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

9:30 a.m.

Patricia Harewood Legal Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada

I guess the harm in putting it in the regulation and not in the actual legislation is that the regulation can more rapidly change. It makes it more vulnerable to change, whereas if it's embedded in the legislation, it gives a greater protection to the complainant and to her right to receive a copy of the report. We would want it to be, where possible, in the actual legislation.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Where I'm coming from—you may disagree, and I'd be interested to hear if you do—is that, to me, the legislation serves the purpose of creating the framework with the details of the process to follow by way of regulation, both of which have completely equal application as force of law.

I'm anticipating things like timelines, the process, and who gets which document to be embedded in regulation. I think we'd find a lot of common ground on what should be in those regulations. Would you have a problem if the protections that you're looking for made their way into regulation as long as the substance was captured by the force of law?

9:30 a.m.

Legal Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Patricia Harewood

We wouldn't have a problem. We would prefer that it actually be in the legislation. It's very clearly indicated that in passing this legislation the government is attempting to provide greater protections regarding issues of sexual violence and sexual harassment. Part of that is empowering the complainant. Part of that is empowering, for example, women who face a serial harasser in the workplace, to actually get an investigation done and find out what the recommendations are in that report.

That's why I think it would be better if it were placed in the legislation, but obviously, we're not opposed to it being in the regulations. It needs to be somewhere.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Okay, I'm with you.

I'll shift gears a little bit. I have a question that didn't really arise from your testimony, but given who you're here on behalf of, I'm quite curious.

Obviously, the complaints process for different kinds of harms in the workplace could be embedded in a collective bargaining agreement. Is there any problem with the way the legislation is crafted today that would interfere with the ability of unions to negotiate perhaps an even more robust complaints process, or is that something that you would be able to do at the bargaining table if you had an employer who was willing to dance?

9:30 a.m.

Legal Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Patricia Harewood

One of the recommendations we made.... As you heard from Ms. Peart's presentation, the legislation is silent on how it's going to interact with our collective agreements, with complaints processes that are provided under the Canadian Human Rights Act already, and that's a problem. That's why we've insisted that in the regulations we want to ensure that the complaints process does not delay the complainant's ability to access other recourses which may be available to her under our collective agreements, for example, and in addition, under the Canadian Human Rights Act, as an example.

9:30 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Certainly, and my own view is that it would be better to have the complainant be able to choose the process that's most advantageous from the complainant's perspective. If these two processes conflicted with one another to some degree, I would hope the legislation wouldn't change what was agreed to by the union representatives.

How can we embed that in regulation most effectively?

9:30 a.m.

Legal Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Patricia Harewood

For example, we've suggested in our recommendation that there is a role for the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is an expert in human rights, to participate in the selection of a competent person. That's one example. That might actually expedite the process, because where the complainant chooses to file a human rights complaint but also wants to pursue the process under the Canada Labour Code, the involvement of a third party such as the Canadian Human Rights Commission could help to resolve the process through mediation, for example, through some form of alternative dispute resolution.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Sean Fraser Liberal Central Nova, NS

Thank you very much. I think that's my time.

9:35 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

We'll turn it over to MP Trudel, please.

9:35 a.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to the witnesses for their presentations.

My first question is for Mr. Girouard.

Earlier, you mentioned that you could answer questions about Bill C-65, which you have seen. I would like to know your concerns about the limitations and the role of the union with respect to Bill C-65.

9:35 a.m.

National Union Representative, Grievances, Canadian Union of Postal Workers

Carl Girouard

Thank you.

Of course, we are very concerned that Bill C-65 prohibits the participation of health and safety committees in the investigation process, and prevents them from receiving information. We fully understand the need for confidentiality in order to encourage workers to report problems, but we think it needs to be balanced with the need for unions to properly represent their members and receive at least some of the information, to enable them to contribute to the change of culture in the workplace.

