Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill C-62, an act to amend the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act and other acts. I have heard some good feedback on this.
What struck me this morning were some of the statements made by the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent. He is a good friend. I really respect the person, but obviously, we have different ideas. He made statements about union bosses and union leaders and about the Liberals just saying “thank you” because some of the unions were putting money in and campaigning against the Conservatives in the last election. I want to say that I totally disagree with that. The unions were campaigning against the Conservatives, yes, but they were also supporting anyone who could beat the Conservatives, and that was because they have a very bad reputation for taking away gains from labour that people have fought for all their lives, and they wanted to make sure that those people never got back in power until they got their act together and started to respect what labour could do.
We are pleased that the government is finally moving forward to repeal legislation based purely on a backward ideology that forces public servants to go to work sick and that totally undermines the principle of collective bargaining. We have to ask what took the Liberals so long to bring this bill forward. What took them so long to act? Of course, this is a question many Canadians are asking more and more often about the current government. Why are the Liberals not keeping the promises they made during the election, and why are they so slow to act or are not acting at all?
The list of broken promises is far too long to list in the time I have today, but we all know about the Liberals' failure to support electoral reform, their failure to restore door-to-door postal delivery, and the failure to keep the promise to make government more transparent. We also know about their failure to support pay equity legislation, anti-scab legislation, and measures to increase retirement security. One of their most shameful failures is the unwillingness to protect workers' pensions.
We have heard over and over again expressions of sympathy from the Prime Minister and his Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development for Canadian workers, like those at Sears Canada who have lost severance and termination pay and health care and life insurance benefits. They now face reduced pension benefits.
Canadians need and expect more than their sympathy and their shallow talking points. They need action. They need the government to change Canada's inadequate bankruptcy and solvency laws. We have shown the Liberals how this can be achieved, but still the government fails to act or move to protect millions of vulnerable Canadians. As my friend from Timmins—James Bay is fond of asking, when is the government going to put the protection of Canadian pensions ahead of Bay Street profits? It is a very good question and a question millions of Canadians would like to know the answer to.
Let me come back to Bill C-62. New Democrats want to undo Harper's anti-labour legacy and build a fair framework for collective bargaining. We welcome the introduction of Bill C-62, which would formally put an end to measures introduced by the former government. We know that the government Bill C-5 and Bill C-34, both introduced last year, have been languishing on the Order Paper since their introduction. We hope that their being amalgamated into Bill C-62 means that the government is finally ready to move forward.
Bill C-62 would reverse the attacks by the former Conservative government on the collective bargaining rights of federal public service employees, and it should be passed without delay. This bill would repeal the power given to the government to remove sick leave from federal public service collective agreements so that it could be changed unilaterally, outside of the bargaining process. The bill would also restore some of the changes to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act affecting collective bargaining, which the Conservatives had included in one of their budget implementation bills in 2013, such as those affecting the designation of essential services. New Democrats rallied against the Conservatives' agenda to curtail public service workers' right to strike. The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act was amended in December 2013 to remove the choice of dispute resolution being available to essential services.
In our 2015 platform, we promised Canadians we would stand up for public sector workers in light of the lost decade of Harper's union abuse. Supporting this bill makes good on that promise. A respectful relationship with the public service starts with safeguards to free and fair collective bargaining, not stacking the deck in favour of the employer.
Bill C-62 is aimed at repealing two blatantly anti-labour pieces of legislation introduced by the former Harper government: division 20 of Bill C-59 and Bill C-4. The first of these sought to unilaterally impose an inferior disability and sick leave management system on public servants, which was an unwarranted and significant attack on the rights of public service workers.
Bill C-4 would have drastically changed the rules for collective bargaining within the public service, giving the government full control over union rights, such as the right to strike and the right to arbitration. The government would have also determined what positions would be considered essential.
A key provision in the collective agreements of public service workers is sick leave, which allows full-time workers 15 days per year of leave for use in case of illness or injury. The previous Conservative government was determined to unilaterally change this provision by reducing the number of sick days from 15 to 6, eliminating banked sick days, and imposing a short-term disability plan for federal public servants.
The previous government claimed this change would have saved $900 million, despite evidence to the contrary. According to the 2014 parliamentary budget officer's report, “the incremental cost of paid sick leave was not fiscally material and did not represent material costs for departments in the core public administration.” That means most employees who call in sick are not replaced, resulting in no incremental costs to departments.
Under the Conservative legislation, workers would have been forced to choose between going to work sick or losing pay for basic necessities. Its legislation would eliminate all accumulated sick leave for public servants, reduce the amount of annual sick leave to 37.5 hours per year, subject to the absolute discretion of the employer, and institute a seven-day waiting period without pay before people could access short-term disability benefits.
I want to comment that, because I come from a union background. I served the union for 36 years. We had that seven-day waiting period also, and we made great gains. We proved to the company that having a waiting period of seven days would bring in workers who were sick, causing other workers to be sick, which actually caused a downturn in production because there were not have enough workers on the job to produce the machinery. Therefore, doing that was a step backward.
Both the NDP and the Liberals committed to reversing the changes during the last election. Bill C-62 would repeal the offending legislation, thus restoring sick leave provisions to public servants for the time being.
Bill C-62 would also revoke some of the more offensive Conservative legislation, including: giving government, as the employer, the right to unilaterally define essential services instead of negotiating an essential services agreement with the bargaining agent; undermining the right to strike by making it illegal to strike if at least 80% of the positions in a bargaining unit provide essential services, as defined by the employer; removing the bargaining agent's right to choose arbitration as a means of resolving collective bargaining disputes, making conciliation the default process, and undermining the workers in cases where the employer consents to arbitration by requiring arbitrators to give priority to Canada's fiscal circumstances relative to its stated budgetary policies. It also removed discrimination-based complaints by public servants from the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. That to me is a shame.
While we fully support Bill C-62, we also know there is more to be done to dismantle the Harper government's legacy of anti-labour legislation. Some of those measures include restoring the Canada Labour Code provisions pertaining to the rights of Canadians to refuse dangerous work. That was gutted by the Harper government, a right that everybody wants when they go into a workplace. Too many deaths have happened, and it should not be determined by the employer. The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act should be reinstated, bringing forward pay equity legislation, as well as the federal minimum wage, bringing Bill C-7 back to the House of Commons, and respecting the right of RCMP members to associate and bargain collectively.