three fundamental employee rights were strengthened with respect to health and safety. They are: the right to know about hazards in the workplace; the right to participate in correcting those hazards; and the right to refuse dangerous work. In addition, every employer was required to develop, establish and monitor a prevention program. These programs should include provisions related to hazard identification, assessment and control, and the education of employees. This is another positive step to improving employee health and safety in the workplace.

Part II also sets out the role of the health and safety committees in workplaces under federal jurisdiction as well as the roles and responsibilities of health and safety officers and procedures to determine whether a danger exists when work refusal arises.

These joint employer-employee committees offer an effective model for the identification and resolution of health and safety issues in individual workplaces, including taking into account the psychological dimensions of dangerous or potentially violent situations in the workplace as well as the physical aspects.

All these rights and committees are supported by the legislative authority of part II of the code.

I have two basic concerns with Bill C-451. First, these issues are already being addressed by a working group of experts, a group that was set up some time ago to provide advice to the Minister of Labour on workplace violence regulations, including issues that are raised by Bill C-451. Second, the issues raised by the bill are more appropriately addressed under part II of the Canada Labour Code, not part III.

Instead of overriding the outcome of the tripartite process with this bill, we prefer to let the existing collaborative process work so that we can continue to move forward with the development and implementation of systematic ways to control workplace violence.

Adopting Bill C-451 would confuse this ongoing process. Bill C-451, for example, proposes measures to define and control workplace psychological harassment, but we expect the tripartite working group will be coming forward with recommended regulations on these issues too.

Similarly, Bill C-451 proposes new response procedures. Response procedures are obviously important, but we expect the tripartite working group will make recommendations in this area as well.

Finally, to be effective, any new measures to deal with violence in the workplace must be developed and implemented in a consultative manner. This means that both employers and employees must be involved in the process, such as they are now through the tripartite process, and such as they were in the review of part II of the code that led to the formation of the tripartite group.

We have already had extensive consultation leading to the amendments to part II of the code. In addition, before we could make amendments to part III, we would have to go through a similar extensive consultation.

As the Minister of Labour has said so often, the Canada Labour Code belongs to those it governs, that is, the employers and the employees in the federal jurisdiction. It is not the property of the minister. The Government of Canada administers the code and facilitates its operations, but fundamental changes like those proposed in Bill C-451 should take place only with the consultation agreement of the stakeholders.

There already exists a consensus in the federal jurisdiction to deal with workplace violence under part II. The joint employer-employee health and safety committees authorized under part II offer an interesting model to deal practically with these issues in the workplace. By the way, no such committees are provided for under part III of the code.

As a result, new legislation to define and control psychological harassment in the workplace would not be a good idea. The timing conflicts with other work being carried in this area by the tripartite working group, and part III of the code is not the way to proceed with an issue like this. The issue of workplace violence, whether physical or psychological, is a matter for part II of the code, the part that governs workplace health and safety. Based on the tripartite discussions that are now under way with representatives of both employers and employees, it appears that is also the view of other stakeholders in the federal jurisdiction.

I share the concerns of the member opposite about finding new ways to identify the potential for psychological harassment in the workplace and to control it, and I know the minister is committed to doing everything she can to that end, but I do not see Bill C-451 as advancing that cause and I will not be voting in favour of it.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2004 / 5:55 p.m.
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Liberal

Murray Calder Liberal Dufferin—Peel—Wellington—Grey, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join the debate on Bill C-451, an act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code.

The member has identified an issue that is also of deep concern to us on this side of the House. Violence in the workplace, how to identify it, how to control it and how to respond to it when it does occur, is a policy area that the Minister of Labour and her officials in the labour program are engaged in very closely.

Some recent high-profile cases have drawn public attention to the issues related to workplace safety and have highlighted the importance of having appropriate legislation and procedures in place to protect employees from harmful situations.

Naturally we are concerned when events occur that put workers at an unusual risk, and we are firmly committed to responding to these kinds of situations with all means at our disposal, but creating a healthy and safe work environment where all employees are treated with respect and dignity all of the time is among the most fundamental objectives of this government. Workplace safety is a matter of ongoing interest to this government and we are working on it on a number of fronts.

In this context, the Canada Labour Code is one of the key instruments available to us. As members of this House will recall, there are three parts to the Canada Labour Code. Part I deals with industrial relations matters such as work stoppages, arbitration, conciliation and so on. Part II deals with workplace health and safety and matters like workplace violence and harassment, including the issue of psychological harassment that Bill C-451 raises. Part III deals with workplace standards such as vacation entitlements, family benefits like maternity leave and so on.

