moved that Bill C-77, an act to provide for the maintenance of railway operations and subsidiary services, be read the third time and passed.
Mr. Speaker, the current dispute in the railway sector requires firm intervention by the government to ensure the resumption or continuing, as the case may be, of railway operations and subsidiary services.
It is also important to provide a process to resolve matters remaining in dispute between the parties. The bill before the House today, the Maintenance of Railway Operations Act, 1995, orders the resumption of operations at Canadian National, Canadian Pacific and VIA Rail, and provides for establishing mediation-arbitration commissions in respect of each of the bargaining units of the three railway companies.
As hon. members are aware, negotiations in this dispute have been extremely difficult. They covered a number of complex issues including employment security, occupational flexibility, extended routes and the two-tier compensation system for train crews. Despite efforts to reach an agreement which went on for several months, the parties failed to agree on these crucial issues.
Both the unions and the employers agreed that Canada needs a viable and competitive railway system. Even the Bloc Quebecois admitted as much in its motion in amendment of section 12. The matters remaining in dispute must be resolved if the parties are to start establishing relations that will help them meet the challenges of the future.
I believe the dispute settlement process provided under this legislation will help them defend and reconcile their interests dispassionately and objectively. It did not take long for the impact of work stoppages occurring in the railway sector to be felt across the country. The disruption in railway operations has affected certain industries, which are now unable to obtain the parts and supplies they need for their operations and cannot ship their goods to destinations on domestic or the world markets.
Many businesses that depend on railway freight services are being forced to lay off workers. The economic repercussions of a prolonged work stoppage in the railway sector are very serious and cannot be tolerated for very long. The same applies to the impact on passengers who normally take VIA Rail and are now deprived of those services.
I realize that the parties have tried to settle the various disputes, but the government is faced with a situation that requires immediate and decisive intervention. Consequently, last Tuesday, I had to table the Maintenance of Railway Operations Act, 1995. This legislation consists of three parts. Part I concerns the Canadian National Railway Company; Part II concerns the Canadian Pacific system and Part III concerns VIA Rail Canada.
All three parts of this legislation shall come into force 12 hours after the bill has received royal assent. Under this legislation, the disputes will be quickly resolved, thanks to a mediation-arbitration commission that will have 70 days to carry out its mandate. The mediation-arbitration process gives the parties one last chance to reach an agreement with the help of the commission. If at this stage the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the commission will have the power to make final and binding decisions on the matters remaining in dispute.
In its work, the commission shall be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with the economic viability and competitiveness of a coast-to-coast rail system in both the short and the long term, taking into account the importance of good labour-management relations. In the course of the debate on this bill, we have heard different interpretations of sections 12, 34 and 56 from the employers, the unions and the Bloc Quebecois, and I would like to clarify the legislator's intent in this respect.
The best job protection that workers can have is the certainty that their employer is competitive. In this context, it is increasingly clear with successful companies that competitiveness depends on good human resources management, which includes harmonious labour relations. We realize as well that various
internal and external factors may affect a business' competitiveness, including such things as quality of management, efficient financial management and, in the case of railways, appropriate regulations, not to mention the economic environment the business is in.
There is another factor we must not forget, however, and that is labour costs. In the present case, we want both parties to come to terms with these facts. Accordingly, the legislator must express the commissions' mandate clearly. We are not requiring the commissions to achieve specific results in terms of job security clauses or any other working condition of the railway workers.
The unions and the companies will have ample time to tell the commissions what working conditions they consider consistent with economic viability and good union-management relations. No specific results must be achieved. We have simply indicated the factors the commissions are to take into consideration in their deliberations.
Moreover, it is only if the parties fail to reach an agreement on these matters during the mediation period, that the commissions will have to reach a final decision. All in all, this is a fair approach to resolving the disputes between the parties.
I would like it to be perfectly clear that the government remains firmly convinced that collective bargaining is a far better way to resolve disputes than emergency legislation. It is significant that nothing in the legislation prevents the parties from modifying any provision in the collective agreements, new or changed, except for the provision on the term of these agreements.
Furthermore, should the parties reach an interim agreement or concur on the approach to resolving the matters in dispute, the establishment of the mediation-arbitration commission could be deferred.
The facts speak for themselves. Considerable effort has gone into resolving the various disputes between the three railways and the various unions, but to no avail. The bill before us gives the parties one final chance to agree through mediation, before the outstanding issues are submitted to arbitration.
Since the start of negotiations, the parties have indicated that they were opposed to legislation to put an end to the dispute, and I agreed with them on this point. Unfortunately, they have not managed to reach an agreement and, as a result, have caused serious economic problems in the country by initiating work stoppages. As the government, we took the necessary steps and tabled the Maintenance of Railway Operations Act, 1995.
I therefore ask my hon. colleagues to support this measure so that it may be adopted.