That Bill C-317, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Public Service Staff Relations Act (scabs and essential services), be read a second time and referred to the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be able to rise in this House today to speak on Bill C-317, anti-scab legislation. This bill, which will amend the Canada Labour Code and the Public Service Staff Relations Act is aimed at preventing the hiring of scabs to replace employees on strike against or locked out by an employer covered by the Canada Labour Code and employees on strike in the federal public service.
The bill is also aimed at maintaining essential services during a strike or lockout at a crown corporation or in the public service.
As you know, the workers' cause is very important to me. That is why I tabled this bill in this House on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois. This bill would provide adequate protection to workers currently victimized by their employers' disloyal practices.
In Canada, more than 10 per cent of the labour force is subject to the provisions of the Canada Labour Code. This amounts to 217,600 workers in Quebec and over 1,083,000 in Canada.
The debate on the adoption by the federal Parliament of anti-scab legislation that would apply to organizations under its jurisdiction is nothing new. In 1980, the hon. Ed Broadbent, then leader of the NDP, tabled a private member's bill aimed at banning replacement workers. From 1981 to 1992, several unions called one after the other on the federal government to introduce an anti-scab bill.
Finally, in 1990, the Bloc Quebecois tabled, through my colleague, the hon. member for Richelieu, a bill aimed at prohibiting the hiring of persons to replace Crown corporation employees who are on strike or locked out. Unfortunately, this bill was defeated at second reading by only 18 votes.
In 1977, Quebec legislators passed what is commonly referred to as the Quebec anti-scab bill, which went into effect on February 1, 1978.
To understand the reasons behind this bill, we must go back to the early 1960s. In that era of great reforms, relations between the federal government and unions made possible a review of labour laws that led to a sharp rise in union membership. Unions gradually hardened their positions. In the early 1970s, in reaction to the Liberals' election and the imposition of their War Measures Act-as you will recall-, unions openly dissociated themselves from government actions. A strike by the coalition of public sector workers gave rise to a new union solidarity. Within a very short time, this solidarity moved into the private sector.
Afterwards, around the mid-seventies, there were some extremely turbulent strikes. I would point out the Firestone strike, the Canadian Gypsum strike and, particularly, the infamous United Aircraft strike.
It is the Parti Quebecois which introduced the concept of prohibiting the use of scabs.
A significant event happened a week before the bill was passed. During a strike at Robin Hood, a federally regulated company in Montreal, security guards opened fire on strikers and injured eight of them. The person who gave the order to fire was Robert Grynszpan. I am giving his name because, later, he suddenly reappears in the news.
In Quebec, since the anti-scab provisions were adopted, studies have revealed that disputes have indeed been shorter.
It is obvious that the Quebec legislation was not well received by employers. The Conseil du patronat, which was vehemently opposed to this legislation, received in 1991 permission to challenge it before the Supreme Court. However, it later decided to drop proceedings, considering that the climate of labour relations had changed since the provisions of the legislation had been applied. And this last part should really dictate the conduct of the present federal government.
The aim of this bill is not to impose on the rest of Canada legislation that is essentially Quebec's.
In Canada, the tendency seems to be to integrate the principle of prohibition of strikebreakers in labour relations practices.
Recent laws in Ontario, British-Columbia and at the federal level confirm that tendency. These two provinces and Quebec total more de 75 per cent of the population of Canada. Therefore, the majority of workers and employers are regulated by laws which prohibit the use of strikebreakers. Of course, the level of prohibition can vary but the principle remains the same and seems to be accepted by management as well as by labour unions.
In Quebec, a number of unions and employers agree that anti strikebreaker legislation has significantly reduced the number and length of labour disputes. They also recognize it has contributed to lowering the risks of violence on picket lines, which is good for both parties.
Conversely, the use of strikebreakers in recent years has only contributed to extending the duration of labour disputes. Statistics show that the more important labour disputes in terms of the number of workers involved are generally those where strike-breakers are used. It was also noticed that the longer a dispute lasts the higher the proportion of strikebreakers tends to get.
