Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak on Bill C-96. I am sure members know the bill establishes the Department of Human Resources Development and amends or repeals certain related legislation.
In the time I have I will focus on the labour side of the bill and the duties the Prime Minister has entrusted with the Minister of Labour. Included in the bill are clear definitions of the direction and structures of the minister and the minister's duties. Clause 107 of the bill repeals the Department of Labour Act. Clause 4, though, authorizes the appointment of the Minister of Labour.
According to subclause 4(2), the powers, duties and functions of the Minister of Labour extend to and include all matters over which Parliament has jurisdiction relating to labour not by law assigned to any other department, board or agency of the Government of Canada.
In other words, the Minister of Labour has all the powers, duties and functions related to labour matters under federal jurisdiction, except for staff relations and the federal public service.
So that my hon. colleagues in the House understand the extent of this jurisdiction, I will sketch a broad outline for them. The areas covered by the Canada Labour Code fall within the labour minister's jurisdiction. The code governs industrial relations, occupational safety and health, and labour standards in the federal sphere. The code applies to Canadians working in major industrial sectors such as interprovincial and international rail, road and pipeline transportation, shipping, longshoring, air transportation, grain handling, international and interprovincial telecommunications, broadcasting, banks and certain crown corporations. These are critical sectors of the economy.
Parts I and III of the code dealing with industrial relations and labour standards apply to over 700,000 Canadian workers. Part II also applies to the federal public sector so it affects over 1 million Canadians.
Through the Canada Labour Code and other initiatives of the labour branch of HRD Canada, stable industrial relations are facilitated and safe, healthy, fair and productive workplaces are promoted. In the industrial relations sphere the Canada Labour Code has long been recognized as a model that successfully balances the rights and responsibilities of both labour and management.
Application of the Canada Labour Code is the minister's major responsibility, but several other acts and policies fall under her jurisdiction. Among these is the Canada Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. The centre disseminates occupational health and safety information across the country and plays a key role in protecting the lives and health of workers in Canada.
Other statutes that fall in whole or in part under the labour minister's jurisdiction are the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act, the Government Employees Compensation Act, the act respecting the Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Act, the Merchant Seamen Compensation Act, part II of the Status of the Artist Act, the Wages Liability Act, the Non-Smokers' Health Act and the Corporations and Labour Unions Liabilities Act. All these deal with matters of security, justice and equity, basic entitlements of all Canadian workers.
The only function not carried over from the old Department of Labour is the program for older worker adjustment. This is the only responsibility that will be carried out elsewhere. On the other hand, the Minister of Labour could have added responsibilities under the Employment Equity Act once Bill C-64 has received royal assent.
Given the broad scope of the labour branch, members may wonder why we want to merge into Human Resources Development. It is a logical way for the federal government to meet the challenges facing us as we enter the next century. By merging the two departments into one we want to give concrete form within a single structure to an integrated vision of all various issues relating to the work world and social security.
If the development of our human potential is to be successful it has to be seen as a continuous whole. Society has undergone great changes and we have to adapt. An integrated and unified structure will obviously allow us to do that.
We can no longer succeed in helping Canadians achieve their full potential by creating artificial bureaucratic categories for each of their needs. Nor can we respond to people's needs by losing them in the red tape of poorly co-ordinated government programs. Intelligent and careful integration is necessary but it does not preclude flexibility in procedures, enforcement or service to the Canadian public.
We need an administrative structure that allows us to deliver services in an efficient manner and at a reasonable cost, taking into account both the financial restrictions facing us and our moral obligations toward the Canadian public. By rationalizing resources under the Human Resources Development banner we can and will achieve this goal.
As well, we need a structure that fosters partnerships with the provinces, the industrial sector, the labour movement, the academic community and community groups. We have made great progress toward this and we will go even further under the new act.
The model proposed here is similar to that in several provinces. Integration has already taken place in Quebec, New Brunswick and Newfoundland. Since we are integrating departments some members might wonder why we need a labour minister at all. I will explain that rationale.
We have had labour ministers throughout most of our history. It was the previous Tory government, which did not care much for the views of working Canadians, that eliminated the post. I am concerned the Reform will get the opportunity. The government believes that labour matters deserve special attention, and rightfully so.
The labour movement, labour-management relations, workplace conditions and equity for all workers are probably more important today than they have ever been in the past. For these reasons Bill C-96 provides for the appointment of a Minister of Labour. There is no separate bureaucracy or infrastructure, just a minister who can devote her time to the concerns of working Canadians.
