moved that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers) be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to introduce, on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). I am also pleased to be seconded by the member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, who worked very hard in the previous Parliament to have a similar bill passed. I would like to quickly read the summary of Bill C-386.
The purpose of this enactment is to prohibit employers under the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or locked out. It extends the obligation to maintain essential services.
The enactment also provides for the imposition of a fine for an offence.
The bill would ensure that all workers who are fortunate enough to work in Quebec are subject to the same legislation, since replacement workers are prohibited in Quebec. I would like to provide a quick background on anti-scab legislation.
The Bloc Québécois believes that the best way to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of all those who contribute to Quebec society on a daily basis is to show true respect for their rights, by preventing the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout. Therefore, it is imperative that workers governed by federal labour legislation have the same rights as those governed by Quebec legislation, including a true right to strike.
The Canada Labour Code should be amended and brought into line with the Quebec labour code, so as to ban the use of replacement workers, or scabs, once and for all. Anti-scab legislation would ensure that workers governed by federal legislation enjoy balanced bargaining power, and would keep tension on the picket lines to a minimum. That is the objective of Bill C-386, which would prohibit the hiring of replacement workers.
Unlike in Quebec, which has prohibited replacement workers since 1977, there is currently nothing in the Canada Labour Code that clearly and specifically prohibits the use of replacement workers.
Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but only where an employer uses replacement workers for the purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity. That prohibition is very weak, because to be entitled to use replacement workers, an employer need only continue to recognize the union in place and continue bargaining to demonstrate its good faith. As we see, it is very easy for employers to have access to replacement workers.
A firm prohibition, which is what Bill C-386 proposes, is essential, however, for civilized bargaining to take place during a labour dispute and to promote industrial peace, and is also the cornerstone for establishing an equitable balance of power between employers and employees.
Workers in industries that are governed by the Canada Labour Code, such as telecommunications—workers in Internet businesses, cable companies and cell phone companies—and banks, ports, bridges, airports or Canada Post, who make up about 8% of the Quebec labour force, are therefore at a disadvantage when they have to bargain with their employer, and as a result they get dragged into longer strikes.
According to figures from the Quebec Ministère du Travail, for instance, Quebec workers whose employer is federally regulated are practically always overrepresented in the number of days of work lost. While they account for just under 8% of Quebec’s labour force, they experienced 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and 22.6% of the person-days lost in 2003. In fact, a peak was reached in 2002. While 7.3% of Quebec workers were employed in federally regulated organizations, they accounted for 48% of days of work lost because of labour disputes.
In a nutshell, there were, on average, two and a half times more person-days lost in the last decade in labour disputes in Quebec involving workers governed by the Canada Labour Code than those workers represent in demographic weight. Obviously, this translates into longer and more violent disputes when the employer is able to hire strikebreakers.
Remember the three-month dispute at Sécur, the Vidéotron dispute that lasted over 10 months and involved acts of sabotage, and the dispute at the Cargill grain elevator in Baie-Comeau that ended in 2003 after a three-year lockout. And let us not forget the unionized workers at Radio-Nord Communications, employees of the three Abitibi television stations, TVA, TQS and Radio-Canada, and the two radio stations in northwestern Quebec, who were on strike for over 20 months.
The Conservative government stated its opposition at the outset, and having no genuine arguments, retreated behind apocalyptic scenarios that have nothing to do with reality. Quebec has had legislation prohibiting replacement workers for 30 years, and there have been no catastrophes.
In spite of Conservative opposition, the Bloc Québécois was able to have Bill C-257 passed on second reading, and got it as far as the report stage. That was the first time an anti-strikebreaker bill had made it that far. The Liberals, who had supported the bill in principle on second reading, ultimately did an about-face and said the bill would not have guaranteed that essential services would be maintained.
The Canada Labour Code already includes provisions that require both the employer and unionized employees to continue the supply of services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public. The Conservative government, and now the Liberal Party, have done their best to ignore these provisions.
