Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to take part in this debate, especially since today, May 1, is International Workers Day, and I take this opportunity to salute all workers.
I will go back to November 24, 1992, at a time when private members' bills were a very popular topic. That day, in the House of Commons, I introduced Bill C-376, a bill to amend the Canada Labour Code. I asked for leave to introduce that bill to amend the Canada Labour Code with regard to scabs and essential services. In my remarks, I said:
Mr. Speaker, the purpose of this bill is to amend the Canada Labour Code to preclude Crown corporations from using scabs during a strike and also to maintain essential services. Indeed, for some time now the major central labour bodies in Quebec have been shifting toward responsible and civilized trade unionism.
This bill will encourage workers to stand up for their rights and interests as members of a society where the improved standard of living of individuals is achieved through consultation.
I want to inform my Liberal colleagues that I will support these provisions, just as I supported the bill that was debated in the House in 1995 and that was introduced by the member for Manicouagan. If I am not mistaken, I believe it was Bill C-317. Today, we have Bill C-328, which was introduced by the member for Laurentides. It has already been debated for one hour in the House of Commons and is the 29th item in the order of precedence on the Order Paper. In a month or so, it will be debated again in the House, and I will support it.
But what should we do about this motion that is before the House on this opposition day? I must say that our society has come a long way since the first International Workers Day in 1886. Together, workers, employers, unions, governments and organizations of all kinds have made Canada what it is today.
We are very proud of and very grateful for this heritage from our ancestors. We all have the desire to continue to improve the well-being of Canadians and to ensure that Canada remains a great country in which to live. This is the goal that we have in mind every time we tackle an issue, including the reform of the Canada Labour Code.
In the case of the Canada Labour Code, we apply the basic principle of labour-management relations that says that employees and employers are in the best position to determine what is more appropriate for them.
We know that two provinces in Canada are against scabs. First, there is Quebec. Today, I salute the new Quebec premier who was democratically elected recently. The hon. Jean Charest spent several years here and will continue down the same path with respect to labour relations. British Columbia is also anti-scab.
Consequently, today, the government's role is to support employees and employers in their discussions and to help them find appropriate solutions to meet their needs. In some cases, it is possible to reach an agreement, as was the case with most of the key amendments made in 1999 to Part I of the Canada Labour Code. In other cases, however, it is more difficult to achieve a compromise. This is particularly so with replacement workers.
As the government says, this is a sensitive issue. But if we follow the same principle as the provinces of Quebec and British Columbia, we will be able to find a solution. Today, we say that this sensitive issue has been debated many times over the years and that, each time, stakeholders maintained their initial position. We were able to see this once again during the extensive consultations that the Canadian government held in 1999 with representatives of labour and management as well as with many people who have a good knowledge of labour policy issues.
Unions almost unanimously support the implementation of legislative provisions prohibiting the use of replacement workers. For their part, employers are categorically opposed to such a measure. What is more, both employers and unions have legitimate arguments.
This is the case, among others, of the communications and transportation sector, where managers and supervisors often replace employees on strike or locked out. We have an example today with the issue of the communication sectors. Right now, and I want to say this, Radio-Nord strikers, who are members of the union of communication employees of Abitibi-Témiscamingue, have filed a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board for unfair practices.
Even though the strike started October 25, 2002, Radio Nord Communications is still broadcasting both on television and radio thanks to scabs. This is 2003, and today Radio-Nord, which is a big company—I cannot deny it, it is very well run—does not know how to manage its employees.
In our area, for instance, Radio-Nord has been cutting jobs for several years. Currently, management and contractors are replacing striking employees.
Radio Nord Communications has hired over 25 persons or businesses on contract to do the work of strikers in part or in whole. This is unfair. It is unfair for their families. Recently, I met one of my good colleagues, who is a journalist, Gilles Hamel, of Radio-Nord Val-d'Or. He came to my constituency office in Val-d'Or and told me, “Guy, the current strike is having an impact on children's school work, and on families too”. Why? Because Radio Nord is using scabs.
Today, the head of the union, André Anglehart, and several workers, men and women, are here in the House of Commons to protest against Radio-Nord Communications, which by using scabs has been denying them their bargaining rights.
A solution must be found. There is nothing difficult about it. We started working on the issue of scabs in 1999. Indeed, the Canadian labour minister should conduct another consultation and hold truly comprehensive meetings, maybe in a few weeks' time, since two provinces in Canada were able to find a solution, to see if the other provinces could do likewise.
However, there must be an outright ban on replacement workers during work stoppages. True, the code considers it to be an unfair labour practice to use such workers to undermine a union's representational capacity rather than to pursue legitimate bargaining objectives.
Under the current legislation, one can appeal the use of replacement workers. We would not need this motion if there were a recourse. It should be banned completely since we know that when an appeal is launched, it takes several weeks or months before the committee renders its decision. But it is always possible for unionized workers to lodge a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board.
Since 1999, the Canada Labour Code has given employees an avenue of recourse. But we should also state that we are against the use of scabs, and then the employees would not have to wait for weeks for the Canada Industrial Relations Board's decision, and we would save the taxpayers money. If we are against the use of scabs, we should clearly say so once and for all.
The Board is an independent quasi-judicial body responsible for the interpretation and the enforcement of Part I and some provisions of Part II of the Canada Labour Code. It is composed of representatives of the employers and the unions, one chairperson and various independent vice-chairpersons.
We would only have to add one provision against scabs to the Canada Labour Code and that would be the end of it. There are many representations from employees and others today in this regard.
We are often asked why government did not ban the hiring of replacement workers when Part I of the Canada Labour Code was amended. That amendment did not completely ban the hiring of replacement workers during work stoppages.
The use of replacement workers for the demonstrated purpose of undermining a union's representational capacity rather than the pursuit of legitimate bargaining objectives will be considered an unfair labour practice.
The labour and management parties that bargain collectively under Part I of the Code have accepted this approach as being a reasonable compromise. They had in fact accepted a compromise back in 1999, but it is now 2003. We should make another compromise and not accept any scabs.
I know, I do sometimes go to the picket line in front of Radio-Nord in Val-d'Or. Managers are doing the work. Guys like Gilles Hamel come to my office to explain a few things to me. I often meet with a former union leader who is now retired, Antonio Bruno of the United Steelworkers of America. I saw him last week. He spoke to me about this strike that has gone on for six weeks.
In recent years, there have been two strikes in Val d'Or. A solution must be found. Credibility is being undermined, even within families.
We are still asking the same question, “Will the federal government admit that the amendments to Part 1 of the Canada Labour Code concerning replacement workers are ineffective?” They answer, “It is premature to conclude that the provisions on replacement workers are ineffective”.
Listen, we have examples of strikes going on right now. We have one in the communications sector in Val-d'Or. Radio Nord Communications is the best example we have. I am disappointed that they are here today. I am very disappointed that they are here today, on May 1, to defend their rights as workers as this should have been settled at the outset, on October 25, 2002. If the Canada Labour Code had banned strikebreakers, they would not be here today, six months later.
They were on strike in the north in the remote regions of Quebec. They picketed at -40
C. It went down to -52
C this winter in January and February. These people are diplomats. I met them a while ago in front of the Parliament buildings. I spoke with them and invited them in. About nine of them took me up on my offer. They are fine people, these men and women. They want the government to get involved for the sake of the future.
It is very easy. All it would take is to white-out one or two lines in the Canada Labour Code and write in “no strikebreakers will be permitted in future”.
I am in favour of this opposition day. When it is time to vote on the hon. member's private member's bill, I will vote in favour of it.