moved that Bill C-58, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Industrial Relations Board Regulations, 2012, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, the labour movement has been saying that replacement workers are wrong for longer than this country has existed. People in the labour movement have been telling us that replacement workers distract from the bargaining table and prolong disputes and that the use of replacement workers can poison the relationship between an employer and workers for generations after.
We listened to workers and I am very proud to say that on November 9, we tabled Bill C-58, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Industrial Relations Board Regulations, 2012.
Some people have asked why now. Why should Canada ban replacement workers now? Just because it is the way things have always been done does not mean it is the way that things should be done. The option of replacement workers is something that many of us have taken for granted over our lives. However, should a worker's right to meaningfully withhold their labour be surrendered to the possibility of being replaced? Is a bargaining table where one's bargaining powers are fundamentally limited a fair bargaining table? Are replacement workers part of how we ought to handle labour relations in the 21st century? The answer to all those questions, I would argue, is no.
Bill C-58 will prohibit the use of replacement workers in federally regulated workplaces. Violators will be fined $100,000 a day.
This bill is unlike others that have come before this House in years past. Unlike previous legislation to ban replacement workers, this bill was borne of tripartism. It is the result of employers, workers and government all coming together, sitting at the same table to discuss an important issue in Canadian labour relations.
This legislation will improve labour relations in Canada. It will provide greater stability and certainty for all Canadians.
I personally sat in on the consultations with employers. I sat in on the consultations with labour and I sat in on consultations with employers and labour together because I knew this bill had to be forged through a true tripartite approach. The consultations were messy at times, but they forced people to listen to one another. It was not just employers and unions sitting at two sides of a table, shouting at one another. It was employers, unions and government sitting side by side, working together to build better legislation.
These consultations were not easy. They were tense and sometimes difficult, but they allowed the parties to reach an agreement.
This bill's improvements to the maintenance of activities process are a direct result of that work. A maintenance of activities agreement is how employers and unions come to agree on what work must be done during a strike or a lockout. It is a truce in the midst of a dispute to protect the health and safety of Canadians and prevent damage to property and to the environment so that there is a job site to come back to when the negotiations have inevitably concluded.
In the federal sector, employees and their employers know that so much of their work impacts the health and safety of all Canadians. We are talking about the movement of critical medical supplies across our supply chains, the sharing of emergency information through telecom services and the maintenance of sensitive transportation infrastructure. All of these services, if not supported and maintained, can harm the health and safety of Canadians.
Right now, parties are not required to have a maintenance of activities agreement or even to come together to determine whether they need one. With this legislation, employers and unions will have to come together and determine what work needs to continue during a strike or lockout, if any. We are setting clear timelines on this. After they give notice to begin bargaining, unions and employers will have 15 days to come to an agreement. If they cannot come to an agreement, the Canada Industrial Relations Board will come to one for them within 90 days. This is important. It means more certainty and predictability in collective bargaining for businesses, for unions and for employers alike.
Stability and certainty are guiding everything we are doing.
We have heard from our colleagues across the aisle, some of whom have suggested we pass and bring this bill into force in the next six weeks, but when making one of the most significant changes to federal collective bargaining that Canada has ever seen, we cannot be rushed.
Bill C-58 will change the bargaining table. It will change the role of the Canada Industrial Relations Board and it will fundamentally change how labour relations operate in this country. We are asking the CIRB to resolve issues around replacement workers on new and predictable timelines, to resolve maintenance of activities disputes within 90 days if parties cannot do it in 15. So they need to staff up. They need to strengthen their processes. They are already telling us what they need because the purpose of the CIRB's creation was to take labour disputes out of the court system, to free up the court system and allow labour disputes to be processed in reasonable order.
We are building up the CIRB to stay true to that mission. It is the only way we will make this legislation work. It is a massive change and they need time. All parties need time to prepare and adapt to their new requirements and obligations, and to formulate new strategies for the bargaining table, so that this legislation makes the positive impact that we know it can and should make for stability, for certainty.
To those who have questioned if this bill will in fact result in that, who have raised concerns with these changes, I understand. As union leaders told me after we tabled this bill, in a bit more colourful language, this is a big deal. It is disruptive; it is a change, but I can tell colleagues right now that it will bring more stability, more balance and more certainty to how we collectively bargain in this country because we are bringing the focus back to where it belongs: the table.
Just look at the bill. Look at the improvements that will benefit businesses, unions, employers and the public alike. One does not have to look far to understand what it means. As we speak, workers at the Port of Quebec are on the front lines of this issue. They have been replaced and they have been on the picket line for over one year. Those workers on the front lines every day are ongoing proof for why we need this kind of legislation because replacement workers prolong disputes.