The strike of the Ogilvie flour mill in Montreal, which is still not resolved, is a good example. If I may, I would like to briefly remind my colleagues of a labour dispute that has dragged on and on for over a year now, and which could still last a rather long time if we do not act soon.
In January 1992, the collective agreement between the workers of Ogilvie Mills of Montreal and their employer, Labatt, came to an end.
In June of the same year, the Labatt's Brewery, then the owner of the mill, sold it to ADM Archers-Daniels-Midland Co., a U.S. multinational corporation.
From 1992 to 1993, negotiations to renew the collective agreement were unsuccessful, since the employer was presenting demands based on the working conditions that are common practice in the United States. Can you imagine?
From October 1993 to February 1994, the employer unilaterally imposed working conditions as established in its own proposal.
In February 1994, the union filed a complaint with the Canada Labour Relations Board on grounds that the employer was negotiating in bad faith. In fact, it was simply refusing to negotiate.
On June 6, 1994, a general strike broke out, involving 116 workers-I should add 116 families.
Only four days later, the employer hired scabs to replace these workers. Members should note that it did so through a federal employment centre. Can you imagine that?
I have here in my hands a copy of the ad that was posted in the Employment Centre of Verdun. I will take the time to briefly read some details that were given. It is really unusual.
Date: December 5, 1994, 2.18 p.m., Verdun employment centre. Job offer: forklift operator; $10 an hour; temporary; 40 hours a week, possible overtime. Where? Ogilvie flour mill. They even have the gall to request three to five years experience. But it does not mention whether its is three to five years experience as a fork lift operator or as a scab. There is a hidden anachronism. Further down, it reads: Attention, ongoing labour dispute. One cannot claim ignorance. Then comes the employer's address: Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. (Ogilvie Montreal), 950 Mills, Montreal, Quebec, H3C 1Y4. I will even give a phone number: 514-847-8522, and a contact: Francine Farmer. Attention, company on strike.
Mr. Speaker, this takes the cake. This is blatant proof that the government was in cahoots with a company which was hiring scabs during a labour dispute.
The Ogilvie flour mill is still operating, thanks to scabs, since this is not prohibited under the Canadian Labour Code. It continues to post profits and is using unusual security devices, including surveillance cameras, fences, security guards, to monitor strikers and bring scabs inside the plant.
What is at stake in the negotiations can be summed up as follows: the union's demands are quite simple-there are none. They are not trying to obtain additional jobs, to enhance job security in any way or to obtain any salary increases. The union's demand can be summed up in one sentence: to keep jobs the way they are and salaries at current levels, period.
We could not ask for a better employee attitude in today's climate. They have been very, very understanding. However, here are but a few of management's demands: first, the right to unilaterally modify hours. To put it in simple terms, this means: we will make you work when we want, how we want, how long we want, where we want. Second, the abolition of seniority as a consideration in promotions and layoffs. In plain and simple language, the better you are at sucking up, the better your job advancement possibilities. I know no other term for it.
Loss of job security still means the same thing, so I will not repeat it. Elimination of notice prior to layoff. That means that when you leave for work in the morning, give your wife and children a big kiss, because when you come home that night, you may no longer be working for the same company and you will have nothing to say about it.
More contracting out: this means that you should not forget to tell your wife that it is possible that some guy from out of the blue will get hired to do the same job as you.
More term employees: this means that the possibility that some guy from out of the blue will come in to do your job is even more likely.
Fewer union rights: go back to my first scenario, which was the more you suck up, the better the chances of keeping your job.
Lastly, the meetings with a conciliator were fruitless. Just to make the discussion even more interesting, I would like to add that the famous name that I mentioned earlier, the current manager of the Ogilvie mill, is none other than Robert Grynszpan, the one who gave the order to shoot in the 1977 conflict in which eight strikers were wounded in Montreal. In 1977, in a democratic country which was not in a state of war, one man gave the order to shoot. Today, that same man is the manager of one of Ogilvie's factories in Montreal. He is free to walk the streets, like you and me.
