moved that Bill C-5, An Act to repeal Division 20 of Part 3 of the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act, No. 1, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have this opportunity to engage the House on an important decision the government has made for employees of Canada's public service, their unions and for all Canadians.
The decision is as follows: the government will not use the powers in division 20 of Bill C-59, the Harper regime's anti-union legislation that currently enables the government to bypass negotiations with unions and unilaterally impose a sick leave system for federal employees.
As we have already told all bargaining agents, we will repeal this law.
This decision is in keeping with our government's commitment to bargain in good faith with public sector unions and to look for opportunities to modernize the sick leave and disability management system.
The Conservative government gratuitously disrespected the public service repeatedly. This time it did so when it decided to take the issue of sick leave off the negotiating table and give itself the power to unilaterally implement a plan of its own choosing.
Public servants were justifiably angry. They felt the previous government did not respect them and did not respect the collective bargaining process, and they were right.
From the beginning, our government has been committed to restoring a culture of respect for and within the public service. We have immense respect for our public service and the unions that represent them. We recognize the important roles they play.
During last year's election campaign, our government was clear in its opposition to Bill C-59 and other Harper government anti-union pieces of legislation. We understood that the changes made to the collective bargaining rights in both Bill C-59, division 20, and certain provisions of omnibus budget bill, Bill C-4, were neither fair nor balanced.
We pledged to introduce a bill this fall to restore the public service labour relations regime that was in place before the former government amended the legislation in 2013. In the meantime, we took steps to make current rounds of collective bargaining easier.
When we took power, our goal was to change the tone, to repair the relationship with public service employees, and to cultivate greater collaboration with the unions representing them.
That is because we value the important role that federal employees play as a force of positive change for Canadians. Every day, these public servants work for the sound governance of our country. They promote Canadian values and defend our interests within Canada and around the world. They deliver thousands of high-quality programs and services to Canadians. From operating icebreakers in the high Arctic to inspecting aircraft, from protecting our borders to peacekeeping abroad, from delivering employment insurance to issuing passports, from geologic research in the field to approving drugs for human use, from maintaining our national parks to preserving historic sites, our federal public service does all of this and much more.
Federal employees work hard across Canada and around the world.
We have seen the effect of their work as Canadians came together to welcome and settle some 25,000 Syrian refugees. That was a tremendous achievement that our public servants, within multiple departments, achieved working together.
This goes beyond just appreciating our employees and the work they do. We believe Canadians can achieve great things when we all work together. Indeed, our promise to work collaboratively with Canadians was a key cornerstone in our election platform.
Canadians want change in the way that governments treat and engage citizens. They want change in the way we work with unions and the labour movement, the way we work with members of Parliament, the media, indigenous peoples, the environmental community, all levels of government, veterans, business leaders, and so many others, all of whom want to contribute to building a better Canada.
By repealing division 20 of Bill C-59, the government is working with unions.
I would like to speak about the importance of rebooting our relations, broadly, with Canada's labour movement, but specifically with our public sector. It is really important to reset those relationships.
What we are doing here today is not simply a matter of demonstrating respect for and recognizing the importance of labour relations in governance. It is part of what we are doing as a government to work in partnership with the labour movement to achieve a better and more prosperous Canada.
One of the first things I did, after being named president of the Treasury Board, was to reach out to Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, Ron Cochrane, co-chair of the National Joint Council, and other public sector leaders. I told them I wanted to restore a culture of respect for the public service, and respect and civility in labour relations.
The National Joint Council was among the first organizations I met with upon taking my responsibilities.
I want to send the following message: we will respect the collective bargaining process and negotiate in good faith. We are committed to reaching agreements, including on sick leave modernization, through collective bargaining.
This approach is crucial to the government's agenda. Canadians gave us a strong mandate to implement an ambitious and progressive agenda for change, to create jobs and grow the economy. However, we cannot get that done without an engaged, motivated, and respected public service. We need to bargain fairly, and in an environment of respect.
We know that we can accomplish more by working with one another than by working against one another. Collaboration is the only way to move forward together.
Real change of the type we envision for Canada can only happen when we work together, when we work collaboratively. Public servants are from diverse backgrounds. They work in communities across the country, and they work together to build a better Canada. We have backed up our commitment with actions.
In December, I made a commitment to the public service unions to go back to the bargaining table to negotiate in good faith. That is what we have done. We are looking for ways to modernize the sick leave system and reach agreements that are fair and reasonable for employees and Canadians.
