Thank you very much, Minister.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
If I may, I'd like to introduce my deputy minister, Hélène Gosselin, who is here to make sure that I answer the questions as factually as possible, with all the data you may be needing.
I'm very pleased to be here as Minister of Labour to talk to you about the labour program and the importance of healthy and productive workplaces for our economy, but doing so in the context of the 2011-12 supplementary estimates (B).
As Minister Finley pointed out, the goal of our government is very clear: we want to have continued economic recovery. In our view in the labour program, this can't be achieved without an emphasis on constructive labour relations and on workplace health and safety. Those two elements actually work together in order to promote a stable, productive, and innovative industry.
The labour program services to the federally regulated sector support the underpinnings of a healthy economy. You know, a work stoppage in a major industry such as transportation can have immeasurable economic consequences. Considering the current economic climate, quite frankly, work stoppages come at a price that we simply can't afford to pay.
In 2008 our government commissioned a study to better understand the causes and the effects of strikes and lockouts in the federally regulated private sector. The study was conducted by a gentlemen by the name of Mr. Peter Annis, who is now Mr. Justice Annis. He's an expert in industrial relations.
What this study showed was that there is a general degree of consensus among all stakeholders--management as well as labour--that better labour-management relationships actually reduce the risk, the frequency, and the duration of work stoppages. It's these improved relationships that are the first step towards achieving greater productivity through more flexible and innovative workplaces.
Mr. Justice Annis recommended that the government use modern dispute resolution techniques to better address industrial relations challenges, especially in the era of global competitiveness, so that's why in budget 2011 the Government of Canada announced an investment of $1 million over two years--and $500,000 in ongoing funding thereafter--for the preventive mediation program. This funding will help the labour program do more to help employers and unions build and maintain constructive working relationships with each other.
Through this program, the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is going to provide services that are customized to meet the needs of the particular workplace, including workshops and training. Grievance mediation is also available to help the parties informally resolve whatever workplace disputes they may have. These services are delivered jointly to both employers and to unions by mediators with extensive experience in labour relations.
The program uses modern dispute resolution techniques and helps unions and employers establish those strong relationships that are needed before any formal labour dispute could arise. But if a labour dispute does arise, our federal mediators and conciliators assist the employers and the unions in resolving their differences without resorting to a strike or to a lockout.
In the last five years, 832 collective agreements have been finalized, and 792 of those were reached without a work stoppage. In other words, with the assistance of conciliation and mediation, parties reach or renew their collective agreements in 94% of the cases in the federal jurisdiction.
I will give you some examples. In the last year, the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service has been instrumental in helping organizations like the BC Ports, the Port of Quebec, and the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation reach those new collective agreements.
I will switch gears. The Government of Canada is also actively working to improve labour conditions internationally. As part of our bilateral trade agenda, the labour program works with other countries in order to cooperate on issues including social justice, improved global working conditions, and respect for international labour rights and principles.
Canada's recent labour cooperation agreements with the Dominican Republic, Peru, Colombia, Panama, and Honduras include comprehensive labour provisions based on respect for the ILO's--the International Labour Organization--fundamental labour rights and principles. These trade and labour agreements are very important drivers of the nation's long-term prosperity and growth. Our free trade agenda is creating jobs for Canadian families, and we're creating a level playing field for Canadian businesses to compete internationally through these LCAs.
The labour program also ensures the health and safety of Canadian workers as part of its mandate under part II of the Canada Labour Code. The program has been doing this for more than a century. It is a high priority and an ongoing commitment.
When it comes to health and safety, the activities are both proactive and reactive. Proactively, we educate employers and we inspect high-risk industries like air transport, longshoring, and road transport, but we also respond by investigating serious accidents and fatalities, as well as situations where there are work refusals.
As well, workplace health and safety has come to take on a definition that is broader than physical safety. A safe and healthy workplace also includes mental health. With this in mind, the labour program is providing technical expertise in the development of a national standard for psychological health and safety in the workplace, an initiative championed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. I'm very proud to say that Canada will be a world leader in developing a workplace psychological health standard.
Studies show that higher productivity in workplaces happens where morale is high. Employers who treat their employees with compassion spend less money on sick leave and less money on hiring and training new employees. It's an approach that fosters trust, and that, of course, promotes harmony between labour and management.
It's clear that maintaining a successful workplace requires a multi-faceted approach. Therefore, we must bolster our existing services to ensure healthy workplaces and, in turn, improve our economic prosperity.
The Government of Canada is demonstrating as well that it's committed to caring for the workers affected in Canada's recovering economy. Our government launched the wage earner protection program, or WEPP, as it's known, to help workers manage one of the toughest challenges they can face: going without their hard-earned pay because an employer has gone bankrupt.
In budget 2011, we announced an additional $4.5 million annually to protect more workers. We extended the WEPP to employees who lose their jobs when their employer's attempt at restructuring takes longer than six months and eventually is unsuccessful and ends up in bankruptcy or receivership.
Mr. Chair, these are just some of the ways that our government's economic action plan is working for Canadians and strengthening our economy. I hope that you and the committee appreciate the overview and that it has been helpful for you in some measure. I look forward to responding to any questions.