Evidence of meeting #87 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 workplace.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Marie Clarke-Walker  Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress
Carl Girouard  National Union Representative, Grievances, Canadian Union of Postal Workers
Andrea Peart  Health and Safety Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada
Patricia Harewood  Legal Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada
Tara Peel  National Representative, Canadian Labour Congress
Marie-Hélène Major  Secretary-Treasurer, Airline Division, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
Troy Winters  Senior Officer, Health and Safety, Airline Division, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
Phil Benson  Lobbyist, Youth Committee, Teamsters Canada
Cody Woodcock  President, Youth Committee, Teamsters Canada

9:45 a.m.

Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Marie Clarke-Walker

My understanding is that this bill doesn't necessarily change a lot of things. The only thing it changes is that they don't have the ability to go to the joint committee that has been appointed or elected to deal with those particular situations.

You may very well be correct in terms of people preferring to speak to somebody at arm's length; however, that arm's-length person can still be part of a joint health and safety committee, right? I don't think the way the bill is written now will change the numbers of people coming forward. People are afraid to come forward when dealing with situations that are hurtful.

Whether it's discrimination or harassment, they're afraid. They're afraid of reprisals, so until we do something that shows them, first of all, that the people around them can be trusted, and that we really have their best interests at heart, it's going to continue. If we continue along this particular line with no joint committee, I think it will get even worse. Fewer people will come forward because they will not see anyone there who they trust.

The other piece of it is that maybe we also need to do a lot more training around human rights issues for the joint committees. That was mentioned in my colleague's intervention as well. I think that will go a long way to ensure that more people come forward because, at times, the very best of us, even though we know the legislation and even though we know the law, when we are traumatized in that way, we tend to stay back. If we're going to put forward a bill, we need to make sure that the bill is extremely strong and looks at all sides of the issue.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

My understanding of the bill is that, for the competent third person, there's very little that says who that person needs to be, except that they have to be agreed upon by both parties. Is there anything that would preclude the competent third person from being somebody from the joint committee or somebody like that? It could be that, for instance, if there's a non-unionized environment, they could have an external law firm, or they could have an expert. Is there anything that would prevent it?

9:50 a.m.

National Representative, Canadian Labour Congress

Tara Peel

My understanding of the bill is that in legislation, every time it reads “participate in an investigation”, the code would be amended to say, “unless it is related to a complaint of harassment or violence”. That is not to say that committees are always or even in most cases the right people to lead the investigation, and that's not required now under the code. For “competent person”, in many cases, having that be an impartial, qualified third party who understands the legislation is important. When you talk about “participate”, that's a broad term.

It's making sure that they have the ability to look at the criteria for who that competent person should be and what skills they need to have, and what the essential components of a competent person's investigation are. We have all heard of terrible investigations where we get to the end of the process and that investigator has not spoken to the right people, not asked the right questions. Having the committee's input at that stage, in terms of participation, will be important so that we don't end up, at the end of the process, whereby the committee has had no input into that and they're given these very limited workplace recommendations to review without being able to impact the process.

Unless I'm misreading the bill, specifically excluding committees by saying they shall not participate doesn't allow the nuance that you need, I think, to be able to say that in a certain case the committee doesn't have the expertise, doesn't have the right skills, and isn't the right body to be leading the investigation. That's currently allowed. I would say the challenge is that, by completely excluding the committee, it doesn't allow you that nuance as you get into it down the road.

9:50 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Now, for six minutes, we'll have MP Genuis, please.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Thank you to the witnesses. This has been really interesting testimony for me.

Certainly we all know that this bill is motivated by good intentions, but I'm struck by some of the criticisms of the current structure of it. Maybe just to put a fine point on it, I'd be curious to hear from Ms. Walker or Ms. Peel on this. If the bill were to proceed through committee in its present form without amendment, do you think we would be better off supporting it or opposing it at third reading?

9:55 a.m.

Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Marie Clarke-Walker

That is a difficult question because there is a lot in the bill that we do support, but there are a lot of things that are missing from the bill that will make it more difficult for the people the bill is intended to help. In our written submission we give examples. I know that PSAC has already provided examples of things that are missing, that really need to be there in order to truly assist. We've already heard that the minister is open to amendments to strengthen the bill, and we will be putting forward those amendments in our written submission.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

In a certain sense, based on what you just said, it's an omnibus bill dealing with the issues around harassment. There are some things that move in a positive direction, from your perspective, and some things that move in a negative direction, so it makes it difficult to assess, on balance, given that you're talking about distinct, different issues and different elements. Is that a fair synopsis?

9:55 a.m.

National Representative, Canadian Labour Congress

Tara Peel

Our position is that overall this is a positive bill. There are good things in this bill. With the willingness to be open to amendments to strengthen it, clarifying the role of the committee and ensuring that they are not excluded from the process would make this a pretty strong bill. That would be our position.

As well, allowing for the privacy and the human rights element to deal with these complaints the way our colleagues at PSAC do, those things will all strengthen the bill.

On balance, treating these workplace hazards as workplace hazards, and trying to bring the strength of the health and safety approach, there are definite benefits to that.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

I don't want to put words in your mouth at all. I just want to make sure my understanding is right. It sounds like what you're saying is that there are positive elements, there are negative elements, and it would be difficult to assess its net impact in its present form, but you're optimistic about the prospects of it being a positive bill, if amended in the appropriate way.

I see you nodding.

9:55 a.m.

National Representative, Canadian Labour Congress

Tara Peel

I think that's fair.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Okay.

Could I zero in a little further on this issue of definition?

I know, Ms. Walker, you said you may be coming back to the committee with a clear definition. It's interesting to me that we don't have a clear definition. It seems pretty fundamental that as we address harassment and violence in the workplace we know exactly what we mean by those things.

Does anybody else on the panel want to give some colour to what the definition of this should be specifically?

9:55 a.m.

Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Marie Clarke-Walker

May I just say that the current Ontario legislation has a pretty good definition, and there is a definition in part of the Canada Labour Code already. We need to make sure that is infused into this piece of legislation. There are areas in the country that already have pretty good definitions of “sexual harassment” and “violence”.

February 22nd, 2018 / 9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

Okay.

Do you have any of those definitions with you? I guess it's easy for us to find after the fact, so thank you.

I'll turn to Mr. Girouard. Part of why I ask this question is that you were talking about harassment that exists at Canada Post. If I understood you correctly, you were talking about harassment in terms of the way in which absences are regulated. Did I understand you correctly that the way in which employers were responding to absences from the workplace could be considered a form of harassment?

9:55 a.m.

National Union Representative, Grievances, Canadian Union of Postal Workers

Carl Girouard

Absolutely. Most of my presentation was on the overtime portion of it. It's all in the way of threatening, about further discipline, about threatening up until dismissal, these sorts of things. It is really the way that they do it and the way they threaten people that's been a problem.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

From your perspective, if an employer says to an employee that based on a certain record of absences, this might lead to dismissal, that it could constitute harassment. Am I misunderstanding that or is it maybe in the tone in which it's presented?

9:55 a.m.

National Union Representative, Grievances, Canadian Union of Postal Workers

Carl Girouard

I'll give you an example. When we're dealing with a sort of template process and they're talking about a three-day absence and they are threatening to fire you for innocent absenteeism and they are offering you EAP for a cold, and these sorts of things, you see that the process is not really serious and the threat at the end of going to further discipline and going to these things.... But I have to tell you that the main portion of harassment that we're seeing is more on the overtime piece than on absenteeism control, let's say.

10 a.m.

Conservative

Garnett Genuis Conservative Sherwood Park—Fort Saskatchewan, AB

For me that further underlines the importance of having a clear definition, having a clear understanding of what exactly constitutes harassment.

I think that's my time, Mr. Chair.

10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

It's very close. You have about five seconds left.

That takes us to the top of the hour. We have to suspend briefly to switch panels.

I want to thank you for being here today and helping us make sure this is the best piece of legislation we can produce. Thank you.

We're going to suspend for no more than two minutes, guys, so don't wander off too far.

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Welcome to the second panel joining us here today. We have from the airline division of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, CUPE, Marie-Hélène Major, secretary-treasurer; and Troy Winters, senior officer, health and safety. From Teamsters Canada, we have Cody Woodcock, president, youth committee; and Phil Benson, lobbyist, youth committee.

