Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today as the labour critic for the New Democratic Party to speak to third reading of Bill C-66, the amendments to part I of the Canada Labour Code. This is important legislation and for the most part quite supportable by all members of the House.
Despite the fact that a number of critical amendments to the legislation have not been accepted by the Liberal government, I think the legislation in front of us is still acceptable because it represents a significant improvement over what exists in the Canada Labour Code today. Despite the fact that the government did not go far enough in drafting the bill, the minister is to be commended on the consultative process in which he engaged prior to the drafting of the legislation.
Collective bargaining, as we have heard in the debate today and in public practice, is the cornerstone of effective labour-management relations. Even the minister acknowledges that. Anything a government can do to protect, support and enhance the collective bargaining process is worthwhile.
Of course we realize that the Canada Labour Code part I amendments apply only to areas of federal jurisdiction. It is the law governing collective bargaining for private sector employers and unions within federal jurisdiction. These include Canada's railways, airlines, broadcasters, banks, grain and shipping companies, among others. Essentially these are companies and unions within the fields of transportation, communications and banking.
According to information contained in the Sims report, more of which I hope to get the chance to discuss later, part I of the Canada Labour Code applies to approximately 680,000 employees, or about 6 per cent of workers in Canada. Almost 50 per cent of all workers in the federal jurisdiction are covered by collective agreements.
Work stoppage activity in the federal jurisdiction is comparable to work stoppage activity across Canada, on average. During the past six years strikes and lockouts in the federal jurisdiction represented 4.5 per cent of the total number of work stoppages and accounted for 6 per cent of the total person days not worked due to work stoppages. We are not talking about serious circumstances.
One of my concerns, which is shared by my New Democratic Party colleagues, is that part I does not apply to federal government employees who are subject instead to the Public Service Staff Relations Act. Members of the RCMP and the military are not covered by either part I of the code or the PSSRA. It is my feeling that there should be one act, one board and one jurisdiction for all federal employees.
It has been some time since a comprehensive review with the intention of modernizing the Canada Labour Code. This process began in early 1995 when a task force was established by the Minister of Labour to conduct the review and, where appropriate, to make recommendations for legislative change.
The task force was headed by Edmonton lawyer Andrew Sims and the subsequent report became known as the Sims report. It did a fine job. To a large extent the legislation before us represents the recommendations the task force brought forward.
The task force and the minister's response to its recommendations were both subject to extensive consultations. Sims had a simple premise on which he worked and it made sense. Let me quote from the Sims report: "Free collective bargaining, like free enterprise, works when individuals and groups, unions and employers, make decisions about their own best interests and work out their own relationships within the framework of the law".
It continues: "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".
Sims carries on in his report to say: "The great advantage of a negotiated settlement is that the parties, by their signatures at least, accept that they have achieved the best that they can at that time and, consequently, are more likely to live contentedly with and take responsibility for the result. Collectively bargained solutions often involve change. Change works best when both sides agree to the future direction. That is the reason why collective bargaining is so appropriate to organizations undergoing change. Our legislative framework, therefore, favours free collective bargaining and makes little attempt, except in exceptional cases, to impose solutions upon the parties".
Obviously, to achieve our goals in Bill C-66, the test of free collective bargaining must be applied to all the clauses and if the clauses fail, then the legislation will fail as well. In some cases Bill C-66 fails the test of free collective bargaining and the idea that the system works best when collective bargaining is allowed to work. In other cases the changes proposed work very well.
Let me talk first about the Canada Labour Relations Board testimony before the standing committee studying the bill. The Canada Labour Congress termed it the most fruitful area of labour-management consensus building facilitated by the Sims task force.
The CLC said it had been frustrated repeatedly in the past by the government's lack of consultation with labour over appointments and reappointments to the board. Since the board's activities and rulings have a direct impact on workers, unions and management, the CLC argued that the board's composition should be "representative of the parties involved". Management representatives in the consultation process agreed, as did the task force.
Bill C-66 embraces the notion of a representational Canada Industrial Relations Board, and we all support that idea. However there are a few problems discussed before the committee that have not been resolved yet.
First, participants in the consensus process recommended that a labour-management selection panel should be given the opportunity to review and advise on the names of persons to be appointed or reappointed to the positions of chair and vice-chair of the new board. The task force supported the spirit of the recommendation but the bill is silent on it.
Second, the consensus group recommended with respect to the appointment or reappointment of representative members that they should be made from among those included on lists of names provided by the parties. Again the task force supported the recommendation but the bill refers only to consultation with the organization representative of employees or employers that the minister considers appropriate.
Third, the consensus participants recommended that appointments should be on a staggered basis to prevent all appointments coming due at the same time. The task force supported the recommendation but again the bill is silent on it.
There were other recommendations on which the bill is silent. There is no real explanation of why the government refuses to accept these recommendations which would do so much to improve the legislation and improve the confidence level that all parties would have in the independence of the board.
Elsewhere in the debate, as well as during committee hearings, I expressed deep concern about the lack of anti-scab provisions in the bill. I am well aware that a consensus on replacement workers could not be found during the consultation period, or even within the task force. However that is no reason for the minister not to take a firm stand in support of collective bargaining by supporting a prohibition on all replacement workers. If there were to be any disappointment in Bill C-66 as it now stands, it would be the fact that the legislation does not come right out and ban replacement workers within federal jurisdiction.
The province with the longest experience with anti-scab provisions is the province of Quebec. The task force member with the most direct experience in that province, Rodrigue Blouin, supports unconditionally the outright ban on replacement workers. In Quebec, replacement workers are banned and in the 19 years the ban has been place all the evidence points to a very successful legislative program.
