Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-386.
The bill seeks to prohibit the use of replacement workers during work stoppages in federally regulated sectors. It is important to highlight these key sectors of the economy, which include international and interprovincial rail, road and air transportation, shipping and longshore operations, grain handling, uranium mining, banking, broadcasting, telecommunications, and certain crown corporations such as museums.
This bill is not in the best interests of workers. If it were passed, we would create uncertainty in the labour market in general and in these federally regulated industries in particular. Uncertainty costs jobs.
Clarity, transparency, and a process that resolves disputes without having to resort to a work stoppage, this is how we protect jobs. I suggest to hon. members that especially in these difficult economic times we do not want to replace a system of clarity, transparency, and the resolving of disputes with one that would create more uncertainty.
More important, the bill, if passed, would upset the careful balance that has been established under the current legislation and the programs available to help resolve labour disputes.
I would point out to the House that last year marks the 10th anniversary of the passage of comprehensive amendments to part I of the Canada Labour Code, the part dealing with industrial relations. Those amendments modernized the code and improved collective bargaining in federally regulated industries.
Before passing those amendments, the government of the day consulted extensively. Andrew Sims, Q.C., who was chair of the Alberta Labour Relations Board at the time, chaired a task force that consulted with businesses, unions, academics, and other interest groups.
His task force sought a balance between many different interests. Sometimes these interests were in conflict with one another and sometimes they were in cohesion. We sought a balance between labour and management, the public interest and free collective bargaining, and rights and responsibilities.
Mr. Sims and his task force found a workable balance among these issues. One of the key areas where this balance applied was in the rights and obligations of parties during a work stoppage. This was a contentious issue even among task force members.
These positions of unions and management on the question of replacement workers can be quite polarized. Generally, unions look to a complete ban on the use of replacement workers, while most employers want a free hand.
Even the members of the task force could not reach consensus on this issue. Eventually, the majority of the task force members recommended a balance that would permit employers to carry on operations during a work stoppage, while protecting the union's right to strike and retain its bargaining authority.
That is the balance that was attained in the replacement worker provisions that came into effect under section 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code in 1999. It is a provision that has served Canada well for the past 10 years. It is a carefully crafted balance that the hon. member would upset with this bill. It has helped provide a degree of relative peace in labour relations over the past 10 years.
The bill before us today would stir the pot and bring to the surface many of the contentious issues that the task force carefully examined in making its recommendations.
If unions believe that they have employers over a barrel because of the prohibition on replacement workers, some may be encouraged to refuse the concessions that might otherwise resolve a dispute. They hold the trump card.
Independent studies have looked at the impact of anti-replacement worker laws on work stoppages. Most found no evidence that a legislative ban had an effect on activity, but some found that a prohibition on replacement workers led to more frequent and longer strikes.
In this time of economic recovery, we do not need the greater uncertainty that such legislation would bring. On the other hand, the current system of balance on the issue of replacement workers has supported an environment where labour and management are brought together to resolve disputes at the bargaining table, not by resorting to a work stoppage.
I would remind the House of the highly effective programs now in place to bring management and unions together. Through the labour program, the Government of Canada promotes fair, safe, and productive workplaces and co-operative workplace relations.
Unions and employers are provided with federal services to help resolve their collective bargaining disputes through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, the FMCS. It provides tools for dispute resolution through the services of neutral third-party conciliation and mediation officers. These officers have a mandate to help both parties reach an agreement.
Hon. members will recall, for example, that Air Canada and the Canadian Union of Public Employees reached an agreement with the assistance of federally appointed mediators. Labour stability was one of the key elements to ensure that Air Canada could navigate through the economic uncertainty. Both Air Canada and the CUPE made an extra effort to settle their differences with the help of the federally appointed mediators.
The FMCS also gets involved in arbitration by providing a professional arbitrator, who examines both sides of the dispute and renders a binding decision. The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service also provides dispute prevention services. For example, officers can provide training workshops. They customize these programs to meet the specific needs of the organizations and individuals involved, everything from development of negotiation skills and committee effectiveness to problem solving.
Workshops typically last from one to three days and are delivered by well-trained FMCS mediators. In these ways, the FMCS provides important benefits to employers and unions by improving the relationships between both parties during the closed period of a collective agreement.
The FMCS succeeds in providing these services because the relative strength of both labour and management balances under the current provisions for replacement workers. Neither side wants to provoke a stoppage, both sides are willing to talk, but striking this balance was a complex and demanding challenge. The history of labour relations over the past years indicates that for the most part the Sims task force got the balance right.
One way we can tell that the task force got the balance right is the numerous occasions over the past years that an hon. member of one political persuasion or another has tried to amend the collective bargaining provisions. I cannot begin to count the number of times the House has debated measures similar to those of the hon. member, measures that seek a different balance.
On each and every occasion, the motion or the bill has been voted down. Why? Because it has not represented an improvement over what has been put in place by the task force, and that is the case for this bill from the hon. member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel. These measures would breed uncertainty and upset a carefully constructed balance that has helped build and sustain our good labour relations in this country.
This bill is not good for workers, it is not good for the economy, and it is not good for Canada. I urge hon. members to join me in voting against it.