A few years ago, when this House approved changes to part II of the Canada Labour Code, the part that deals with workplace health and safety, the changes included the authority to introduce regulations that would require employers to “prevent and protect against violence in the workplace”.

As a follow-up to that change, a working group, including representatives of the public service unions and the Treasury Board secretariat, was set up to study the situation and to make recommendations to the Minister of Labour on regulations that would give substance to that authority.

The working group drew its members from three sources: representatives of employers in the federal jurisdiction, representatives of employees, and officials of the federal labour program. In other words, its membership is drawn from all three stakeholder groups in the federal jurisdiction. In fact, the group is called the tripartite working group to reflect its representation from all three parties in the federal jurisdiction.

The working group has met a number of times. Much of their early discussion revolved around the physical aspects of workplace violence, but their discussions eventually broadened out to include the psychological dimension of violence in the workplace too. This means that the expert working group has been studying and discussing the very same issue, psychological harassment, that Bill C-451 is raising.

It is interesting to note that the working group is looking at this issue as it relates to part II of the code, the health and safety perspective, but Bill C-451 asks us to amend part III of the code, the part that deals with workplace standards, not health and safety issues.

Since other experts see this as a health and safety issue, and since the House already agreed to deal with the issue of workplace violence under part II of the code when the act was last amended, it does not make sense to start to confuse the issue by bringing it in under part III, as Bill C-451 asks us to do. Moreover, it is part II of the Canada Labour Code that applies to the federal public service, the target group of this bill, not part III.

Instead, the Public Service of Canada falls under Treasury Board policies on workplace harassment. In fact, Treasury Board introduced this policy to protect its employees from harassment more than 20 years ago. At that time it was the first employer in Canada to include personal harassment and abuse of authority as forms of harassment in its policy.

That policy was updated in 2001 when a revised policy on prevention and resolution of workplace harassment was announced. The updated policy defines harassment as “any improper conduct by an individual that is directed at and offensive to another person or persons in the workplace, and that the individual knew, or ought to reasonably have known, would cause offence or harm”.

The policy goes on to describe any objectionable act, comment or display that demeans, belittles, or causes personal humiliation or embarrassment, and any act of intimidation or threat as harassment. It also includes harassment within the meaning of the Canadian Human Rights Act. Therefore, the government is engaged on a number of fronts to address the issues that were raised by Bill C-451.

Another concern about the bill has to do with timing. Given the activities of the tripartite working group, as I have mentioned, and the expectation that the group will report to the minister soon, the timing is very bad for bringing forward a new bill.

The expert working group has been discussing the development of new regulations covering workplace violence for some time. These discussions have included consideration of the same issue and psychological harassment which are raised by Bill C-451.

Since this consultative group is expected to report in the near future, I personally want to wait to see what regulations are recommended to address the concerns that are raised by Bill C-451. It is also important to note that the Canada Labour Code is not the only vehicle the government has to address the issues like workplace harassment.

Another instrument is the Canadian Human Rights Act. This federal legislation is already in place to protect employees from discrimination or harassment because of their personal characteristics or beliefs and that applies to all workers under the federal jurisdiction in Canada.

Like others who follow the workplace issues closely, we have seen a growing concern about the potential for violence in the workplace over the past decade or so. There is now a much greater awareness about the potential for violence in the workplace and its impacts. We know that workplace violence can be psychological as well as physical, but whatever the form, it creates fear, stress and anxiety, and that is damaging to both individual employees and to the organizations.

Those of us on the government side are as concerned about the implications of these developments as anybody else.

The potential for physical and psychological abuse are of particular concern to the government. Federal labour program officials are actively engaged in a process to develop new regulations to deal with these issues.

I share the concerns of the member opposite. I know that we are equally interested in addressing them in a forthright manner; however, I cannot agree with either the substance of the approach being proposed in the bill, nor the timing.

Thus, while I support the underlying objective, I cannot support the bill.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2004 / 5:45 p.m.
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NDP

Wendy Lill NDP Dartmouth, NS

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak today to Bill C-451, a bill that would prohibit psychological harassment at work. It comes to the House at a time when we are hearing daily about senior managers abusing the public trust when it comes to sponsorship programs.

