Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to follow up on some of the points made by my colleague, the hon. member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia.
With Bill C-219 the hon. member is trying to remove a clause in the Canada Labour Code which clearly discriminates against employees under federal jurisdiction on the basis of age. What we are talking about is clearly a matter of fairness.
My colleague has already pointed out that section 235 of the labour code allows a company to deny a terminated employee the severance pay which would normally be due him or her if that employee were not entitled to early withdrawal of a pension plan.
Let me read the exact words as they appear in section 235:
An employer shall be deemed not to have terminated the employment of an employee where, either immediately on ceasing to be employed by the employer or before that time, the employee is entitled to a pension under a pension plan contributed to by the employer.
Section 235 does not say the terminated employee actually has to apply for the early withdrawal of his pension, he only has to be entitled to do so. The terminated worker may have every intention of looking for another job and may not want to take a cut in the pension which early retirement would entail.
Most pension plans in Canada, 87 per cent, entitle an employee to early withdrawal of pension benefits at age 55.
In most cases under federal jurisdiction the age 55 is when an employer is legally entitled to terminate a person while saying: "Forget the severance pay. Forget the termination pay in lieu of sufficient notice and forget the gold watch for that matter".
I have to admit I am feeling a little bit uncomfortable right now, as 55 is not that far off in my case. I am just getting started in my view. I am not ready to be put out to pasture and I do not think many other 55-year-olds are for that matter.
Just because a plan states you can retire if you want to does not mean you are actually ready to throw in the towel. You might still have an awful lot to offer. I submit that most people do, even past 65 in many instances. I would guess most members of the House would agree with me on that issue. Some of us have just figured out how to get the best seating plan to get the camera angle, and so I would not want to have an early retirement at this stage.
Any employer in Canada can terminate an employee whenever he or she feels like it. There is no legislation that guarantees anyone the right to work. What an employer is required to do is give the employee a reasonable notice of termination of employment. Failing that, the employer is required to make a payment equal to what the employee would have earned had he worked for that notice period. This is referred to as pay in lieu of notice or termination pay. The employer is also required to pay any money, such as vacation pay, owed to the employee at the time of termination.
The federal jurisdiction of the Government of Canada and the province of Ontario are the only two jurisdictions in Canada that have a statutory provision for severance pay in addition to notice of termination requirements.
Ontario requires that employer, upon termination, give an employee one regular week's wages for each year of employment to a maximum of 26 weeks. Some may argue that is pretty generous. Perhaps that was put in by an NDP government in Ontario. In theory, if an employee earns wages of $1,000 per week that employee will be entitled to 26 weeks of severance pay, $26,000.
The severance pay provisions in a federal jurisdiction are not quite as rich as that. The employer must pay two days for each year worked or five days' wages, whichever is larger. The federal severance provision is less than half of what it is in Ontario.
However, it begs the question who might be affected by this draconian legislation? There are some 700,000 people in this category who are affected by the Canada Labour Code. These people work in the banking industry, telecommunications, transportation, grain handling, ports and broadcasting. We know full well that because of our changing environment in terms of how long people are employed at different jobs this will become a major factor down the road.
Some of these sectors, like many others in the economy, will be looking for considerable downsizing over the coming periods. That is fine. That happens. Companies need the flexibility to increase or contract a number of employees according to individual situations or as technology develops.
Private member's Bill C-219, by removing section 235 from the Canada Labour Code, will ensure all terminated employees in those sectors are treated equally. Employers will not be able to terminate older employees just because it is cheaper to do so. Whether a worker is 55 years old plus a few months or 55 years old minus a few months will not make a difference.
What we want is equality. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states that every individual is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. This means government rules, regulations and programs must not discriminate or cause others to discriminate on the basis of individual characteristics such as age.
Section 235 of the Canada Labour Code is an anomaly which allows, in fact enforces, companies to discriminate on the basis of age. Age should be a factor here at all. I am sure members on the other side of the House will agree that section 235 is completely unfair. I have difficulty understanding why unanimous consent would not be given to allow this to be a votable motion. However, I hope some compromise can be reached such as what has been
suggested. This is an unfair section which needs to be reviewed and removed from the Canada Labour Code.
Any terminated employee entitled to a pension should also be entitled to receive severance and termination pay just like his or her younger co-workers or the younger former co-worker, as this case would suggest.