moved that Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is a real pleasure for me to be standing here today. This is my first opportunity to really give my maiden speech in the House, and I am thankful for the opportunity. I am pleased to be part of a government that is taking steps to restore the balance that is so important for positive working relationships between employees and employers. I also want to thank department officials, the hard-working team of public servants, who have supported the quick tabling of this important bill.
The legislation we are discussing today reflects a commitment made several times by the Prime Minister and this government, the commitment to restore a fair and balanced approach to labour relations in this country.
We believe that both employers and unions play critical roles in ensuring that workers receive decent wages and are treated fairly in safe, healthy work environments.
Among other things, our labour laws help ensure that there is balance between the rights of unions and the rights of employers. The government respects unions and understands that they have been a positive force for the workers in Canada through collective bargaining.
Unions have improved the lives of not only their own members but all Canadians. They have negotiated several items that most workers take for granted, such as the five-day work week, and maternity and parental leave.
When the system works, Canadians benefit and great things happen. That is why unions must be on an equal footing in critical negotiations over wages, safety, pensions, and other workplace issues.
Two bills adopted during the last session of Parliament, Bill C-525 and Bill C-377, upset that balance. We believe they must be repealed, and we are here today to do just that. We have tabled Bill C-4, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act. If passed, this bill will repeal the legislative changes made by Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. This would be a key first step toward restoring a fair and balanced approach to labour relations, and ultimately build a strong, robust economy, because unfortunately this balance was significantly upset by the political agenda of the previous government.
Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 have serious ramifications for workers and unions in Canada. Both of these were private members' bills. We do not doubt that the members presenting them intended to improve labour relationships. Unfortunately, the outcomes put unions at a clear disadvantage.
Let me start with Bill C-377. This bill amended the Income Tax Act to require labour organizations and labour trusts, including all unions in provincial and federal jurisdictions, to file detailed financial and other information, including information on non-labour relations activities, with the Canada Revenue Agency. The information contained in these returns would then be made available on CRA's website thereby publicly revealing these organizations' assets, liabilities, income, and expenditures, including the salaries paid to their officers, directors, and other specified employees.
The bill also required labour organizations and labour trusts to provide details on the time spent by certain members of their staff on political lobbying and non-labour relation activities. If organizations do not comply with these measures, they would face possible fines of $1,000 for each day of non-compliance, up to a maximum of $25,000 per year. This information would then be made publicly available on the CRA's website.
If the bill were left in place, employers would have access to the union's financial information, without requiring employers to make the same information available to unions. This would clearly put unions at a disadvantage during the collective bargaining process.
In addition, the financial reporting provisions of Bill C-377 were directed solely at labour organizations and labour trusts, not at other organizations, such as professional organizations that benefit from similar treatment under the Income Tax Act.
This kind of treatment is clearly discriminatory against trade unions. Why would they be subject to the onerous reporting obligations imposed by Bill C-377?
As hon. colleagues may recall, a number of other serious concerns were raised when the bill was brought forward.
The bill creates unnecessary extra red tape for unions. The fact is that there is already legislation in place to ensure that unions are accountable to their members. The Canada Labour Code already requires unions to provide their financial statements to their members on request, and free of charge.
It should be noted that many provinces have similar requirements in their labour statutes.
I would also like to remind the members of the House that Bill C-377 poses a potential breach of individual privacy.
In addition to raising privacy concerns, Bill C-377 creates unnecessary red tape for unions. Bill C-377 duplicates the accountability measures put in place by almost every province, which have similar requirements in their labour laws. Section 110 of Canada Labour Code already requires unions, as well as employer organizations, to provide financial statements to their members upon request and free of charge.
The bill also puts unions at a disadvantage during collective bargaining by giving employers access to key information about unions, without being required to reciprocate.
Bill C-377 has tilted the playing field in favour of employers. For example, employers would know how much money the union had in its strike fund for a possible work stoppage and how long employees would stay out if it came to a strike. The union's most important negotiating lever is undermined by the bill.
There have also been concerns raised about the constitutionality of Bill C-377. The bill presents a potential constitutional challenge because the objective of the bill could be seen not as taxation but as a regulation of unions, which is, in large part, a matter of provincial jurisdiction.
There have been also concerns over the constitutionality of the bill. The provinces of Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island have all stated their opposition to the bill for exactly those reasons.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees has launched a constitutional challenge to Bill C-377 before the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench.
