Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to be able to speak briefly to Bill C-525.
I have to say that if the mover of the private member's bill believes that this is so important and is worthwhile, then why does the government not introduce legislation to do what is clearly trying to be done through the backdoor? It is because the government does not have the courage to take its own action and clearly stand up to introduce legislation if it wants to see changes.
Previously we had Bill C-377. Now we have Bill C-525. If government members have some concerns and think that changes need to happen, they should do it the proper way and introduce legislation as a government.
I am happy to have a chance to speak to a bill that according to the government's sponsors is to help empower workers.
Specifically, Bill C-525 would amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act to provide that the certification and decertification of a bargaining agent under these acts must be achieved by a vote-based majority through a secret ballot.
Members will forgive my apprehension, but as this bill does come on the heels of the government's last union-busting bill, Bill C-377, I have to wonder again about the real motivations behind it.
Bill C-525 would affect more than 1.2 million employees working as public servants or for an employer under federal jurisdiction. This would include everyone from my own staff to their own staff to the local postmaster to the teller at my local bank or credit union. This means we need to ensure that we get this right, because the bill would impact on real people every day.
The Conservatives have made it clear from the beginning of their term that they are prepared to smash unions at all costs, even when the cost would hurt middle-class workers. Liberals see this as unacceptable. We will be casting our votes in favour of middle-class workers and their families and in favour of fairness and full consultation. If the Conservatives want to change the Labour Code or anything in it, then they should sit down with the partners and discuss those things and make the changes.
My first concern with Bill C-525 is that it proposes to fundamentally change how a union can be formed and dissolved in the federal jurisdiction, yet the evidence shows there is no need, and the major stakeholders have neither asked for this change nor even agreed with it.
Despite the fact that the federal labour relations system is respected and supported by both labour and employers as a result of a genuine and proven consultative and consensus process that has been followed for decades for amending the Labour Code, the bill clearly ignores all the good work that has been done over the years through discussions between labour and the employer as to what changes need to be made. It seems Bill C-525 is again rooted in ideology rather than in sound policy based upon need.
There has been no proven need for the legislation. Those supporting the bill suggest that the rationale for Bill C-525 was a mountain of complaints regarding union coercion of workers. However, according to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, there have only been two founded complaints against unions out of 4,000 decisions in 10 years, so all of this is about just two serious complaints. Even the chairperson of CIRB stated in committee testimony, “It's not a huge problem”.
For labour relations legislation to be effective, it must be developed and implemented by the stakeholders through pre-legislative consultation based upon evidence, not by backdoor government manoeuvring of private members' bills that are, again, based solely upon ideology. This is not the first time we have seen bills that are clearly based upon the ideology of the Conservatives rather than upon substance or science.
Bill C-525 ignores long-established processes and like its sister legislation, Bill C-377, would impose radical changes that are not supported by the stakeholders or by the facts. The result of the legislation would not be labour harmony or efficiency; it would be an upsetting of the balance and stability in labour relations in Canada. This may be what the government is attempting to spark, but it is not in the best interests of employers, workers, or the Canadian economy in the long term.
However, I am not here just to poke holes today. In fact, as someone who has a strong union base in my own constituency, I have seen the positive contributions made to my communities by organized labour over many years. Indeed, this kind of social benevolence is something that has long underscored the labour movement in Canada, and those of us in the Liberal caucus continue to support these middle-class workers and their families very proudly.
Kicking labour around is tantamount to an attack on our communities, and the government should be ashamed of the approach it is taking. Bill C-377 was bad enough, and now Bill C-525 has appeared on the scene. When will it stop?
The bill is neither about union democracy, nor balanced labour relations. Bill C-525 fundamentally changes the way that workers can unionize, without any consultation or support of the stakeholders, and based on zero evidence for its need.
Rather than this kind of knee-jerk approach, the Liberal Party has called for a certification process that, one, allows workers to make free and informed decisions about whether they want to join a union or not, and, two, that has been created through a fair and balanced consensus tripartite process that is based on fact, whereby the changes to be made come from the stakeholders themselves.
Bill C-525 is yet another example of the Conservative government abusing the private members' bill process as backdoor government legislation to promote its ideology, not the views and wishes of the stakeholders or their constituents that would be affected or when the facts at hand show it is not needed.
What are the Conservatives so afraid of? When they tried this very same thing with Bill C-377, their own senators admonished them for doing it. They stymie debate, curtail committee study, and act like their fingerprints are not all over the document.
For example, the human resources committee only studied this for two and a half hours, and almost every witness, including government witnesses, spoke out against the bill. Somehow it sounds a bit like Bill C-23. Specifically, the witnesses that were heard expressed concern over the bill.
George Smith, a labour relations expert, said:
...we are dealing with a private member's bill to amend a significant section of the Canada Labour Code without any view of how this change will impact overall labour relations policy in the federal sector, without any of the necessary due process and public consultation to examine the intended and unintended consequences to such amendments.
Dick Heinen, executive director, Christian Labour Association of Canada, a union that is often viewed as employer friendly, said this about the current card-check system, “It has worked, and I don't know what the problem is. I don't know why we need to change that”.
Elizabeth MacPherson, chair of the Canada Industrial Relations Board, with respect to the effectiveness of the current card-check system, said, “In our opinion, it is working well. With the board having the discretion to decide when a vote must be held, it works”. Why do we need to change it? Why is the government refusing to listen? Is it anything else but clear ideology?
Conservative abuse of this process has been so terrible in the past that the Conservative member for Edmonton—St. Albert resigned from the caucus in disgust. I see that they have learned nothing from the past.
It has already been said that power over a person's wallet is power over their will. That is what Bill C-525 is really all about. As just one example, research has clearly shown that moving from a card-check-based system to a mandatory vote system reduces unionization rates. This is the true motivation behind the bill. Bill C-525 proposes to abolish the card-check model in favour of a mandatory representation vote in all certification applications. It is no more complex than that.
Labour unions have been defenders of employee rights, and they have a long-standing track record of helping our communities in many ways. Of course, unions are not perfect, and there have been many occasions when I have differed with them. However, I do believe in due process. Bill C-525, like its sister bill, Bill C-377, is a partisan attack on middle-class workers and their families. It is wrong, and as the Liberal industry critic, I will be voting for workers and against this sneaky backdoor legislation.