The public service integrity office, or PSIO, has the task of being a neutral entity to encourage the disclosure of wrongdoing in the public sector. That office found that few employees were willing to come forward with stories of wrongdoing activities. I have a quote from the public service integrity office that I think is very important to this debate, and I will quote it at length. I think it explains the need for this legislation, which I support the legislation. The PSIO report states:

These activities have great implications for the public service because they are serious in nature, often have a detrimental effect on the interests and functions of a group of public servants or a whole department, and subvert the delivery of programs or services to the public. Some cases brought to the PSIO during the past year involved alleged conduct that was obviously within that category. All involved long and complicated investigations, whether or not wrongdoing was found. These cases most clearly fall within the mandate of the PSIO.

Yet, relatively few such disclosures were made to the PSIO. As was noted earlier, it is impossible to know how much serious wrongdoing actually takes places in the Public Service. We do know that serious instances have been uncovered by the police and the Auditor General. Also, serious instances of wrongdoing have been alleged by Parliamentary Committees. And many accounts of serious governmental wrongdoing have been widely reported and discussed in the media and other public forums. The question is: Why did the employees who presumably know about these activities not go to the PSIO?

While some may believe that such disclosures are being made by internal departmental channels, this does not always appear to be the case. In fact, departmental Senior Officers designated to review disclosures of wrongdoing say they seldom receive reports of serious wrongdoing.

In my view, much of it has to do with balancing the likelihood of job reprisal with the hope of personal benefit. For example, if I believe I am the victim of an employment-related wrong, I may be willing to risk reprisal in the reasonable hope of personal benefit if the problem is addressed and fixed. But if I am not the victim of the actual wrongdoing, I am unlikely to benefit if the wrongdoing is fixed. Therefore, I may be less likely to risk reprisal by reporting the wrongdoing. Also, many do not want to risk being labelled a squealer, a rat or a disloyal employee by superiors or colleagues.

Clearly, it requires greater courage and commitment to the public interest on the part of public servants to report serious wrongdoing, especially in light of the fact that they may risk real or perceived reprisals without chance of personal benefit. Surely, the institution concerned has a duty to provide incentives and recognition for the public service being rendered, including effective protection against job reprisals.

Clearly, skepticism about the ability of this Office to provide effective protection is directly related to doubts about the effectiveness of policy versus legislation, as well as uncertainty about the independence and powers of the PSIO. As such, the fears of reprisal--and doubts that a policy-based agency can withstand those determined to practise reprisal--may constitute yet another reason to recommend a legislatively supported agency.

This is a long quote but I think it is a telling quote in terms of why the legislation is imperative at this time and why I believe the House should support it. As the quote from the public service integrity officer explains, public service employees do not believe that sufficient support or protection for them to risk disclosing wrongdoing is in place.

I think the kind of comments that were made by the minister across the way on this issue only fuels the belief that they are not being protected at this point in time by the government in office.

Our public servants deserve better support from us than they have received. Who can forget the pictures of the privacy commissioner employees standing outside the office last summer wearing gags as a symbol of how they felt silenced by a culture of intimidation in their department? If they had felt more secure, we may have learned of George Radwanski's excesses much sooner. This bill moves us in the right direction to support public servants at this point.

By laying out an explicit definition of psychological harassment and its implications on public service employees, the bill clearly supports and protects the workers who have had to implement decisions made by managers right up to the ministers of the Crown. The bill states that hostile, inappropriate and unwanted conduct, comments, actions and gestures are all psychological harassment. It also goes on to talk about the abuse of authority, including intimidation, threats, blackmail or coercion that a person in a position of power might use to endanger an employee's job, undermine their performance or interfere with an employee's career, as another form of psychological harassment. It makes clear that just one incident of this behaviour that had long term effects on an employee would in fact be considered harassment.

This legislation is a small step toward some protection for whistleblowers since it would penalize an employer or manager who retaliates against an employee disclosing incidents of psychological harassment.

The NDP has called for protection for whistleblowers for years. Any time employees come forward, like the veterinarian at Health Canada who talked about pressure from managers to fast track drug approvals, they risk not just their current jobs but also any future employment, especially if their career happens to be linked to the public service.

Surveys of public service employees show that over 21% of employees report experiencing psychological harassment at work. That is just an unbelievable figure. Over 20% of people are identifying with this problem right now in our public service. Overwhelmingly, the harassment came from people in positions of authority. Seventy-four per cent of employees who reported being harassed identified their supervisors as the people responsible for the harassment.