We play an important role and we want to ensure that investigations are conducted fairly, equitably and, above all, impartially. I want to reiterate the importance of the competent investigator principle described in Part XX of the Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, entitled “Violence Prevention in the Work Place”: this person has the experience and the skills required to do the job, but they must also be seen as being impartial by both parties, which is very important. It is important to ensure that employers do not conduct their own investigations. This can be problematic in many cases, especially when it comes to sexual harassment and things like that. It is imperative that the person conducting the investigation be impartial.

We have recently found that competent investigators had circulated their reports in health and safety, human resources and labour relations services before making their findings public; those reports had therefore been amended. That's not impartiality.

Confidentiality should exist to protect the victim, not to allow the abuser to hide or to circumvent the bargaining agent or the health and safety committees. This argument is used against us in the workplace, which is very problematic for us.

We are also concerned about the interaction of clauses in the collective agreement with the provisions of Bill C-65. We have an obligation to represent our members. This may include providing support to those who want to complain, or representing someone who is part of the investigative process, as Part XX of the regulations allows. We must also represent people who have been disciplined. There is ample case law on the obligation of unions to represent their members, as well as on the right of unions to have information. If there are no clarifications on this, we wonder what position we are going to be in and what kind of legal debate that will cause.

The bill should also provide more detail on the investigation process. In particular, will the results of the minister's investigation be made public? Can we access it during the grievance process, for example? This concerns us.

We are also concerned about the definitions. We think this is a fundamental aspect that should be reflected in the bill. I have heard arguments that it is easier to change the definitions in a regulation than in a law, and I agree. The important thing is to have clear and precise definitions. Would it be sufficient to include them in the regulations? Possibly. However, if that is really the intent, why not include clear and precise definitions in the bill so that we know exactly what is intended?

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Karine Trudel NDP Jonquière, QC

Will the amendments to the Canada Labour Code proposed in Bill C-65 have immediate effects on the current collective agreements? You talked a little about it, but could you give me more details?

9:40 a.m.

National Union Representative, Grievances, Canadian Union of Postal Workers

Carl Girouard

Passing the bill will certainly not affect the text of the collective agreement. However, applying it may become problematic in the workplace when our shop stewards try to investigate the complaints they receive. Will the employer tell them that they have no access to information or no right to participate in the process under the legislation? In other words, they will be pushed away just like the local health and safety committees.

That's a concern. A clear bill on this front would reassure us.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

MP Dabrusin, please.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you to all of you. You've had really great, specific suggestions, which is helpful for us as we look at it.

Ms. Walker, you referred to privacy protections, and said that you had some suggestions as to how to build those in. I wasn't sure if you'd had an opportunity to actually list those privacy suggestions.

As well, would you prefer to see those in the legislation or in the regulations in terms of how that would operate?

9:40 a.m.

Tara Peel National Representative, Canadian Labour Congress

One of the suggestions we spoke about was that certainly if the complainant wishes not to have their unresolved complaint referred to the committee, that is an option. They can take that to another resolution process. I think my colleague from PSAC sort of hinted at this. But at the end of the investigation process, you make sure that the co-chairs receive a complete report of the investigation. Then the worker and employer co-chairs could go through that report and decide which information, if any, should be redacted before it's shared with the other members of the committee or the other people responsible for implementing those changes. That would be a way to narrow the number of people who receive that information while still making sure there's enough information to really get at the systemic changes that need to be made in a workplace and you don't lose that piece of it.

We recognize that only the people who need to see the information should receive that information, and only as much as they need to see. But in terms of excluding the committees from seeing anything other than specific recommendations, all of the information—how we got to those recommendations and who was spoken to, just as in school we're told to show our work—would be important. Limiting that to the co-chairs I think gets to that privacy question without excluding the benefit of having both the worker and employer persons reviewing those recommendations.

February 22nd, 2018 / 9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Okay. Thank you.

Both Ms. Peart and Ms. Walker talked about the need for whatever the process is to take into account intersectionality, to take into account diversity. Ms. Peart had specific recommendations about using the Human Rights Commission as one of the means of selecting competent people who would be reflective of those types of concerns.

