Mr. Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to rise to address the House on Bill C-419 introduced by the New Democratic Party member for Halifax. It is time that this bill came to the House for us to debate.
Bill C-419 will show us which political party in Canada truly supports unions and which party is truly opposed to them. The test will take place when it is time to vote.
The Liberal Party will certainly say, “Ah, the workers and the unions support us”. Finally, this bill will give the members' employees an opportunity to unionize, but now they will come to say they are not ready to give that opportunity to the employees. In fact, they say that if there are risks at work they can refuse to work.
Imagine that. In the private sector this has been a topic of negotiation for many years, and any worker who thinks his or her life is in danger has the right to refuse to work and can initiate an investigation of his or her workplace.
And the Liberals are afraid that people could refuse a task if they believe it could be a threat to their health and well-being. This is unheard of, and I never thought I would hear any such thing from the government.
Governments should leaders, both nationally and provincially. And this kind of bill scares the government. Just think of the message it is sending to private sector companies.
The private sector is opposed to unions because they negotiate good benefits for their members and that affects the bottom line. Today, in the House of Commons, the government is telling us basically the same thing: the way it operates must not change, must not be questioned, must not allow representation.
The remark that gets to me the most is the one just made by the Liberal member who said, “Imagine, staff could refuse to perform work they consider dangerous to their health or safety. We can't have that”.
God forbid that someone from outside Parliament should come and check whether jobs are safe. Incredible. The Liberals are to be thanked. On behalf of the workers, I wish to thank the Liberals for being so supportive of workers when they say, “We do not want anyone to represent you, but we want you to work for us”. As some would say, the same way that you have good companies and bad ones, you have good bosses and bad ones. Normally, when a union is formed it is because the workers want one, because there are bad bosses and bad companies. That is when the workers seek to unionize. Something has to happen to set that process in motion, something like abuse by the employer. That is when workers want to unionize.
Are the Liberals in this House this evening telling us that, as far as they are concerned, they want to continue abusing their employees in this day and age? Since they contend that they are not abusing their employees, they should have nothing to fear from unionization. Are they afraid of collective bargaining and free bargaining?
There are even some surprising questions in the speech by the Bloc Quebecois member for Laurentides. She too had some questions relating to the union. We will wait for their speech this evening, but I have heard there is a possibility of their supporting the bill. They wondered how they could manage to negotiate salaries when the budget comes from Parliament and they have no control over the money.
It is like a company, with no control. If it makes a profit it has money, if it does not, it has no money. The two parties negotiate. As for the NDP, I am proud to represent them here; it will be six years on June 2. We have had a union for our staff, and I have experience with that. We have had collective agreements. We accepted a union for our staff and it did not kill us. In fact, our relationship is a really good one.
Another point that was raised by the Bloc Quebecois member for Laurentides is that it must not be the same union, because of the risk of conflict of interest. I have always thought that it was not up to the employer to decide on the union, but rather that it was the workers' choice that determined the union that would represent them. That is not up to the employer. It is like having a company or an employer decide which chamber of commerce will represent it, it is not up to the population to tell it which one to go with.
I have a problem when such things are said in the House of Commons, particularly when it is something to do with workers. In this bill, all that is being asked is for workers to have the right to unionize and for this to be accepted by Parliament.
Once again, the Bloc asked a question, “Will we be forced to do it? Will employees be forced to unionize?” No, only if they want to. We cannot turn up at some workplace today, Tim Hortons for example, and tell the workers, ”From now on, by law, you may unionize and in fact you have to unionize”. It is up to the employees to decide.
I would just like to reassure the members of the Bloc Quebecois that they need not worry, our employees have been unionized for years. We think we have a good collective agreement with them—that is what our employees tell us—and we have free bargaining. The union that represents them is the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada. We have established good relations and employees seem happy.
However, I can say one thing. I do not know if there are members who are afraid, whether they are Liberal members, or members of the Canadian Alliance, or members of any other party who want to vote against the bill. I do not know how they treat their employees. Perhaps when Parliament adjourns, they lay off their employees and these people have to go on employment insurance. Perhaps they are afraid of trying to negotiate that in their collective agreement.
I think that with the office budgets we are given, we can support employees and do constituent work. We are in a better situation than private sector employers when it comes to our budgets, for the simple reason that the private sector may or may not make a profit.
We have to be honest. As members of Parliament, we have a fixed budget. It does not grow or shrink. We can adjust, with our budget. We are able to negotiate collective agreements and adjust. We have to give our employees some credit. They know that if members do not do their job, if they are not able to work for their constituents, they will lose their job.
The Bloc Quebecois raised another question. They asked what happens if out of 50 members, 25 of them do not get re-elected? If 25 members are not re-elected, the employees are laid off, as is the case with members of Parliament. This is in the collective agreement. You cannot give someone a job if there is no employer. The member of Parliament is the employer, and if the employer no longer exists, the employees no longer exist. We negotiated all of this. We negotiated collective agreements and the employees seem satisfied with all of it. They say so openly.
Moreover, if there is something that is not going well, they are not embarrassed to come and see the employer to say so. They are not shy about raising issues with us. They are protected. Our employees are subjected to a great deal of pressure. There is pressure from the riding and its issues. Sometimes, perhaps, we are not very tolerant toward our employees. I can guarantee that it gives us some structure, and it says to us, “Take the time to sit down and talk. Sort out your problems by using a negotiated collective agreement”.
In a collective agreement, there are all kinds of rules and situations described. If an employee does not do his work, there are provisions for a first, oral warning, a written warning and, in the end, dismissal. There are also provisions related to arbitration.
I just want to tell the Liberals not to worry. You are telling the workers that you support them, and if that is the case, vote for this bill. The only time you support the workers is when you want their votes, but when it is time to protect them, you are ready to say no to this bill. I think it is very sad to see the Liberals taking such a position—