Welcome to all of you. We are going to get going right away with your opening remarks, starting with Marie-Hélène.

The next seven minutes are yours.

10:05 a.m.

Marie-Hélène Major Secretary-Treasurer, Airline Division, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

Thank you.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees welcomes this opportunity to comment on Bill C-65 and present our recommendations to this committee for consideration.

CUPE is Canada's largest union, representing 650,000 members across Canada. We have federally regulated workers in communications, energy and transportation such as airlines, light rail and ports.

I represent the Airline Division of CUPE with over 12,000 unionized flight attendants.

I know the work environments of CUPE members expose them to numerous work-related hazards, most of which are well regulated. However, in spite of the demands of their work environment, which we strive to handle, workers should never be exposed to violence in the workplace whether in the form of verbal threats, harassment, physical violence, or sexual aggression and violence.

The close working environment, the occupational power hierarchy, and the spectrum of violence create a complex multi-dimensional issue, which will require close attention to ensure a process is developed that will respect principles of justice, human rights, equality, and privacy in the application of our health and safety laws.

CUPE strongly supports the government's renewed efforts on violence prevention, especially the often overlooked sexually related violence, and would like to echo the positive aspects of this bill as have been expressed by our colleague.

However, as was hinted at earlier, different types of violence will require different solutions, and while aspects of Bill C-65 provide positive steps towards facilitating safe and accountable workplaces and the prevention of violence, CUPE strongly believes that some of the proposed changes will have the opposite effect in the workplace.

Limiting the role of health and safety committees will, in the view of CUPE, lead to a chilling effect on reporting and increase the opportunity for all workplace violence, including systemic harassment, sexual violence, and assaults, to remain unaddressed.

As a case in point, sexual harassment and assaults on women within the airline industry are common experiences for our members. Heavy-handed management tactics, flawed policies, and flight crew power dynamics cause our flight attendants to be very hesitant to report. Frequently, members will come to us for help but wish to remain anonymous. In our experience, it's not only the shame of being a victim that keeps them from coming forward; it's the fear of reprisals. Even after we explain how we can help protect them, they are reluctant to go through the process for fear of experiencing victim shaming and blaming, having to face their aggressor, and potentially losing their job as a result of a poorly conducted investigation. They have no faith in the system's ability to protect them from traumatization and further abuses. In fact CUPE members have, in the past, reported incidents to the union but have prevented the union from moving forward for fear that they will lose their job or that their eligibility for promotion would be reduced.

Ensuring that workers do not experience reprisals from their employer when they report violence, allowing them access to their health and safety committees if they want it, and building in support and transparency for complainants are crucial factors in reducing barriers to reporting.

The role of health and safety committees is therefore, in the view of CUPE, essential for incidents of sexually based harassment and violence.

Thank you.

10:05 a.m.

Troy Winters Senior Officer, Health and Safety, Airline Division, Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)

We've heard the words of all the parties and have spoken with the dedicated staff of the labour program. I truly believe that everyone here wants to reduce violence. However, Bill C-65 proposes changes to the internal complaint resolution process that ensure that incidents of harassment and violence will not be brought to the joint health and safety committees for investigation or resolution.

Additionally, by changing sections under 134, 135, and 136, the bill reduces the investigative duties of committees and representatives. This is a departure from the rest of Canada, where health and safety law is defined by a concept known as the “internal responsibility system”, under which employers lead with the participation and consultation of health and safety committees.

CUPE has always contended that when violence, regardless of the type, happens in the workplace, the health and safety committee should be involved at an appropriate level so that they are able to determine the systemic breakdowns that allowed the violence to occur. For all hazards, health and safety has practised in Canada jointly with employers and workers through the internal responsibility system; for violence it should be no different. If the changes to the ICRP and the duties of the committee under Bill C-65 take effect, workplace harassment and violence will be handled solely by the employer.

