Mr. Speaker, I am extremely pleased to speak on this important Bill C-231 introduced by my hon. colleague from Winnipeg Centre.
First, in a way, I am totally saddened, because, while the bill is already at second reading, members still have many concerns. Many members are more inclined to take the side of major employers than that of the workers, even though they like the workers to vote for them when an election comes.
That is unfortunate because, at present, the employees get their pensions, back wages, vacation pay, severance pay and any other benefits only after the taxes, creditors and suppliers have been paid.
The best case in point is what happened just recently when the pulp mill in Nackawic, New Brunswick, went bankrupt. As the principal creditor, the company's president, who was from the U.S., made sure he got paid first by another company he owned.
Earlier, I heard the Conservative member express concern for Canada's banks. The Conservatives, and the Liberals as well, worry about the banks, while the banks are making between $5 billion and $6 billion in profits. Are you afraid they will pack up and go home?
I will tell you something, dear friends in the House of Commons. There are people working underground in the Brunswick mine who risk their health and safety every day. How many miners in Canada do that? How many people work in the woods, from morning till night, with sweat on their brow?
We may be shaken here in the House of Commons by the sponsorship scandal. Nonetheless, even if an election is called, every one of us will receive our salaries and our pensions. However, that is not the case for miners, forestry workers, the man or woman working at the paper mill in Nackawic from morning till night. They will be the last to get paid. It is shameful.
As a former union representative who negotiated many collective agreements, I would say to my colleague from Winnipeg Centre that the bill does not go far enough. The bill should require companies that offer retirement funds to put that money elsewhere rather than keeping it, waiting to declare bankruptcy and then not paying out the pensions to these employees.
It is a shame to see people who have given 20 or 25 years of their lives to a company that made profits, that had some good years, but that went bankrupt because it was not properly managed, with the result that these people lost their pensions.
It was sad to see these people cry in Nackawic, New Brunswick, because they lost their jobs after working 25 years for a company that made millions of dollars in profits. It is sad to see that the last ones to get anything are the workers.
I want this bill to make it to second reading but, at the same time, it must be accepted by the federal government. However, in order to be adopted before the election, the Liberals must stop listening to the right-wing party, namely the Conservatives. Even the member for Kootenay—Columbia said that employment insurance premiums should not be in dollars, but in cents. This is because they do not believe in employment insurance and in workers. They do not believe that when a worker loses his job, he should get some income. That is what is shameful.
It is a shame that today there are still places of employment where people go to work for the company from morning to night, where men and women work for 25 or 30 years and if the company goes bankrupt, they lose their wages. The workers are the last ones to be paid. The creditors get paid first.
The CEO of the pulp mill at Nackawic had another company. He was the principal creditor and he was the first one to get paid before the workers. Does the government support that? Is that what the government is going to do? What a shame. It is a shame to treat the working people of our country like that.
At election time, every member of Parliament is very pleased to shake hands with people and ask for their support. The candidates are always pleased to shake hands with people at the gates of a plant and ask, “Could I have your support? I will support you if I become a member of Parliament”.
We hear today that we have to be careful about the banks, that the banks will not lend money. If they do not want to lend money, they close their doors and go home. We do not need them. They are not all going to close their doors. We do not have to take that threat from anyone. We have to respect Canada's working men and women who get up every morning to go to work for years and years.
Will we as members of Parliament pass a bill in the House of Commons that if we lose in an election, we will lose our pensions? Are we ready to do that? Why are we not ready to support the working people of our country? Why does the same thing not apply to the working men and women of our country as applies to us?
It would not be a shame if for once Parliament looked at Bill C-281 and passed it. I think many companies would agree with it because those families live in communities. When they lose their pay and pension, the whole community suffers for it. Over 850 people work at Brunswick Mine in Bathurst. If the mine went bankrupt and the workers lost their pensions, what would happen to the communities of Bathurst, Chaleur and Acadie? It would hurt those communities. The banks would be laughing. That is what would happen if members do not support this bill.
It would be a shame to water it down to where it does not mean anything anymore. What is wrong about doing a day's work and getting paid for that day of work? What is wrong about making it law that the company would pay for everyone's houses and get the bank to give them the money? The money does not belong to the bank. It belongs to the labourer who works all week. It is his money.
When a pension plan is negotiated, there is a limit on how much one will get from the company, two per cent, four per cent. Does that mean there will be no more pension plans, that we put everything in wages and we get paid right away? Is that the message we want to send to workers? No, we say to people to make a pension plan, make something good of life with the little bit of money they have left. That is what we say, but in the end, if the company goes bankrupt, we will steal it from them, we will take it from them, and that is wrong. It is morally wrong. It is totally wrong.
Anyone who gets up in the House of Commons and does not vote for this bill should never go to a plant gate and shake hands with the working people come election time because they have no respect for the working people if they do that. I recommend very strongly that all parties in the House of Commons think about what they will do and what they will say to the people when they go to the ridings looking for votes. It is just unbelievable.
The CEO of the Royal Bank will not cry on the night a company goes bankrupt. I never see them cry; it is just one big group that was lost. But I see the families cry. I see the father and the mother crying. I see the kids crying. The kids will go to school with nothing. That is what we have done. It is totally wrong not to support Bill C-281.
That is why it is important to adopt this bill at second reading. People must have an opportunity to express their views. Personally, I would even adopt the bill in its present form, because it is so important. If it is amended, it would be to improve it.
Let us look after our citizens and after Canadian families. As I said, I cannot even imagine that a parliamentarian would vote against this bill and then ask workers to support him as a member of Parliament. It would be tantamount to asking workers to vote for him to represent them in Ottawa, and then to rob them of their pensions, salaries and fringe benefits. How could anyone say they would rather defend the banks than support the poor people who worked so hard and who put their health and safety at risk?
I am pleased to have had these 10 minutes to address this very important bill for workers.