We also committed that we would not exercise the powers given to the government to unilaterally implement a disability and sick leave management system. On January 21, we confirmed that we would be repealing that legislation, and on February 5, we introduced Bill C-5 to do that.
With the threat of Bill C-59 removed, we can have a genuine conversation with unions representing the public service on how to modernize the sick leave system in the public service. The current system can, for example, fail employees who have recently entered the public service and who have not accumulated a large bank of sick days. This is of particular concern to our government, and it is of concern to me, given our desire as a government to see the public service attract more young people to its ranks, attract millennials to the public service.
The fact is that the average age for new hires within the public service today is 37. We would like to see the federal public service do more to attract and retain millennials, who represent Canada's best and brightest generation and prospects for the future. However, we cannot do that if we do not have a system of sick leave that recognizes their importance. That is one of the changes we want to make.
Also, our current system fails employees, in our view, who suffer from mental health challenges and other chronic medical conditions. These are some of the important reasons that we are committed to a modernized system.
In terms of working together, we understand that wellness and productivity go hand in hand. Workforce wellness generates higher levels of employee engagement, which, in turn, leads to better-performing workplaces. We understand that workplace wellness means mental, as well as physical, health issues. As the country's largest employer, we have to tackle this challenge in our own ranks. To that end, we will be working to create a welcoming environment for free and frank discussion of mental wellness and mental health issues.
The fact is that our country is enriched and strengthened by different perspectives from the government, federal employees, and unions.
What is more, we know that we cannot provide Canadians with quality services if federal employees are not healthy, empowered, and involved. There is definitely a good dynamic for dealing with these problems and a general interest in doing so. By working with the unions, we are going to make real progress.
I want to recognize the excellent work done in this area of mental health by the joint task force on mental health, and the crucial work of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in advancing this agenda. The joint task force established a positive and collaborative partnership between representatives of the employer and from an equal number of bargaining agents. That is why we are consulting with employees on the federal public service workplace mental health strategy.
With this strategy, we are committing to exploring aspects of mental health with our employees, and to listening and responding to their needs. The strategy will evolve over time, and improvements will be based on research, good information, and employee feedback. This is an important step in helping to improve the psychological well-being of our employees. It is a great example of what we can achieve when we work together with the unions to make a real difference and to achieve important change for their members.
We are committed to taking further action, together with the public service unions and with the public service broadly, to strengthen our public service and to restore civility to our negotiations. I want to reset the relationship with our employees and their unions, and move responsibly and fairly to build the public service that Canadians need.
If we are going to meet the real challenges we face as a country, from improving economic opportunity and security for Canadians to settling thousands of refugees, we need to maintain a motivated and engaged public service. We have a wonderful opportunity here. From bargaining in good faith to open accountable government, to the utmost care and prudence and handling of public funds, we can continue to build a high performance public service for Canadians.
We need to work constructively and collaboratively to do it. Let me be clear. That does not mean that we as a government will always agree with the unions representing the public service on every single issue. Sometimes the union leaders will change our minds and sometimes we might even change their minds on something. However, if we are engaged collaboratively, we can disagree without being disagreeable, and we can work together to come together to build a stronger public service and better government for Canadians. Ultimately, we can learn from each other. We can negotiate in good faith to reach agreements that are fair and responsible for all parties.
In closing, Canadians know we find ourselves in a challenging fiscal situation and a slow growth economy. We were elected on a strong and progressive plan to grow that economy. If we are to implement our agenda to invest, to create jobs, and strengthen the middle class, we will need to be prudent, and it will take sound and responsible fiscal management and real collaboration.
As part of that, we have committed to fair and balanced labour laws that acknowledge the important roles of the unions. That is why we will resolve issues at the bargaining table in a way that is fair and reasonable for the public service and all Canadians. We will not be bargaining in public. We will be bargaining at the bargaining table, and that is where we ought to be bargaining, with the utmost respect for our public servants and understanding the importance of us working together.
The best is yet to come for Canada. The only way to ensure that we as Canadians achieve what we are capable of and that Canadians will benefit from all of this important work is to work together collaboratively, all of us as Canadians, members of Parliament, public servants, provincial, federal and municipal governments, the business and environmental communities, and indigenous peoples. We have a lot of work to do in this country and we need to work hard together to achieve our full potential.
Members of our public service play an important role with respect to not only our plan as a government but also achieving our potential as a country.
I look forward to this debate and hope that all hon. members would join me in supporting this piece of legislation.