Evidence of meeting #141 for Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities in the 42nd Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was workers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Sheila Regehr  Chairperson, Basic Income Canada Network
Parisa Mahboubi  Senior Policy Analyst, Toronto Office, C.D. Howe Institute
Leah Nord  Director, Skills and Immigration Policy, Canadian Chamber of Commerce
Chris Roberts  National Director, Social and Economic Policy Department, Canadian Labour Congress
Colin Busby  Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Give a very brief answer, please.

April 4th, 2019 / 12:45 p.m.

National Director, Social and Economic Policy Department, Canadian Labour Congress

Chris Roberts

Yes, I think precarity represents a subsidy from employees to employers. When they drop pensions, when they remove benefit programs, that's the employers being subsidized by their own workers and by the taxpayers who have to pay those benefits in retirement and when workers get sick. There should be a recovery of some of those benefits from employers, I agree.

12:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

MP Barlow, go ahead, please.

12:45 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

I have just one quick question. I just want to address the question of my colleague Mr. Vaughan. I know he's not trying to disparage every business that is doing these things, because I know in Alberta right now with the downturn I have businesses in my riding that are keeping all of their employees just on their line of credit and their credit cards. So it's not that all of these businesses—absolutely, I'm sure there are some that are abusing some of the policies there, but I think the vast majority of business owners do everything they possibly can to maintain their full-time employees. It's so costly for them to retrain. They do not want to be flipping this all through. To say that business owners are profiting by having precarious employment, I don't think is fair at all.

Mr. Busby, you mentioned earlier that large firms offer better support than do some SMEs and that precariousness is intertwined with competition. Can you just explain that a little bit better or expand a bit on what you meant by that?

12:45 p.m.

Research Director, Institute for Research on Public Policy

Colin Busby

The rules that we design for firms and for businesses—which generally have been encouraged, as I said, through the steady increase in globalization, freer trade and more competition—put them in a position where the contracts and the employment arrangements they set out for workers essentially fall within the competitive environment that they must function within. So you can't really look at them as equal since they are two very distinct kinds of policies. If we are setting up and encouraging firms to be more competitive—and these are the rules we're setting in place for them to compete on the bottom line more, to compete internationally—then you have to understand why there are issues with precarity and why there are issues with employment arrangements, which some people have spoken about today.

I'm saying that the two things are not easily separated at the end of the day. There's only so much security to go around. It exists in the finite, so we have to be very thoughtful about how we design our overall frameworks of policies—be they on labour legislation, on employment insurance or on other forms of income support—and how we think about those to say, okay, this is the competitive environment that businesses are in; they need to operate here; they are the creators of wealth. We need to be very open-minded about how we go about things.

12:50 p.m.

Conservative

John Barlow Conservative Foothills, AB

Thanks.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Are there any other final thoughts? We have a few more minutes.

MP Sheehan.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Terry Sheehan Liberal Sault Ste. Marie, ON

I just wanted to ask this quickly. The federal government itself employs a number of people, both in the public sector and also in the private sector. I'm thinking of Pearson airport where there are 49,000 or 50,000 people working, contributing major GDP to Ontario's economy, and some of those folks are working precariously, contract to contract to contract, without benefits, without sick leave, without vacation days and such.

I don't know how much time we have, but I'd like to hear from a couple of people on the panel if they'd like to comment on what they feel we could do as a federal government in the future to address precarity federally.

12:50 p.m.

National Director, Social and Economic Policy Department, Canadian Labour Congress

Chris Roberts

I think the federal government is already taking important steps to modernize or improve labour standards in the Canada Labour Code. I think that goes not only to part III, which is unrepresented non-unionized employees, but also to part I. A good example is the contract-flipping that goes on in airports, where providers may unionize and bargain decent wages only to find that their employer or the airport puts the contract out to tender and a company competing on a lower wage rate can win the contract, and it all starts over again, but the workers themselves take wage cuts.

There are provisions in part I that would extend basic protections to workers who have already established negotiated wages and benefits, and it would force competition away from wages as the basis of competitive rivalry to something different, like the quality of the service provided, and the like.

I think those kinds of steps are important steps that the federal government can continue to make.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

Terry Sheehan Liberal Sault Ste. Marie, ON

Thank you for that.

12:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you to all of you here and those joining us by video conference to help us with this study.

Before I adjourn, I have some future business notes.

On April 9 we'll be continuing with M-194, where we'll be picking up that meeting that we lost and we'll be meeting with officials.

Mr. Sheehan, I believe you will be a witness as well on that day.

Then on April 11 we'll be receiving a presentation of the 2017 Centennial Flame Research Award and we'll be doing some committee business.

Thank you very much, everybody. Thank you to those on my left and right and those behind me who make today possible.

We will adjourn.