Mr. Speaker, I believe it is very important to speak on this group of motions because the bill before us was introduced following a court ruling called the Gingras ruling, which has completely changed labour relations for employees of the RCMP.
The government showed very little planning in its response. The bill it introduced sets a very paternalistic framework for the RCMP officers. I believe this legislation is the best proof of it. If this bill is passed in its present form, the officers of the RCMP will find themselves excluded form the protection of the Canada Labour Code in the areas of occupational health and safety. This is astonishing proof of improvisation on the part of the government.
We all know very well that occupational health and safety is a very important issue in the work of police officers. They undergo considerable stress that can have serious physical and psychological effects. Police officers often have to go through stressful situations and have to deal with difficult human cases. This group of our society shows a very high suicide rate, family problems and all kinds of situations due to difficult working conditions.
Because this government is excluding them from the protection of the clauses on occupational health and safety in the Canada Labour Code, the RCMP officers will be somewhat powerless in terms of their rights to occupational health and safety. Yet, this group of workers is more exposed than others to work accidents and we are not talking here about small accidents but situations which can be very difficult, complex and have very serious human impacts.
We should not be holding this debate again today and this is why we believe the House should support this motion because we have
stressed the fact in the previous groups of motions-and I believe we proved our point-that this government is improvising and that this bill will give the Commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police powers which really are greater than those an employer should have, in a police force.
This motion is an example of the exclusion of RCMP officers from a significant area of particular concern to them, perhaps more than other categories of personnel, because of the impact of work-related accidents and health problems that may be experienced, due to the nature of their work.
Another example concerning police officers. They may develop back trouble, for example, because of ergonomic problems, and these are not recovered from quickly. Sometimes we have a bit of a tendency to scoff at such things, but for the person in that situation it is no joke. Police officers, particularly those in patrol cars, have about the same situation as people who drive for a living. The long hours they spend in a car requires ergonomic studies, processes to ensure that recurring problems are eradicated, for instance all the back problems these people are liable to develop. It would be important to ensure that, should they be dissatisfied with how things are being managed by the RCMP, they would have access to the appeal process and to adequate protection.
There are other safety elements. Police officers carry fire arms, and often have to deal with criminals and with illicit substances. There are many aspects of their work that involve safety, and it seems to me to be inappropriate that their labour relations regime can be modified with a bill containing only four clauses.
It has been decided that, in future, they would no longer be protected by the rules that apply to the public service as a whole. There has been a decision by a judge that they are to be considered members of the public service, but this decision has been modified considerably because the government does not accept it, and is taking advantage of the opportunity to deprive officers of proper protection. What should have been proposed is a model reflecting the needs of these peace officers. But, no. The decision was made to simply include them in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, without any sort of protection.
It is a bit like taking people back to the beginning of the 20th century and forcing them to start a whole series of fights for working conditions all over again. Both employees and employers can be the losers in such fights. If occupational health and safety were not regulated for the public sector across Canada, we would find ourselves in legal proceedings.
Peace officers will perhaps be obliged to follow the traditional legal route, which takes a lot of time and creates a lot more frustration but produces essentially the same results in the end. Why would the government not listen to these proposals?
If the government does not want the framework governing the working conditions of the RCMP to be well thought out, it should at least give RCMP officers appropriate protection in matters of occupational health and safety to permit them to do their work in acceptable conditions and to give them recourse when difficult situations arise.
An officer of the RCMP in Quebec is involved primarily in the fight against drugs or similar matters. Elsewhere in Canada, officers also do patrol work. From personal experience, I know that the people in this area need special support to remain in good physical condition and to meet the demands of their work. In many instances, before there were relevant regulations, difficult situations arose.
People had to take legal proceedings, which they sometimes won and sometimes lost. It is not just in the interest of the officers concerned to have this problem properly resolved, it is in the employer's interest too.
These amendments relating to occupational health and safety, in a way, send the government a message that it did its job in a makeshift manner, that it should have provided a labour relations framework which would have allowed negotiation of acceptable work conditions. However, this is not the position the government opted for. Today, we are faced with this situation.
I would not be surprised if, one or two years from now, this framework needed to be changed, if a new proposal was introduced in the House to give back to the RCMP employees an acceptable labour framework. Occupational health and safety is an area where paternalism can be particularly pernicous.
In the field of occupational health and safety, there is a basic principle according to which the best way to address a health and safety problem is to eliminate it at the source. Very often, employers tend to seek solutions for the problem once it already exists. The best example is noise. The first thing that was done was to force the workers to wear ear plugs in order to reduce the decibel level. In the medium term, having a broader vision, it was realized that what needed to be addressed was the source of the noise.
In the absence of a proper framework to address this kind of problem, the employer is often going to close his eyes to cases reported reported to him, and the peace officer concerned will not have the appropriate means of redress. Then, we will be faced with more and more regular referrals to health professionals, more and more regular use of existing legal processes, because when the labour framework does not provide employees with the proper means of redress, they tend to seek justice through other avenues.
As an employer, the government would be better off if it took the time to change the bill we have before us, to flesh it out so as to ensure that employees can be satisfied with their work conditions, feel more secure and do their jobs properly. The framework for negotiations will allow employees to change regularly their working conditions without necessarily having the Sword of Damoclès over their heads in the person of the commissioner, who could say: "With the authority given me, I can take action if you make too many demands".
I hope the House, or in fact the Liberals, will accept to act on these amendments concerning occupational health and safety in order to give RCMP officers adequate working conditions and also to avoid numerous legal proceedings for employers, which would create significant costs and spoil the job atmosphere for police officers. If this were the case, it is mostly the client, the citizen that pays the price of such internal conflicts and, therefore, the government would not be carrying out its mandate to serve the population adequately.