Mr. Speaker, in connection with the hiring of replacement workers to take the place of workers on strike or locked out, the Bloc Québécois believes that a Minister of Labour working within the spirit of part 2 of Bill C-23 ought to make a commitment to support Bill C-263. Once again, the Bloc Québécois is the only party in Ottawa defending the interests of the workers of Quebec.
The Canada Labour Code should be amended and brought into line with the Quebec code, so as to ban the use of strikebreakers for once and for all. The best way to acknowledge the exceptional contribution of all those who are involved every day in building our societies is to provide them with the guarantee that everything possible will be done to ensure that Bill C-263, as proposed by the hon. member for Louis-Hébert, is passed. This is a bill to eliminate the outmoded practice of using strikebreakers during strikes or lockouts. The Bloc Québécois will do its utmost to gain the support of the other political parties in this House.
Anti-scab measures are indispensable if there are to be civilized negotiations during labour disputes. Measures against the use of strikebreakers foster industrial peace. They are the cornerstone that ensures a level playing field for employers and employees. They will make it possible to eliminate the existence of two categories of workers in Quebec: those who come under Quebec's jurisdiction and therefore have that right, and those who do not because they work in businesses under federal jurisdiction.
The Prime Minister, who was so anxious to have that position, now needs to show his true colours as far as this bill is concerned. We also need to hear from all of his caucus today. They cannot want to direct the Parliament of Canada and not take part in a debate as important as one on workers' rights. We need to know their intentions. Quebeckers and Canadians can count on the Bloc Québécois to keep after them until a response is forthcoming.
On October 21, a 46,000 signature petition was tabled in the House by my colleague, the former labour critic, in support of workers and asking that the government pass Bill C-328. In solidarity with all workers, the Bloc Québécois adopted a resolution at its last biennial congress recognizing the importance of amending the Canada Labour Code to prevent the use of strikebreakers.
The situation in Quebec and in Canada is that only Quebec and British Columbia have legislation preventing the use of strikebreakers. Four provinces, including Ontario, have included anti-strikebreaker measures in their labour codes.
In Quebec, the passage of the anti-strikebreaker legislation in December 1977, implemented in 1978 under René Lévesque, was unanimously hailed as a great leap forward in workers' rights.
Following a particularly stormy strike at United Aircraft in Longueuil, this measure which seriously limited all employers' abilities to scorn unions with impunity, put Quebec in the vanguard in North America.
In New Brunswick, union leaders have been calling for anti-strikebreaker measures to be added to the provincial labour code for some time now. The same is true in Manitoba and Saskatchewan where unions are trying to convince their governments to adopt such measures.
Section 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains provisions forbidding replacement workers, but only if the employer uses them for the demonstrated purpose of undermining a trade union's representational capacity. This is a weak provision since the employer need only continue to recognize the existing union and thus not undermine its representational capacity in order to have the right to use replacement workers, strikebreakers or scabs.
In other words, if the employer refuses to negotiate and uses scabs, at that point the Canada Labour Relations Board can forbid the employment of such workers. However, if the employer negotiates or pretends to negotiate with the union in order to avoid this prohibition, it can continue to use scabs. We can see that this is a ridiculous measure and leaves a huge loophole for the use of scabs.
Now I will address the importance of having legislation. There is a general consensus among the various unions as to the importance of having anti-scab measures for both provincial and federal workers. Anti-scab legislation is needed in the current labour climate because it allows greater transparency in labour disputes.
There are many negative effects to having a strike or a lockout and they are enough to illustrate the importance of having anti-scab measures in order to reduce the conflicts. Strikes or lockouts can cause a decrease in local or global economic productivity, in business and government revenues, and in profits, which lowers the purchasing power of the workers directly or indirectly affected by the dispute. In some cases the dispute can cause social problems, debt in the households involved in the dispute, psychological problems caused by stress, and so forth.
I have some thought-provoking numbers. Anti-scab legislation has existed in Quebec since 1977. The average number of working days lost was 39.4 days in 1976. This decreased to 32.8 in 1979. In 2002-03, the number of workers affected by labour disputes in Quebec dropped by 18% and average days lost in 2001 was 27.4. The number of days dropped from 39 to 27 in Quebec with anti-scab legislation.
Anti-scab legislation has existed in British Columbia since 1993. As a result, from 1992 to 1993 the ratio of time lost dropped by 50%. The average number of working days lost between 1992 and 2002 under the Quebec Labour Code was 15.9 days compared to 31.1 days under the Canada Labour Code, which is a difference of 95%. That is the difference between the two. The number of days lost by 1,000 employees from 1992 to 2002 was 121 days under the Quebec Labour Code compared to 266 days under the Canada Labour Code: a difference of 119%.
The 10 month dispute at Vidéotron alone resulted in a loss of 355,340 working days in Quebec in 2002. This is more than a third of all working days lost because of a strike or lockout in 2002 in Quebec. The conflict at Sécur resulted in a loss of 43,400 working days. These numbers certainly do not explain all the circumstances, but they are troubling enough that the government should conduct a serious study of this issue.
The Liberal government should explain to workers its reluctance to support the initiative put forward by members of the Bloc Québécois. But workers know they can always rely on the hard work of the Bloc Québécois to help the government see the light.