As Marie-Hélène has stated, our flight attendants frequently deal with harassment, but we know, and we also hear in the news, about flight attendants being attacked while working on the airplane. We also know the potential for violence to all of our border guards, postal workers, armoured truck drivers, and many in the federal service. Why would we change the law to stop the committee from investigating these incidents? Who is better positioned than the people on the committee who actually operate these flights to help make the skies safe? In the case of sexually based violence and harassment, why would we remove the one legal route that could provide a trusted non-managerial source to help victims and survivors?

The Minister of Labour has stated that the goal is to prevent violence, to respond when violence occurs, and to provide support to survivors. It is CUPE's position that one of the best vehicles to accomplish all these goals is the existing health and safety committee structure. We implore the committee to recommend amending Bill C-65 to allow health and safety committees to do their job around all forms of violence.

We look forward to your questions. Thank you very much.

10:10 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you, sir.

Now we have Teamsters Canada.

Mr. Benson, I believe you're going to start us off.

10:10 a.m.

Phil Benson Lobbyist, Youth Committee, Teamsters Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank the committee for having us before it.

My name is Phil Benson. I'm a lobbyist for Teamsters Canada. With me is brother Cody Woodcock.

Teamsters Canada supports Bill C-65 and endorses the Canadian Labour Congress submission.

Today we will not discuss the bill in our presentation, though in the question-and answer-period, we look forward to discussing issues such as the difference between legislation and regulations, and the role of unions in the workplace. Instead, we are seeking an addition to the bill to make mental health awareness and support mandatory in workplaces.

We propose language for the bill—which you have—as well as suggestions for regulatory change, and a standard.

To be clear, we are not legislative drafters. Teamsters Canada welcomes any language the committee deems appropriate to reach the goal of making it mandatory.

10:10 a.m.

Cody Woodcock President, Youth Committee, Teamsters Canada

I am Cody Woodcock, a proud Teamsters member, who comes from the rail industry out of Red Deer, Alberta. I currently serve as the Teamsters Canada youth committee president. I am honoured to speak on behalf of 120,000 Teamsters members across Canada, and for all Canadians battling mental illness.

In 2015, the Teamsters Canada youth committee embarked on a social media campaign called “Make it Mandatory” in order to convince government to take action on this issue. The campaign began in response to the Edmonton Hub Mall shooting in 2012, where an individual turned on his co-workers, shooting four and killing three of them. Our committee member was a co-worker at G4S at the time.

It was realized that not only was the shooter in need of help for his mental illness in the workplace, but also something needed to be done for the victims left in the aftermath of this tragedy. Teamsters Canada is concerned that workers and their employers do not receive all the assistance they need in the workplace to stop the stigma and to prevent, accommodate, and support individuals in the workplace who suffer from mental illness.

The youth committee created a seven-part web series that has been viewed over two million times. I encourage all of you to take the time to view these videos at makeitmandatory.ca. We are fortunate in our videos to have Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Thomas Mulcair, Elizabeth May, Murray Rankin, Steven Fletcher, and Rodger Cuzner express their support for taking action on mental health in the workplace. The cause has support from all political parties, as the illness affects people from all walks of life. We have gained support by meeting with over 50 MPs here on the Hill, as well as back home in our own ridings.

We have been supported by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the United Way, Military Minds Inc, Respect Group, and the Canadian Mental Health Association, as they, too, see the need for action.

In the rail industry, sadly the reality of my job is that crossing fatalities and accidents occur far to often. My co-workers and I must come to terms with having a hand in another person's death. Everyone deals with this tragedy in different ways, but often feel they don't have the supports in the workplace to navigate through these issues. The result can see individuals turning to different vices to temporarily numb the pain or they are forced to leave the industry as they struggle with mental health.

Our goal now is to propose an amendment to start the conversation on how to include a mental health initiative in Bill C-65. The bill seeks to prevent incidents of harassment and violence in the workplace, and to protect employees from these behaviours. We would like to see it go further to protect workers by ensuring everyone has access to support in their workplaces.

The stigma is still very present, and the government must force a discussion about mental health in the workplace. We need all parties to acknowledge mental illness as a disease, as it is no different from any other illness that causes physical damage. By adding the definition of “health” to section 122 to state that health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being would make it that mental health would be formally considered in existing rules, and would be better protected in the workplace.

Thank you.

10:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you very much.

Starting us off with questions is MP Harder, please.