The minister uses the services and facilities of the human resources department. This keeps costs and duplication down without depriving the ministers of the tools needed to deal with their responsibilities.
Last February the Prime Minister appointed the current Minister of Labour. Without waiting for the bill before us to pass he wanted to assure working Canadians that we were ready to deal with urgent and pressing matters affecting Canada's labour situation.
I will outline some initiatives already undertaken by the minister since last February. In the area of industrial relations the minister continues to firmly believe in a free and open collective bargaining system which places the onus on labour and management to be responsible for resolving their own disputes.
Where they are unable to do so, assistance is provided by the federal mediation and conciliation services of the labour branch at Labour Canada. The FMCS has had an astonishing track record, one that most people probably do not realize. Over 90 per cent of disputes referred to it are resolved without work stoppage.
Throughout the world our federal system is seen as a model of balance and effective labour legislation. To have competitive and productive workplaces we need effective labour-management relations. To assist employers and unions to build effective communication channels the FMCS has developed a preventive mediation program which has been well received by its clients.
The minister has undertaken two significant initiatives to ensure that our industrial relations system continues to set standards for the rest of the world. In recent years a number of labour disputes on the west coast have required the intervention of Parliament. In May the minister appointed an industrial inquiry commission to study industrial relations in longshoring, grain handling and other federally regulated industries at west coast ports. We expect to receive the commission's report later this month.
In June the minister established the Sims task force to conduct an independent review and recommend improvements to part I of the Canada Labour Code. The task force will identify options and make recommendations for legislative change with the view to improving collective bargaining, reducing conflict and facilitating labour-management co-operation, ensuring effective and efficient administration of the code and addressing the changing workplace and employment relationships.
The task force is consulting at this moment with labour and management groups that are subject to the code and is scheduled to report to the minister by December 15 of this year.
In the area of occupational health and safety, we are working to better harmonize our legislation and regulations with the provinces and the territories. In co-operation with them, we are trying to achieve greater uniformity throughout the country with regard to this issue. This is a win-win scenario for workers and employers. We all stand to gain through increased efficiency and savings resulting from a reduction in overlap.
To further this initiative we are conducting two pilot projects. One is aimed at harmonizing the provisions of the Canada occupational safety and health regulations dealing with diving and confined spaces, while the other involves the field of ergonomics.
I have already mentioned the review of part I of the Canada Labour Code, but we also are planning to revise parts II and III. In co-operation with our various partners we are seeking to modernize the code to better reflect the requirements of today's labour environment. Consultations are under way and labour and management have approached the revision process with energy and enthusiasm.
Like all government organizations, the labour branch is reviewing all of its activities and methods. This review will help us to pinpoint more ways to increase both the quality and cost effectiveness of the programs and services we deliver to Canadians.
The labour program also has international obligations. The adoption of the North American agreement on labour co-operation led to the establishment of a relatively new component within the program. The agreement is aimed at promoting co-operation and guaranteeing effective enforcement of labour legislation by Canada, the United States and Mexico. The labour branch opened a national office to implement the agreement in Canada not too long ago. This is welcome news.
I am providing members with a sampling of the many activities currently carried out by the labour branch. These examples show that restructuring has in no way impeded the work of the branch. In fact, it has energized it. Since integration, the labour branch is vital, invigorated, and better able than ever before to make a strong contribution to the lives of working Canadians. Its integration within the Department of Human Resources Development ensures a healthy continuity and an integrated use of the resources available to promote the economic and social well-being of Canadians. In my mind, integration makes a lot of sense. It is not just some arbitrary
measure, but a decision made necessary by the times in which we live.
The work of the labour branch cannot be done in isolation from considerations involving Canadians who are on unemployment insurance and employment programs. The challenge is to harmonize and co-ordinate all of our federal programs dealing with human resources. To meet that challenge we are guided by a logical and coherent vision.
The bill before us offers the best of both worlds. It entrenches the powers and responsibilities of a full fledged Minister of Labour while at the same time placing the labour branch within a broader context, producing definite benefits for the government and for all Canadians.
Without hesitation I ask my hon. colleagues to support this important piece of legislation, which confirms what already exists: a very good and solid labour department in this country, which has done an exceptionally good job up to now as far as the rest of the world and Canada are concerned.