I have four more examples of labour disputes that demonstrate the urgency of amending the federal legislation. In May 2001, with the approval of the CRTC, Quebecor bought the Vidéotron cable company with the help of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec. In order to clear up financial difficulties related to this acquisition, Quebec undertook shortly thereafter a streamlining process to save $35 million to $40 million a year in its cable company.
The dispute between the 2,200 employees and technicians of the cable company and Quebecor was considered by many like the last big step in a comprehensive streamlining exercise. The 2,200 Vidéotron employees were on strike or locked out from May 8, 2002 until March 2003. Vidéotron facilities were vandalized many times. The end result was a conflict that lasted more than 10 months.
In the Sécur case, after 99% of workers voted against the employer's latest offers, the 900 employees went on strike on July 5, 2002. On that date, the Sécur company held 75% of the market of valuables transport in Quebec, and its annual turnover was $55 million. It was delivering cash to 1,200 of the 6,000 automatic teller machines in Quebec. Since the labour dispute began, this work has been done by the bank employees and some 100 managers of the company.
The situation deteriorated at the end of August: Sécur employees vandalized automated banking machines by caulking them with urethane foam. The dispute ended on October 9, 2002. The result was that the labour dispute at Sécur lasted over three months.
In the case of Cargill, since they had been without a labour contract since 1999 and were not able to reach an agreement on the content of the collective agreement, the management and the CSN union stopped negotiating on March 21, 2000. Because of the deadlock in the negotiations with the union, the management at Cargill, a grain company, ordered a lock out on March 28, 2000, at its Baie-Comeau facilities, thus affecting 42 permanent employees.
On April 28, 2003, Cargill accepted the recommendation of the federal Department of Labour mediator on the whole collective agreement and on the back to work agreement at its Baie-Comeau port facilities.
On April 18, 2003, most of the 42 Cargill workers also approved the mediator's recommendation. Finally, after years of negotiations, an agreement was reached. But the fact is that the dispute at Cargill lasted 38 months.
In the case of Radio-Nord Communications, the union members, who represent three television stations, namely TVA, TQS and the CBC, and also two other radio stations in northwest Quebec, remained on strike from October 25, 2002, until August 2004.
This was the second labour dispute in four years, the first one dating back to 1998. Over the past 15 years, Radio-Nord has eliminated close to 50 positions in Abitibi. Since the last labour contract, 10 unionized jobs were abolished, including two positions of journalists.
SECAT, which is the union for communications employees in the Abitibi-Témiscamingue and which is affiliated with the CSN, condemns the centralization of the various management groups in the Outaouais region.
This means that the decisions affecting the various communities in Abitibi-Témiscamingue reflect the happenings in the region less and less. While the union was open to resuming talks, Radio-Nord continued to rely on replacement workers. The result is that the dispute at Radio-Nord Communications lasted over 22 months.
The labour disputes at Radio-Nord Communications and Cargill, and those that dragged on at Vidéotron and Sécur, have several points in common. They are long disputes in areas governed by the federal labour code and where the use of replacement workers is permitted. I should also point out that the work stoppage at Vidéotron and Sécur led to acts of violence and vandalism.
Violence and vandalism will never be justified and should be condemned outright by workers' representatives. However, the feeling of powerlessness and not seeing an end to the strike or lockout inevitably leads some of them to take illegal and serious steps. It resulted in cut cables at Vidéotron and ATMs stuffed with urethane foam at Sécur.
Under the Canada Labour Code as it stands today labour disputes are longer and tougher, yet Ottawa still refuses to include anti-scab provisions.
Here are a few numbers. 2003 was a record year for the number of lost person-days. It is important to note that this sad record is due for the most part to strikes in companies under federal jurisdiction, which usually last a lot longer.
Indeed, 57% of the total lost person-days in 2003 were at a company under federal jurisdiction, namely Vidéotron.
It is more than ever necessary to ban the hiring of replacement workers during a labour dispute to reduce violence on the picket lines and help reach a fair balance of powers between employers and employees during negotiations.
There is a very broad consensus among various unions on the need to adopt anti-scab legislation.
It is a necessity in today's world because it allows for greater transparency in a labour dispute. This bill would not cost the government anything. The current government interferes in so many files that are not under its constitutional jurisdiction. It should start by assuming the responsibilities that properly belong to it.
I will conclude my short speech by saying that it could be used by our Liberal colleagues across the way as a working paper. It might help them realize how important it would be for the House to pass anti-scab legislation.
This would show the government's interest in workers who are governed by the Canada Labour Code.
We wonder why there is anti-scab legislation in Quebec, when our next door neighbour, which is governed by the Canada Labour Code, is not entitled to these measures. It can be frustrating for someone to see that his work has been taken over by someone else while he is outside, without salary, availing himself of his rights to better working conditions.
This is why unions are with workers. That is the only time that people can stand up and tell the employer that they are unhappy with all the clauses of the collective agreement and that they want to have the right to strike.
They want to tell their employer that theyare doing without their salary for a period of time, but that, essentially, they want better working conditions. How do you expect them to have better working conditions if, while they are on strike or locked out, they are being replaced with scabs who do their work?
I think that, in such a case, the employer is not in a rush to try to solve the conflict. When the union and the employer want to negotiate in good faith, negotiations go on and scabs are always welcome during that period. Frustration sets in and rises as time goes by, while these people are on the sidewalk waiting to go back to their work.