Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members. I am very pleased to appear before your committee.
I'm pleased to be joined here today by Sandra Hassan, Drew Heavens, and Dennis Duggan from Treasury Board Secretariat.
Our government is committed to restoring fair and balanced public sector labour laws that respect the collective bargaining process, laws that recognize the important role unions play in protecting the rights of workers and helping grow the middle class.
I would like to talk to you today about how BillC-62 helps fulfills these commitments.
Bill C-62 combines Bill C-5 and C-34 that were introduced previously. Bill C-5, which was introduced by our government, dealt with public service sick leave, while Bill C-34 dealt with collective bargaining and essential services.
Combining these two bills into one, as we have, simply incorporates the adjustments necessary to combine the two sets of proposals into one piece of legislation moving forward. Broadly, the objectives of both are shared and related. Combining the bills makes sense. Both are amending the same act and both are related to restoring the balance to the public sector labour relations regime.
I'm going to begin with the changes to sick leave introduced as part of the Conservative omnibus legislation Budget Implementation Act 2015. Division 20 of the Economic Action Plan Act 2015, number one, known at the time as Bill C-59, provided the Treasury Board with the authority to establish and modify terms and conditions of employment related to sick leave of employees, impose a short-term disability plan outside of collective bargaining, and modify the long-term disability programs in the core public administration.
In short, the changes took the issue of sick leave off the negotiating table and gave the government the power to unilaterally impose a plan of its choosing. The bargaining agents for many of the public service unions rightly opposed this legislation, which was drafted without consultation with the public service. In June 2015, 12 of 15 federal unions joined together to file a legal challenge of these provisions, arguing against their constitutionality.
Bill C-62 will eliminate those powers and will show our respect for the collective bargaining process.
Our government knows that the unions play an important role, not only in protecting the rights of the workers, but also in strengthening the middle class.
Again, that is why we committed to not exercise the powers and to repeal the legislation.
I'd like to turn to the issues of essential services, collective bargaining, and dispute resolution. Bill C-62 would repeal the most contentious changes made in 2013 to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act. I'm referring to changes that would allow the employer to unilaterally designate essential services, remove bargaining agents' choice when it comes to the conflict resolution process, and impose new factors that arbitrators must consider when making a recommendation or an award.
It's worth recalling that several unions have gone as far as to file charter challenges against the provisions passed in 2013, and we have every reason to believe that these challenges would have succeeded in the courts, in large part because of the experience in Saskatchewan. Back in 2008, the Saskatchewan government introduced changes similar to those found in the omnibus bill that was passed in 2013. They were successfully challenged by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour before the Supreme Court.
Let me outline the details of the key changes our government is proposing. First, the notice to bargain would be amended to return to a four-month notice period, although the parties may still meet earlier to bargain. Second, bargaining agents would be given the choice to determine which dispute process they wished to use should the parties reach an impasse in the bargaining. Third, when making awards or recommendations, public interest commissions and arbitration boards would have the flexibility to weigh the most important factors in the circumstances before them. They would no longer be forced to give undue weight to certain factors if the circumstances didn't justify it. Fourth, the employer would no longer have the unilateral right to arbitrarily determine which services are essential for the safety and security of the public and to designate the positions necessary to deliver those services. The employer would work with public sector bargaining agents to identify essential service positions and would enter into essential services agreements with them. So the determination would occur as a result of discussion with public sector unions. Finally, Bill C-62 repeals some of the changes made to recourse processes, even though these were never implemented, because they were to be brought into force at a later date.
Mr. Chair, and committee members, our government is committed to restoring a culture of respect for and within the public service, and to respecting the collective bargaining process. When we took office in 2015, all the collective bargaining agreements with public servants had in fact expired. Some of them had been expired for four years. We made it clear that we would work collaboratively with public servants and that we would negotiate in good faith. After two years of respectful negotiations, we have reached 23 of 27 agreements. That means, I believe, that more than 94% of unionized public servants for which Treasury Board is the employer now have collective bargaining agreements in place. It's worth noting that with most of the agreements, including an undertaking to develop an integrated approach to the management of employee wellness, our collaborative approach is achieving results. It's an approach that embodies the values of fairness and justice that make Canada the country it is today. We have a world-class public service in Canada, and one that is recognized as such in terms of its effectiveness and its professionalism
Bill C-62 affirms the values of treating our public service with respect and in partnership by understanding and responding to the need for fair and balanced labour laws in Canada.
I want to thank members of the committee for their attention. I look forward to your questions and to engaging with this committee.
Thank you very much.