Madam Speaker, I will attempt to assure the hon. member that I am not totally opposed to his bill. However, I have some things I want to say tonight. I congratulate him for bringing forward this bill.
So that all hon. members are clear on what this legislation proposes, I will begin by expressing my understanding of this bill. In essence, the hon. member is asking that the House of Commons amend the Canada Labour Code to provide employees, who at the time they are laid off from their job and are entitled to a pension under a duly registered pension plan, would have the right to severance pay.
This request seems reasonable enough. However, as with many other things in life, the member's proposal is not as simple as it would appear.
To begin with, passage and implementation of the bill would alter the legal notion of severance pay by introducing elements of a deferred wage. It is not advisable to undertake the changes of this nature without full consultation with those who are affected.
For clarification, the hon. member is asking that the House replace section 235(2) of the Canada Labour Code with the following:
For the purposes of this division, except where otherwise provided by regulation, an employer shall be deemed to have terminated the employment of a employee, when the employer lays off that employee.
Section 235(2)(b) of the code already contains a similar provision that considers employees who are entitled to a pension when they are laid off not to have been terminated.
As well, section 236 of the code deals with the power of the governor in council to make regulations with regard to severance pay. The hon. member is requesting that the House amend section 236. Besides replacing a portion of the section, he is asking the House to add a subsection that would read: "Notwithstanding paragraph 1(a), where an employer lays off an employee who immediately, on being laid off, or before that time is entitled to a pension under a pension plan, contributed to by the employer that is registered pursuant to" and then the section names the various plans. It concludes with: "The entitlement to such a pension shall not be prescribed under paragraph (1)(a) as circumstances in which the layoff of the employee shall not be deemed to be a termination of the employee's employment by the employee's employer".
I have explained in detail the amendment proposed by the member because I think it important that my colleagues in the House understand fully the consequences.
The problem is that including this provision in this section does not make sense. The reason is it would result in confusion as to whether or not the provision constitutes an exception per se or whether or not it provides the enabling power to adopt the regulation to make that exception.
At present under the Canada Labour Code, severance pay is considered to be compensation for long and loyal service by an employee. It becomes payable to the employee if termination is initiated by the employer and is due to reasons other than just cause.
Furthermore there is nothing in the way this concept is currently presented in the code that could be construed to mean that severance pay is tantamount to a deferred wage. In fact, the main purpose of having a provision requiring an employer to pay severance to an employee is to ensure that employers share in the social costs of labour adjustment. There are numerous circumstances where this provision is of great assistance. It can go a long way in helping the employer's former employees when it comes to financially bridging the gap between jobs.
I am not questioning in any way the hon. member's good intentions in presenting this legislation to the House. I am positive the hon. member perceives an injustice and believes that elected officials of the Parliament of Canada should address it. However, as I have attempted to explain, the matter is more complex than it might appear on the surface.
Labour standards and labour relations have many facets and must always be looked at as part of the whole picture. For anyone who thinks otherwise, I would suggest that they read "Seeking a Balance", the recently published review of part I of the Canada Labour Code. To illustrate my point I would like to quote from the report of the task force which carried out the review. Of course part I of the code is concerned with labour relations. While not specific
to the proposal in the hon. member's bill, the concerns are similar and most certainly related.
Under the heading "The Limits of Legislative Reform" the task force said: "Legislation cannot fix every problem. Neither the Canada Labour Code nor the Canada Labour Relations Board can solve every labour-management situation. The parties themselves must do that. The Canada Labour Code leaves the parties, employers and employees acting through their unions, responsible for the quality and much of the content of their day to day working relationships. They can act co-operatively to solve problems or they can be confrontational. They can ignore their position in the economy or they can work together to meet their competition and thrive. They can pay attention to social issues that are important to workers or they can suffer the long term consequences of avoiding them".
In conclusion, the hon. member's bill has merit but the issue should be looked at in consultation with the affected employer and employee organizations. It should be examined in a comprehensive fashion, taking into account the broader issues associated with the right to severance pay.
The labour program of Human Resources Development Canada is currently reviewing part III of the Canada Labour Code, the part that deals with severance pay. I assure the hon. member that the matter he raises in his bill will be examined along with other issues concerning termination and entitlement to severance pay.
I thank the hon. member for putting forth this bill, but I must ask him to be patient. In the light of the current review of the Canada Labour Code, it is inappropriate at this time to support this bill. Consequently I urge all hon. members not to support the bill.