Because they work in an industry which is covered by the Canada Labour Code, the unionized workers of the mill have been made to pay for the failure to prohibit the use of strikebreakers during a labour conflict under that same code. The mill's employees have often demanded that an anti-strikebreaker law be brought in for companies falling under the federal government's jurisdiction. Despite the promise he made in October 1994, the Minister of Human Resources Development put off tabling such a law in the House of Commons, as you will recall, until spring 1995. Also, the Minister of Labour, when she first took office, stated she would make it a priority.
This must have been left out of the red book. In other words, it is high time the government took steps to stop the kind of labour dispute where workers on the picket lines watch strikebreakers get their wages because the federal government is doing nothing to stop this blatant injustice.
Everyone has a right to be respected, and this applies to workers as well. They are entitled to a decent standard of living and to be respected as individuals who have certain rights. When an employer uses pressure tactics like hiring scabs during a legal strike, this puts an undue stress on the employees, increases the likelihood of violence and undermines the bargaining process.
The use of scabs merely leads to dictatorial and disloyal practices, collective bargaining unworthy of the name and poor labour relations that will have the effect of reducing the quality of service, while probably also adding to the ranks of the unemployed.
The use of scabs during a labour dispute automatically gives the employer an advantage. No wonder that employers who resort to this practice are in no hurry to sit down and bargain in good faith.
The case for introducing anti-scab provisions very similar to those in the Quebec Labour Code is quite straightforward. In Quebec, these provisions, introduced in 1978, have stood the test of time. After 17 years, they still hold true. Legislation in Ontario and British Columbia is in fact based on the provisions in effect in Quebec.
The purpose of this bill is to introduce a number of democratic principles that are now accepted in many countries, including ours, principles that we apply every day and which have repeatedly proved beneficial to the settlement of labour disputes.
The statistics show that since anti-scab legislation was passed in Quebec, the duration of labour disputes has decreased by 35 per cent, on average. That is something to consider.
The Canada Labour Code is certainly not perfectly equipped to settle disputes under its jurisdiction. One only has to remember the 1986-87 Voyageur bus strike; the postal strike a few years ago; the strike at the Port of Montreal, which is still fresh in our minds; the three month strike at QNS&L in Sept-îles last year; and, must I remind you, the infamous strike that has been going on for a year at Ogilvie Mills in Montreal.
Today, we are at the second reading stage. The members participating in the debate, who will have to vote later, must tell us whether or not they agree in principle with making social relations, labour relations in Canada more civilized. Then, if they want to make amendments, they can appear before the legislative committee and suggest all kinds of amendments they deem relevant or necessary. But, for the time being, we must look at the principle-I repeat, principle-of the bill.
We must wonder if Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia were justified in introducing a civilized labour relations system, which restored the real balance of power in negotiations resulting from labour disputes.
A strike broken by scabs is no strike but a right to strike hypocritically denied. Either we are for the right to strike, a basic right won by workers after many years of fighting, or we are against. If we are in favour, we will not undermine, either directly or indirectly, the workers' sacred right to strike, with which Canadian employers have learned to live.
Employers learned a long time ago about strikes, lockouts and the bargaining process. In Quebec, we have lived for 17 years with anti-scab provisions, and I submit to you that it would be a shame if this House refused to move with the times and bring its labour legislation into the 20th century, on the eve of the third millennium.
The Canada Labour Code must be updated and improved to meet today's needs and realities.
And the reality today is that there still are honest workers out there who, after having worked 15, 20 or more years for the same company, find themselves hitting the pavement on the strike lines simply to protect the benefits they have acquired over the years for themselves, it goes without saying, and for their families, or quite simply to protect their jobs. Every day, they see strikebreakers, scabs, take their place and take home their pay. This is unacceptable.
I would like to conclude by saying that this problem has already been resolved in three provinces which together represent 70 per cent of Canada's population. As this bill targets a small portion of this country's labour force, it is obvious, in my opinion, that the federal legislation must take into consideration provincial legislation and fill in the gaps between the existing laws. It is high time, in my opinion, that federal legislation take a step forward and restore pride in work and dignity to workers.