Madam Speaker, I am happy the hon. member is actually listening and paying attention. After what I have been hearing in terms of the inaccuracies and absolute untruths he has been indicating with respect to some of the accusations against Colombia, I do believe it is important for us to listen to what we have to say to one another.
Of course, everything I do say today applies now. It is even more important to ensure we have something like this in place between Canada and Panama currently and, going forward for more than six months, would make absolutely no sense in terms of labour co-operation agreements, specifically for the reasons I will be enumerating here.
As I said, the labour co-operation agreement with Panama goes even further than the International Labour Organization's 1998 declaration. That is why it is important to deal with it now and not deal with something in six months. We should take the opportunity to deal with these things as they appear before us and as they are meant to be.
This agreement commits both countries to protect workers by providing acceptable protections for occupational health and safety. I am sure the House would agree that it is something that should happen immediately and not six months from now. Allowing for compensation in cases of injuries and illnesses is important for workers and that should happen now, not six months from now.
Providing for acceptable minimum employment standards, such as minimum wage and hours of work, on which I assume the opposition would agree, is something that should happen sooner rather than later, not through a delay of six months.
Further, the labour co-operation agreement would ensure that migrant workers would be given the same legal protections as nationals in respect of working conditions.
In order to ensure that Canada and Panama comply with their labour obligations, this agreement does include a strong dispute resolution mechanism that is transparent, robust and easy to use. The model is in line with Canada's other parallel labour co-operation agreements with Colombia, Peru and, of course, with Jordan.
As part of this settlement process, members of the public can submit complaints to either government concerning any of the obligations contained in the labour co-operation agreement. These complaints can bring to light any concerns from the public that domestic labour laws or their implementation by Canada or Panama do not comply with the terms of the labour co-operation agreement. If the complaint is deemed valid, then either country can request ministerial level consultations with the other country to resolve the issue.
If the countries are unable to come to a mutually satisfactory agreement and the matter concerns a perceived failure to respect obligations related to the 1998 International Labour Organization's declaration or even the enforcement of domestic laws, the country that requested the ministerial consultations can request that a review panel be convened. If the matter cannot be resolved, the independent review panel may require that the offending country may face financial penalties. These penalties would be placed into a co-operation fund in order to resolve the matter identified, as well as to help ensure compliance with and respect for domestic and international labour obligations.
Moneys placed in the co-operation fund would be disbursed according to an agreed upon action plan, which would ensure that the matters under dispute are effectively resolved
As we can see, under the labour co-operation agreement, both Canada and Panama will have an important tool to protect and improve the rights of workers, which, of course, would make more sense for them to have this now rather than six months from now at the very earliest.
That being said, it must be noted that this agreement also respects provincial jurisdiction on labour matters. At the same time, however, the federal government would have the ability to immediately use the dispute resolution process, if necessary, regardless of the level of provincial participation in the labour co-operation agreement.
In looking beyond the provinces, it is important to remember that this government is re-engaging with our partners across the Americas. An important part of this re-engagement is the promotion of the principles of sound governance, security and prosperity. A vital component of this strategy is the protection of labour rights, and this includes Panama. That is why Canada negotiated a robust and comprehensive labour co-operation agreement with Panama.
Our efforts to protect labour rights do not stop there. During the free trade negotiations with Panama, Canada requested that a principles based chapter on labour be inserted into the Canada-Panama free trade agreement. Panama agreed to this request and, as such, there is now a much stronger and much more direct reference to labour rights in the free trade agreement.
That is important because the chapter on labour reaffirms both countries obligations under the labour co-operation agreement. By inserting a labour chapter into the free trade agreement text, Canada has provided an additional confirmation of that vital link between economic growth, prosperity and the respect for labour rights.
In closing, I would like to emphasize this government's view that free trade can play a positive role in a country's economic and social life, but this positive role does not have to come at the expense of labour rights. In fact, as the labour co-operation agreement demonstrates, it is possible to liberalize trade while protecting the rights of workers.
The push to protect labour rights is also an important component of Canada's active engagement in the Americas. Under this labour co-operation agreement, Canada would be able to help support Panama in its efforts to respect both its domestic labour laws and its international labour obligations. These efforts in turn will benefit Panamanian workers.
For those reasons, I ask all hon. members for their support of the agreement in total and the parallel agreement on labour co-operation and implore that this happen sooner rather than later.