The bill is also problematic because it could apply to non-union organizations, such as some of the investment funds and others.
Clearly, some serious legal issues lie within Bill C-377.
Let us not forget the colossal administrative burden the new reporting requirements would have on unions, particularly the smaller ones, and on government itself.
To meet the requirements of Bill C-377, the Canada Revenue Agency would have to develop the necessary IT systems and other administrative systems. This, of course, comes at a hefty price, at least $2 million.
The Minister of National Revenue, knowing that we would be introducing legislation to repeal Bill C-377, has waived its reporting requirements for 2016. This will save labour organizations and trusts the time and money it would have cost to collect and file the information. However, this waiver is only a short-term solution.
Bill C-377 was loudly condemned by many labour organizations across the country. In fact, the president of the Quebec Union of Public Employees, SPGQ, Richard Perron referred to it as a “contemptible attack on our democratic values”.
I believe most employers appreciate that a level playing field in collective bargaining is essential to creating safe and productive workplaces. By the same token, an unbalanced approach such as this one can lead to unnecessary tensions and other problems in the workplace.
In fact, when the standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs held its deliberations on Bill C-377, the Hon. Erna Braun, MLA, who is the minister of labour and immigration of my home province of Manitoba, gave evidence. She expressed what she called serious concerns. She said:
Our view is that this bill is unnecessary and that it infringes on provincial jurisdiction....Under 10 per cent of workers in Canada work in federally regulated workplaces. Otherwise, the provincial governments throughout the country can and do independently set their own legislative priorities in the area of labour.
She went on to say that the provinces had been working with employers and employees for decades, and were already doing a good job of regulating labour relations. Our government agrees with that statement.
Bill C-377 is problematic for many reasons, but it is inconsistent with the constitution. That alone should be reason enough to repeal the legislative changes it made.
This brings me to Bill C-525, which was also a private member's bill. It actually came into force last June. This bill, which modified the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act and the Public Service Labour Relations Act, changed the union certification and de-certification systems. The bill also replaced the existing card check system with a mandatory voting system.
Bill C-525 makes it harder for unions to be certified as collective bargaining agents, and makes it easier for a bargaining agent to be de-certified.
When we asked stakeholders what they thought of the new certification rules, many were displeased. Many said that the previous card check system was not only faster and more efficient, but it was also more likely to be free of employer interference. Overall, as many union spokespersons have pointed out, the card check model is faster, more efficient, and more likely to be free of employer interference than the new method.
Furthermore, repealing this bill will also alleviate pressure on the resources of the Canada Industrial Relations Board and the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board since these boards would need to hold fewer certification votes.
Despite the opposing views on the merits of the new and old systems, both labour and employer representatives were highly critical of how these changes were brought about. Changing our fundamental labour laws with a private member's bill, without conducting consultation through the traditional tripartite process, is not only wrong but potentially very problematic.
As Mr. John Farrell, the executive director of Federally Regulated Employers—Transportation and Communications, told the parliamentary committee in February 2014:
This critical consultation process is completely bypassed when changes to the labour relations regime are proposed through the mechanism of one-off private members' bills. It provides no meaningful way for pre-legislative consultation to take place in an open and transparent manner, and it seeks changes without the required engagement of practitioners, recognized third-party neutrals, and the resources of government agencies charged with the responsibility to implement, adjudicate, and monitor the industrial relations system in the federal jurisdiction.
In the past, labour reforms of this sort were the subject of lengthy discussions between unions, employers, and the government. It was vital to have everyone at the table. This consultation process is essential to maintaining a fair and workable labour-management balance. It is a process that this government is strongly committed to. Therefore, we are also repealing this bill, because it upsets the balance that is so necessary for successful collective bargaining in this country.
That delicate balance is essential to sound labour relations, and the employer-employee relationship is vital to our economy. Why? Because sound labour relations provide stability and predictability in the labour force. These elements underpin a strong economy.
Unions play a critical role in the employer-employee relationships. Unions advocate for good wages and safe working environments. These are things that we can easily take for granted. Unfortunately, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were designed to “weaken the labour movement, period”. Those words came from Jerry Dias, president of Unifor. He also said that it did not have a stitch of common sense to it.
I am proud of the work we are doing to help restore this balance to the labour landscape of Canada. To put it simply, good labour relations are good for all of us.
The issue at hand here is very simple. These bills diminish and weaken Canada's labour movement. Bill C-4 will support and strengthen it.