Madam Speaker, I find it regrettable to say the least that the government did not agree to hold a vote, and I want to say that if the government so wishes, we will be pleased to oblige. Since there is already a subcommittee on labour, it would be very easy to look at the hon. member's bill and to give it the attention that it deserves.
Madam Speaker, I do not forget that I must look at you when I address the Chair, as is our rule.
I want to thank the hon. member and remind him that we have all met, in our offices, with workers who had been laid off. If we represent a riding located in a large Canadian city, particularly a city that has undergone an intense industrialization process, we are all the more likely to find ourselves in the situation described by the hon. member and to meet with workers experiencing a loss of qualification process that is often related to age.
The hon. member clearly showed the existence of a two tier system which discriminates against those who are losing their qualifications in the labour market, and also against those who must pay, since these people are entitled to a public or private pension.
We are talking here about an amendment to Part III of the Labour Code. The Canada Labour Code is made up of three parts. The first one deals with grievances and the whole issue of collective bargaining and collective agreements. The second part deals with occupational health and safety. The third part is the equivalent of a minimum employment standards act and lists, among others, the obligations relating to severance pay.
The Canada Labour Code is an important tool which concerns about 15 per cent of the labour force, including all those who work in banks, interprovincial transportation, hauling, or any of the areas that come under the jurisdiction of the Canadian government.
The third part of the Labour Code is important because it deals with employees' rights, employers' obligations, hours of work, minimum wages, equal wages, annual vacations, general holidays, maternity leave, severance pay, unjust dismissal and the recovery of unpaid salaries.
The Minister of Labour recently asked a task force chaired by the Mr. Sim, which produced the Sim report, to determine what amendments should be made to the Labour Code. It is agreed that, in its present form, the Labour Code is not adequate to meet the major challenges of the labour market.
Again, it would have been very appropriate, in my view, to support the hon. member's bill, since we have reached the point where the Labour Code must be reviewed.
I find it unfortunate that party politics prevent us from considering a bill based on its merit. There is no doubt that, beyond any partisan consideration-you know how much I have disagreed with what the Reformers have said in the past-the fact remains that the bill before us today is relevant, in that it will help workers, and older workers in particular. The government's partisan motives are unfortunate.
What are we dealing with? We are dealing with the requirement, under section 236 of the Canada Labour Code, which is quite clear and specific, to pay an employee whose employment is terminated severance pay. Provided the employee has completed twelve of employment with the same business or establishment, the employer is required to pay the employee either two days wages at the employee's regular rate of wages for his regular hours of work in respect of each completed year of employment or five days wages
at the employee's regular rate of wages for his regular hours of work.
This is an explicit provision and it is clear that, in a context of globalization, in which the labour market is changing rapidly and the use of technology is growing, with machines gradually taking the place of workers, loss of qualification and thus layoff are not unusual.
Except that, in the case of a layoff, the employer is not required by law to give severance pay even if the employees being laid off are entitled to a public or private pension. Given that this provision applies to pensions under the Pension Benefits Standards Act, 1985, the Old Age Security Act, including the guaranteed income supplement and spouse's allowance, as well as retirement pensions under the Canada pension plan or the Quebec pension plan, what the hon. member is suggesting is that we put an end to an unfair, discriminatory and all too common practice.
It is important to understand what our colleague went through. He received a worker with 28 years of service who was laid off by an established business in his riding, a capital and labour intensive business. This is not an exceptional situation. Government members who refused their consent to their colleague should bear in mind that it could have been their own brother or father.
It could be my father. He has been working in the same textile factory for 30 years. He is 58 years old and works in a vulnerable sector. Given the changes the textile sector is experiencing, my father may well be laid off some day, despite being an honest worker and valued employee. If our parents, our friends who are a little older are employed by a company working in any sector subject to the federal code, they may be laid off and deprived of severance pay.
I think it is very important to remind the House that severance pay is earned; it is not a privilege. It is a right linked to seniority, to services rendered. It is not optional.
Not only must the Labour Code be reviewed and improved as proposed by the hon. member from the Reform Party, but we as parliamentarians must reflect on this some day. The Labour Code must be tightened. What is needed is legislation on plant closings and layoffs, as there is in Ontario and other provinces across Canada.
There are some regions in the country where it costs a business almost nothing to lay off workers. This is what is unacceptable in a system such as ours.
All this is to tell you that it would have been preferable for the government not to indulge in party politics, to recognize that we all have older workers in our ridings, that this provision in the Labour Code is outdated, that it is a provision that does not respect workers. Without wishing to offend my friend in the Reform Party, I would go even further. This is a bill that could have been tabled by the NDP. It is a bill tabled by an MP who cares about workers, who respects people who, in the environment of large and small businesses, are experiencing situations of discrimination.
Once again, I repeat, this is an ideal time to approve this sort of proposal, because we are going to be making commitments in the wake of the Sims report. And the parliamentary secretary knows very well that the labour minister is now conducting consultations, that he is going to visit five major cities across Canada, and that a subcommittee on labour has already been created. It would have been a simple matter for this subcommittee to receive the bill, to hear witnesses, and to move very, very rapidly to recognize the relevance of the bill that has been introduced.
With my time running out, and my energy with it, because it is already 6 o'clock, I ask you again if you would seek the unanimous consent of this House, in light of the information I have provided, to have this bill deemed votable and sent to a committee. I ask the parliamentary secretary, in all humility and kindness, to give his consent, because it is a bill that will serve workers.