We clearly need legislation at this point to protect our public service employees from intimidation and coercion from their supervisors, managers and others. The fact that the government at this point is saying that it is not necessary speaks volumes about the people who are in charge of the government.

In closing, this bill, while protecting employees, will also protect the interests of Canadians by ensuring public service employees are protected from job loss and censure if they make a disclosure of wrongdoing. I am pleased to support the bill at this time.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2004 / 5:30 p.m.
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Liberal

Wayne Easter Liberal Malpeque, PE

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak to this issue. First and foremost I want to congratulate the member opposite on the intent of her bill. The bill's intent and objectives are right, but from the government's perspective, we believe they can be handled in another way.

Concerns about violence in the workplace have been growing for some time, not just in Canada's public service, the group the bill focuses on, but throughout society in general. As a result of this increasing violence, the government and other stakeholders have increasingly focused attention on the question of workplace violence, both physical and psychological. Over the past decade, a good deal of work has been done to gain a better understanding of the potential for violence in the workplace and how to recognize and prevent it.

For example, in 2001 in Montreal, Canada's minister of labour jointly hosted with her counterpart in the Government of Quebec an international conference on workplace violence. It was an excellent conference. It was held under the auspices of the NAFTA agreement on labour. Delegates came from Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

Presenters from diverse backgrounds spoke about workplace violence in their areas. The speakers came from the public and private sectors. They represented both employers and employees and they included experts from several jurisdictions, including Quebec.

Psychological violence, the subject of Bill C-451, was one of the key issues discussed. We learned a lot from that conference. For example, we learned that there is a linkage between psychological and physical workplace violence.

One expert, Mr. Di Martino, a consultant based in France and author of the International Labour Organization's report “Violence at Work”, spoke about psychological violence. He noted that its impact can be as bad or even worse than physical violence. He identified a need to focus on the long-lasting negative consequences that psychological violence can have in our workplace.

He also said that issues of physical and psychological violence should not be looked at separately. He pointed out that while focusing on psychological violence is important, we should not lose perspective of the link that exists between psychological and physical violence. Mr. Di Martino said, “Any act of physical violence impacts enormously on psychological well-being, and any act of psychological violence has a physical effect on people. They cannot be separated”.

This is wise advice. It says to me that we should not be separating workplace psychological harassment for special legislative attention as Bill C-451 does. Like Mr. Di Martino, I believe we would need to work at both psychological and physical violence as being linked in the workplace. I would argue therefore that any legislation we bring forward in this area should consider that linkage.

Part II of the Canada Labour Code gives us the ability to do that. That part of the code deals with workplace health and safety. Clearly, the issue of workplace violence, whether physical or psychological, is an issue of health and safety. I would suggest we could address the legitimate concerns of the member opposite in the context of part II of the Canada Labour Code, the part that focuses on health and safety in the workplace rather than part III as the bill proposes.

Before I continue, I must clarify that part III of the Canada Labour Code does not apply to the Public Service of Canada. As such, amendments under this part of the code would not be relevant to the target group of the bill.

The federal public service is instead governed in this area by a Treasury Board policy on prevention and resolution of workplace harassment. However, part II of the code already applies to Canada's public service, the target of the member's interest, and it already provides for regulations on workplace violence.

A few years ago, part II of the code was the subject of an extensive review that included a broad range of stakeholders in the federal jurisdiction. This was the most comprehensive review of the legislation that had ever taken place. It included representatives of employees, unions and employers in the federal jurisdiction, as well as from the federal public service and Treasury Board Secretariat.

Among other issues, the review looked at the issue of workplace violence. Among other amendments, the new law included a provision to require employees to take prescribed steps that would “prevent and protect against violence in the workplace”.

Those prescribed steps were to be developed in the form of regulations. Those regulations are now being developed by a tripartite working group of individuals representing employers and employees in the federal jurisdiction, as well as government officials.

This background leads me to make two points. First, the work to develop these regulations is being done by a representative group of employers and employees in the federal jurisdiction, the same stakeholders who will be governed by the regulations. Second, they are doing this work under part II of the code.

That in turn leads me to make two other observations. One, the proposed regulations will result from a consultative process that includes the stakeholders themselves. Hopefully there will be broad acceptance of those regulations. Two, it appears these key stakeholders themselves see workplace violence as a health and safety issue, one that should be dealt with under part II of the code and not under part III as Bill C-451 proposes.