Let me take a second to quote Mr. Blouin as I did during the debate of the amendments I proposed the other day:
I submit that the general principles underlying our system of collective labour relations dictate that the presence of replacement workers during a legal strike or lockout is illegitimate. Their use must hence be declared illegal.
Let me continue the quote:
The use of replacement workers undermines the structural elements that ensure the internal cohesion of the collective bargaining system by introducing a foreign body into a dispute between two clearly identified parties.
It upsets the economic balance of power, compromises the freedom of expression of workers engaging in a strike or lockout, shifts the original neutral ground of the dispute, and leads eventually to a perception of exploitation of the individual-The conclusion to be drawn from my analysis is that there is, on the whole, a situation of illegitimacy that Parliament must condemn in no uncertain terms.
I carefully read the minority report of Mr. Blouin. I am quite taken by his analysis and his conclusion which reads:
Parliament has the duty to restore the delicate balance necessary to ensure that the collective bargaining system achieves its purpose. The presence of replacement workers is an intrusion into an economic dispute that takes place in the workplace, in accordance with a public policy designed to promote industrial democracy. This policy is negated by replacement workers.
I am reminded of the minister's testimony before the standing committee in this regard. In responding to committee members the minister said that an important priority of the government was to let the collective bargaining process function.
I argue, as did Mr. Blouin, that the one element of the legislation which prevents collective bargaining from functioning well is the provision about replacement workers. That is why I support an outright prohibition on the use of replacement workers. That is why I proposed an amendment which the Liberals chose to defeat but which, if passed, would for all intents and purposes prohibit the use of the services of a person who was not an employee in the bargaining unit on the date on which notice to bargain collectively was given.
The Sims report highlights several high profile disputes in the federal sector, including the dispute at Giant Mines in Yellowknife with its tragic circumstances and Canada Post's use of replacement workers in 1991 which resulted in several confrontations, as examples of how dangerous the situation is when replacement workers are used.
The government had the opportunity to end confrontations in strikes and lockouts with the passage of such an amendment but it failed to grasp that opportunity when given it in the House.
Obviously 20 years of history of such legislation in the province of Quebec provides the necessary information we need to assess the worthiness of such a clause. It is time the federal government took the necessary steps to ban replacement workers from disputes within its own jurisdiction and my amendment provided the government with the opportunity to do just that.
Bill C-66 falls short of the kind of comprehensive successor rights protection required in the present economic and political environment as well. As was discussed in committee, the phenomena of economic restructuring, privatization and devolution are combining to render the code inadequate for the task of ensuring the continuity of bargaining rights and collective agreement protection for workers who have chosen to join a union.
In the view of the Canadian Labour Congress, a view that my NDP colleagues and I share, the code should be updated to account for several situations regardless of whether the operation by another is moving into or out of its jurisdiction.
The CLC recognizes that to be fully effective this would require interjurisdictional reciprocity. There are other situations that should be included, for example contracted work that is subsequently put up for tender and awarded to a different contractor, operations that are franchised, operations that fall into the hands of bankruptcy trustees or receivers, and operations that move from the coverage of the PSSRA to the code.
Essentially what is needed here is reform that will shield workers from having without their participation or consent their bargaining rights extinguished by decisions made by others. These rights should be respected and regarded as part and parcel of an operation by another. This would be entirely consistent within the preamble and section 8 of part I of the code.
I also make a special note of the section in Bill C-66 dealing with grain handling because I am a rural member of Parliament with a lot of constituents who make their living from farming or whose livelihoods are dependent on the success of their farming neighbours. This is an area of interest to me.
I have always felt that farmers and workers have a lot in common which they seldom recognize. Both groups have been or are being exploited by an economy organized above them. Both groups have had to fight multinational interests to increase or preserve their incomes. When one group goes to battle against their common enemy they should all work together to achieve their common goal. Sadly when it comes to the movement of grain this has seldom been the case. However changes in the legislation makes the prospect more likely in the future.
When we look at the recent disputes involving the stoppage of grain movement, we notice that a good percentage of the cases of stoppage have been the results of a lockout rather than a strike. We notice that the federal government has been called upon to bring in back to work legislation to get things moving again. When we see this we cannot help but wonder if the parties, particularly the employers at the ports, are not just looking for the government to intervene and settle their differences for them. I acknowledge that this is wrong.
In previous instances when the longshoremen's union has been involved in a work stoppage that prevented grain from being loaded on the ships it has agreed to load the grain but it has been prevented from doing so by the employers.
The legislation before us today is a tribute to the longshoremen who recognized the value of grain movement over the years. The legislation before us today makes it possible, indeed mandatory, for grain to be loaded in the case of a dispute between port employers
and the longshoremen's union. My colleagues and I support this clause out of respect for the ILWU, the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union, and for the farmers of western Canada.
As is evident from my question in the House today, I am most concerned about the movement of grain and the way in which the government has been handling the latest case of the railroad's poor performance in this regard. In recent weeks the minister of agriculture talked about his concern about the performance of railways which may have cost western farmers $65 million in demurrage costs and in lost revenues due to cramped sales.
Just this week the agency that regulates freight rates supported by the government allowed a further increase in freight rates of what could be $15 million. The railways have been given higher freight rates. The farmers have had their costs increased. The railways have been rewarded for poor performance. The farmers once again have to pay. We must ensure that matters like this one are dealt with.
In conclusion, Bill C-66 is a major piece of legislation. There is simply not enough time to discuss all of its aspects today. I wish the government had gone further in amending key aspects of the Canada Labour Code, especially the section on replacement workers.
Given the progress that has been made today, at some time in the future we will get an opportunity to deal with this important matter. On a scale of one to ten the legislation probably ranks as an eight. On that basis I suspect that New Democrats in the House will be supporting the legislation.