Workers at the Port of Québec are facing this problem at this very moment.
They have been replaced for over a year now. Replacement workers prolong disputes. The longshore workers are on strike, as is their right, but the replacement workers have disrupted negotiations.
For 14 months, longshore workers have been on strike there, exercising their constitutional right to do so, and for 14 months, replacement workers have been operating the port. That is 14 months of earning less than their salary, with no benefits, no coverage and no work. How quickly could this dispute have been resolved, how long could we have had a permanent and resilient agreement between the union and the employer, if replacement workers had not been an option and if the only option had been sitting down at the bargaining table to negotiate a deal that works for everyone?
Long, drawn-out disputes like this can bring out the worst, because workers are left in impossible situations, choosing between standing up for their rights and putting food on the table for their family. In fact, this is why other jurisdictions have decided to bring in legislation to ban replacement workers. When the Government of Quebec brought in its legislation to ban replacement workers in 1977, it was to stop the violent confrontations to which strikes and picket lines were leading in that province. In 1993, the Government of British Columbia passed similar legislation to address the increasingly hostile relationship between employers and the labour movement.
What happened in Quebec and B.C. after that legislation was passed? There were less frequent strikes. In B.C., there was no discernible impact on the number of strikes. Over the past close to 30 years, strike activity in the province has never gone above the 1993 numbers. In Quebec, while transitions in Quebec's economy in the 1970s did cause a brief uptick in strikes, they have declined ever since.
Strikes are less common in Quebec, even with its legislation banning replacement workers.
To those who still say this bill would result in more strikes, I will remind them where the state of play stands at the federal level. We are very fortunate to have the absolute best mediators at the federal labour department. The federal mediation and conciliation service has resolved 96% of labour disputes within the last year, without a work stoppage. It is the gold standard. Ninety-six per cent of the time, most Canadians never hear about labour negotiations at federal workplaces across the country. There might be tense negotiations and they might be messy, but they are settled at the negotiating table, and that is thanks in part to our federal mediators. It is only 4% of the time that federal labour negotiations enter the public conversation.
I am often seen in the media repeating the same message I always do, which is to focus on the table. Every single time, others will be on the same evenings news I am on, repeating the same message they always do, which is to bring out back-to-work legislation and to bring out replacement workers. They ask why the feds will not step in.
We have to remember that striking is a last resort for workers. Nobody wants to lose their benefits and live off strike pay. It is an anxious, uncertain time for anyone. Collective bargaining can be hard work, but it is always the answer. Our economy depends on employers and unions staying at the table to do the work and reach the best and most resilient deals. Bill C-58 would keep parties focused on the bargaining table. That is how we find stability and certainty in our supply chains and our entire economy. Every industry and bargaining table is different, but our goal in all of them is the same: to keep parties focused at the table, create a more predictable process and remove the distractions. That is what this legislation would do for businesses, employers and unions alike.
This is not just the smart thing to do; it is also the right thing to do. It is something labour has been asking for since before we were even a country. The reactions I have heard from labour leaders over the past 13 days speaks to how much the bill really means to them. As Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour said, “This is Canadian politics at its best. This is Parliament working for workers.” As Bea Bruske, head of the Canadian Labour Congress said, this is a vital way to increase fairness for workers.
As Magali Picard of the Fédération des travailleurs et travailleuses du Québec put it, this bill changes Canada's collective bargaining landscape.
As the Fish, Food & Allied Workers said in my home province of Newfoundland and Labrador, with this bill we would be doing away with “a regressive, anti-worker practice that has long eroded collective bargaining rights.”
Last year, we passed a bill to give workers in federally regulated sectors 10 days of paid sick leave, because we learned a lot from COVID when it came to sick leave. If we, as a government, were going to be asking people to stay home for two weeks when they became sick, we had to give them the ability to do so. That bill passed in the House with unanimous consent, because we all agree workers should never have to choose between getting paid and getting better. Members will recall that, at the time, workers in the United States were striking over their ask of one day of paid sick leave to stay home from work when they are sick. In Canada, workers now get 10 days, and that passed unanimously.
When the time comes, I hope every member of the House, Liberals, New Democrats, Bloc members, Greens and Conservatives, will stand up and vote to keep collective bargaining free and fair.
This legislation is needed to keep labour relations strong in Canada, to keep employers and unions at the bargaining table, and to ban replacement workers.