There are two conclusions. One, the government is on the right track in its approach to address the issue of workplace violence, including both physical and psychological harassment under part II of the code. Two, instead of looking for new ways to deal with workplace harassment such as Bill C-451 proposes, we should be looking to the forthcoming regulations of the tripartite working group.

In other words, I do not see the need for the bill at this time. The intent and the need to address it is right but it can be addressed by other means, as we are moving forward to do.

It is also important to keep in mind that members of Canada's public sector are already protected from discrimination or harassment by the Canadian Human Rights Act as well as by the Treasury Board policy to prevent and protect members of the public service from workplace harassment.

The Canadian Human Rights Act already protects all employees under federal jurisdiction, including the public service of Canada. There is a longstanding public service policy against harassment that was introduced over 20 years ago and was updated in 2001.

Can we do more? Of course we can. We can always do more. I look forward to the regulations from the tripartite working group to see what more can be done. Can we also do more for workers outside the public sector? Indeed we can and working through part II of the code is the way to do that.

When I look at what the government is already doing to address issues of workplace violence, including the issue of psychological harassment raised in Bill C-451, I am convinced the government is on the right track.

I do not see the need for this legislation at this point. I do not agree with the approach presented in Bill C-451 and therefore, I cannot support it at this time.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActPrivate Members' Business

February 26th, 2004 / 5:15 p.m.
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Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

moved that Bill C-451, an act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code, be read the second time and referred to committee.

Mr. Speaker, first, I hope you will allow me to dedicate the second reading of this bill to the victims of harassment. I can name some of them: Robert, Christina, Roger, Paule, Jean-Paul, Diane who came close to suicide barely a month ago, and many others. I would also like to offer it to the people of my riding who support me in the work I do and who help me financially to provide assistance to people dealing with psychological harassment in the federal public service.

The bill I am introducing does, in fact, aim to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and would amend the Canada Labour Code.

Psychological harassment is not new; it has been around since the world began. Since 1990, however, it has become more significant. Reorganization of work, job instability, and the fact that more and more is constantly being demanded of employees and employers, these are all elements that produce stress in the workplace. This opens the door to harassment, intimidation and the abuse of power.

Right now, Canada has a policy entitled Policy on the Prevention and Resolution of Harassment in the Workplace. It is a Treasury Board policy that came into effect in 1994 and was amended in June 2001. Nevertheless, we have seen that this policy has had no effect whatsoever on all the abuses of power and all the ongoing cases of harassment in the federal public service.

In the 15 minutes at my disposal, I would like to explain the difference between the bill and the policy, to show just how much the policy resembles Swiss cheese and how necessary it is to have a bill.

The hon. members will understand that I am basing my statement on facts, on all the people I have just named and many others who have sent me anonymous letters complaining of being victims of harassment. These people have told me their stories. They are also able to prove that the policy currently in effect in the federal public service provides no protection and does not guarantee the physical and psychological safety of our workers.

First, the policy is an empty promise. It contains words and expressions such as “employees can expect”, “employees can do such and such”. The policy in no way requires the administrator or the manager to do anything to stop the harassment. However, the bill, as he said, requires the federal public administration to provide public servants with a workplace free of psychological harassment.

Furthermore, Bill C-451, which I am introducing, establishes rights and responsibilities. Every public servant has a right to a workplace free of psychological harassment. Public servants therefore have a responsibility to inform the delegated manager, meaning their immediate supervisor, of any action that may cause them psychological harassment.

Why am I saying have a responsibility? Because, often, our employees dare not speak out. Psychological harassment is so insidious that the persons themselves doubt that it is happening. They are not sure that they or their work is not at fault.

When we are not sure of ourselves, we can endure harassment, intimidation and abuse of power for a very long time. However, the employer is required to ensure that no public servants are subject to psychological harassment. When I say that the bill puts the responsibility on the employer, it also sets out the process for registering a harassment complaint. I will explain what I mean.

Currently, employees subject to psychological harassment must realize that this is the case and disclose this to their immediate supervisor. This individual, who does not know what psychological harassment is, who is not aware of it, who is caught up in his problems as a section or unit manager, is not always aware that harassment exists.

Consequently, it can take one or two months, and sometimes as long as six months before the delegated manager takes action to put an end to the harassment.

The bill states that, as soon as a complaint of harassment is filed, managers have a responsibility to act. The manager has five days in which to act. Why? Because the person experiencing the harassment is living in an environment so negative and so harmful to their health, that it can lead to other problems for which there is no cure.