In the March 21, 2007, vote on Bill C-257, during the last Parliament, the Conservatives and the Liberals, with the exception of some Liberal members from Quebec, joined forces to defeat the bill by a vote of 177 to 122. It is important to remember that this Minister of Labour, the same one who fiercely condemned the Bloc Québécois bill and made all kinds of irrational arguments, supported a bill to prohibit replacement workers in 1990. The Liberals tried to avoid completely losing face by introducing a bill similar to the one drafted by the Bloc Québécois. There was not enough time to vote on that bill before the election was called.
I want everyone to understand that we are making a direct connection between the Conservatives' opposition to anti-scab legislation and special bills because the right to negotiate is a basic right. However, Quebeckers also believe that the right to balanced bargaining power is a basic right.
I am pleased to be discussing Bill C-386 here in the House. The Speaker recently received a letter dated December 1 from the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications. This association, Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, wrote to the Speaker. It is worth hearing what they had to say. The association wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons to recommend that he vote against Bill C-386. This is a group of employers under federal jurisdiction. Apparently, it is an organization that strongly opposes the rights currently in force in Quebec. I will list some of the members: Air Canada, WestJet, VIA Rail, Canada Post, Fedex, Iron Ore, NAV CANADA, Purolator, Telus, Canadian Pacific, the Airports Association and Bell Canada.
The association does not include banks, which have employees under federal jurisdiction, but they have their own association. It is very interesting to read what the association wrote to the Speaker of the House to convince him to vote against the bill. I will read it in English.
They believe it is bad public policy because it would shift the balance of power in collective bargaining overwhelmingly in favour of the unions.
That is like saying that it is the employers who hold the power right now, and if this bill were ever introduced, it would shift the power to unions. This is despite the fact that the bill has evolved. Essential services have been added. Despite the fact that this works very well in Quebec, there is always this direct opposition from employers. This is important.
They thought it would be good to form an association, the Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications, to address this. Their letter indicates that 14 anti-scab bills have been introduced since 2000, and they are quite proud that none of those bills has passed.
In the end, they always win. It is clear in their correspondence, and in 1977 Quebec passed anti-scab legislation to ensure some degree of balance.
So employers form an association and send letters to say that if this ever changes, the unions will have all the power. This means that right now, it is the employers that have all the power. But anti-scab legislation, legislation that would prohibit replacement workers and ensure that essential services would be maintained, is a form of balance. This has definitely been proven in Quebec. Once again, it is a difficult situation. When 92% of unionized employees in a nation like Quebec are covered by anti-scab legislation, and the other 8% fall under the Canada Labour Code and do not have the same ability to negotiate or enjoy the same labour relations, this creates a clear imbalance.
Earlier I gave some examples of labour disputes that have occurred, of delays in negotiations, and the use of scabs to allow the work to continue and allow the business to operate as it did before without having to use the employees. Of course, this only fuels the debates.
This often provokes nasty situations. Indeed, people are very unhappy when no progress is being made in negotiations. The employer continues to count on replacement workers to carry on its operations. At this time, in any civilized employer-employee relationship, anti-scab legislation with the maintenance of essential services is necessary. This is what we are proposing in the bill I am introducing here today in my name and on behalf of the Bloc.
We are not engaging in these debates and making these proposals without support. There is a real consensus in the union movement to support this anti-scab bill. This legislation is supported by the Canadian Labour Congress; the Fédération des travailleurs et des travailleuses du Québec; the Confédération des syndicats nationaux (CSN); the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE); the Public Service Alliance of Canada; the Brotherhoods of Locomotive Engineers of Manitoba, Ontario, British Columbia, New Brunswick and Alberta; the Syndicat des employé-e-s de techniques professionnelles et de bureau d'Hydro-Québec; the Ontario Teachers' Federation; the Congress of Union Retirees Canada; the United Food and Commercial Workers Union; the Manitoba Federation of Labour; and the Graphic Communications International Union.
We have support to offset the Federally Regulated Employers—Transportation and Communications, this association of federally regulated employers that has formed and is sending letters to the Speaker of the House of Commons. It is only natural that there should be a balance. As the letter I read earlier said, things are currently weighted in favour of the employers. It is only natural that unionized workers should want a better balance. That is why Bill C-386 is the answer. It prohibits replacement workers and maintains essential services.
I call on all the members of this House to support Bill C-386.