I'm wondering if you have any other suggestions. I'm also on the heritage committee, which considered systemic discrimination and systemic racism, so that issue, when you mentioned it, was flagged for me. Do you have recommendations beyond the Human Rights Commission piece? What do you think about the resources that might have to be changed if suddenly the Human Rights Commission were handling that piece? As well, is this something that we should be putting in regulations? Is it something that we do as a policy or process as opposed to necessarily embedding it within the legislation?

9:40 a.m.

Legal Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Patricia Harewood

Full disclosure here: we have been in touch with the Canadian Human Rights Commission and have had discussions with the commission. Certainly in terms of commenting on the budget aspect, it would need to be resourced, but I can't tell you today what that might look like. I think I would wait for the commission to make its submissions on that particular matter.

I did want to speak to the other aspect of our recommendation—namely, not only that the commission participate in the selection of a competent person but also that the regulations do not in any way delay the complainant's access to other mechanisms, including the mechanism under the Canadian Human Rights Commission. The reason we want to insist on this is that, as you may be aware, these different mechanisms actually provide for different remedies. When we talk about systemic sexual harassment, when we talk about systemic racial discrimination, there are very strong systemic remedies that are already available under the legislation—for example, the Canadian Human Rights Act—that are not available under the Canada Labour Code and under part XX of the regulations. We do want to insist on that component as well.

9:45 a.m.

Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Marie Clarke-Walker

I would just add that I wholeheartedly agree. In terms of resources, there will be training required, extra training, around human rights issues for folks who are part of these joint committees, but as Patricia has already said, the Canadian Human Rights Commission already has people trained to deal with the various intersectionalities and issues that come up with respect to harassment and violence.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Julie Dabrusin Liberal Toronto—Danforth, ON

Thank you.

Ms. Walker, I have very little time left, but when I was looking up some information I saw that you are on the International Labour Organization, which is also going to be looking at harassment in the workplace. Do you have any insights for us from what's happening internationally on this issue?

9:45 a.m.

Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Marie Clarke-Walker

It is very much at the forefront internationally. We will be discussing it in June. We are in the process of trying to get an ILO convention on gender-based violence. That's as much as I can tell you right now. The first discussion happens in June.

We've participated in an experts meeting. My colleague Vicky Smallman, who is here today, participated in the experts meeting. In June, I will be the spokesperson for the Canadian workers. Actually, I'll be the international workers spokesperson, and I'll be happy to provide more information at that time.

When we do our submission, we can also send you some of what's already in a document, but that whole issue around tripartitism and speaking to each other when coming up with any kind of documentation, any kind of convention, and any kind of law or regulation is extremely important. We need to make sure that all sides are heard.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Liberal Bryan May

Thank you.

MP Vandenbeld.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

Thanks to all of you for being here and for sharing with us the benefit of your vast experience in this area in working on these very issues.

For some of the things that you've come up with, certainly on the complainant getting a copy of the report and things like that, either through regulation or legislation, I think we all agree that those sorts of things have to be there in law.

Ms. Walker, I'd like to delve a bit into what you were suggesting in terms of the joint committee, because what I'm understanding from what you said is that you would like to maintain what is currently in existence. Is that correct?

9:45 a.m.

Secretary-Treasurer, Canadian Labour Congress

Marie Clarke-Walker

Yes, that is correct.

9:45 a.m.

Liberal

Anita Vandenbeld Liberal Ottawa West—Nepean, ON

My concern is that yesterday we heard that 22% of people in the public service said in a survey that they've experienced harassment in the last two years, and yet, if I got the numbers right, one third, I think, have not taken any action.

I think we are all very concerned about the people who don't come forward. We can look at the people who are experiencing harassment. Many of them say they don't want to come forward to anybody who is within proximity in their workplace, such as friends of the boss, people who might be working in the same department, and people they're going to have to interact with. We heard yesterday about a tip line that is actually causing more people to come forward, because it's more anonymous. It may be even in another part of the country that the complaint is registered and the process is given.

One of the reasons for Bill C-65, because the current system isn't working, is to have that ability to go external if needed, for people to feel.... It's an irony, but maybe they have more confidence if it's somebody who is not in close proximity.