The bill also ensures the confidentiality of the complaint. Currently, the immediate manager who receives the complaint often ends up saying, “There is no problem. I will talk about it with my colleagues”. This should never happen. A harassment complaint is confidential because it is something that deeply affects the individual.

When an employee makes a complaint to the immediate manager, and the complaint is not well received, or not accepted as harassment, often the employee feels isolated. The employee will withdraw and continue to endure different types of harassment. At some point, the employee may decide to take the complaint to a higher level.

If that is the case, in our public service, the employee will go to the regional level. The regional manager will contact the immediate supervisor to ask what is going on, to find out whether harassment is occurring in his section. The immediate manager, who did not acknowledge the harassment complaint in the first place, will not acknowledge it now either.

This becomes a vicious circle in which the harassment complaint is never acknowledged. The intent of the bill is to ensure that within five working days of a harassment complaint being filed, something is done, someone steps in, measures are taken to separate the victim and the harasser, or some other approach is taken, such as mediation.

Again, under Treasury Board policy, mediation is practically mandatory. In the bill, mediation is not mandatory for the simple reason that it is very difficult for a victim of harassment to be in mediation in front of their harasser. The bill gives the victim the choice to face the harasser, to choose mediation or not.

The bill also provides for the appointment of a commissioner of the public service who would know about harassment, about how terrible it is, and about its physical and psychological impacts on the victim. The commissioner would have the authority to take action, not only through recommendations, but also through measures requiring the employer to act.

The commissioner would be assisted by a psychological harassment complaints committee. Why a complaints committee? Simply because, according to Treasury Board figures, 20% of the members of the federal public service are, or have been victims of harassment. According to our own figures, this proportion is more like 30%, if not more. This means one worker out of three. And we are talking about the public service, not about workers who are governed by the Canada Labour Code.

We can assume that, in the first few years following the implementation of the legislation, there would be a large number of requests to review files. Many public servants would ask to have their case examined because they are victims of harassment. A commissioner alone would not be able to do this and, also, it takes people to go and investigate on the premises. This is more or less what the commissioner at the ethics office—I am thinking of Mr. Keyserlingk—is currently doing by providing some help to victims of harassment, whenever he can.

So, the commissioner would have the authority to examine written complaints, investigate, report and submit a report. Consequently, he could report to the House once a year on the processing of the harassment complaints received by his office.

The commissioner and his committee could exercise recourses against public servants who do not effectively manage harassment complaints. The bill mentions recourses because currently, there are managers who, in all impunity, continue to be both employee and manager in the federal public service. They are currently the cause of harassment, physical problems and psychological problems experienced by employees, as well as former employees who have left their jobs and find themselves out on the street. The managers continue to work and to do well while their victims have lost everything.

The legislation sets out fines of up to $10,000 if managers do not do their jobs properly and do not effectively resolve a complaint. Additionally, there are recourses for victims of harassment who have lost everything. At present, there are some who are barely surviving and whose complaints have been yet to be dealt with after seven, five, three or two years.

This bill also amends the Canada Labour Code. The International Labour Organization just published a report saying that Canada is the number five country in the world for psychological harassment at the workplace. The rate here is 19% higher than in the United States. A recently published book indicates that psychological harassment in the federal public service is a federal crime in that the federal government knows it exists, but is not doing anything about it.

This is an extremely important bill. This is a non-partisan bill, even though it is put forward by the Bloc Quebecois.

This bill will put justice back in the hands of the victims of harassment. It would be terrible if any party in this House opposed this bill.

Workplace Psychological Harassment Prevention ActRoutine Proceedings

September 24th, 2003 / 3:30 p.m.
See context

Bloc

Diane Bourgeois Bloc Terrebonne—Blainville, QC

moved for leave to introduce Bill C-451, an act to prevent psychological harassment in the workplace and to amend the Canada Labour Code.

Madam Speaker, it is with great pride that I introduce my first bill in this House.

It defines psychological harassment and abuse of power, requires the public service of Canada to provide its employees with employment free of psychological harassment, and requires every employee of the public service of Canada to disclose behaviour that is contrary to these principles.

The bill also provides for the exercise of recourse, the imposition of fines and the taking of remedial action when an employee who has made a disclosure is subjected to retaliation. In addition, the bill amends the Canada Labour Code to prohibit acts of psychological harassment.

(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)