Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure for me to address the motion put forward by the member for Wetaskiwin.
Canadians have many things of which to be proud and our labour relations history is just one of those things. In my short time as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour I have seen many aspects of our labour relations that are truly quite impressive.
We have achieved a system that balances the rights of workers and employers and that recognizes both the importance of labour and the right of management to conduct business.
Keeping this balance takes adjustment as times and needs change. That is what the government is doing. Last week, with no thanks to the third party, of course, Bill C-66 passed third reading. The amendments contained in Bill C-66 will improve the Canada Labour Code far more than what my colleague opposite is proposing in his motion.
I will be talking about those shortly, but first I want to address Motion No. 308 and explain why something that sounds so sensible at face value in fact threatens the very delicate balance on which Canada's industrial stability is based. Motion No. 308 proposes that employees be permitted to vote on any restructuring offer put forward by the employer.
Technically, of course, they already have that right. A union can always present a restructuring offer to its members. What the member for Wetaskiwin seems to find objectionable is that this vote is called by the union rather than by some other body.
He may mean from the literal words of the motion, that even non-unionized employees will have the right to reject restructuring packages. We must presume that Motion No. 308 is meant to encourage governments to over-ride unions and bring restructuring packages to a vote no matter how much the union may object to the package.
In last December's crisis at Canadian Airlines, this may have seemed like a power that government needs. However, as the minister showed, there already exists a similar power. Granted, it is not as high-handed as what we are presented with here today but in fact the Canada Labour Code has several provisions that already allow the Minister of Labour to intervene in exceptional circumstances. Under section 105, the minister can appoint a mediator. Under section 106, the minister can order an inquiry. Under section 107, the minister can secure industrial peace by referring a question to the Canada Labour Relations Board.
Last December, five of the six unions representing Canadian International employees decided to accept a restructuring offer put forward by the employer.
The sixth union, the Canadian Auto Workers, was not in agreement and, for a few tense days, there was fear that their opposition would cost 16,000 workers their jobs.
Members of the House may remember that it was section 107 in Part I of the code that the Minister of Labour invoked but later withdrew when the Canadian Auto Workers and Canadian Airlines reached a deal. It just goes to show that even in those exceptional circumstances, dramatic measures like these may not be necessary.
Muddying the collective bargaining waters with arbitrary government actions jeopardizes the very stability of the system we should prize. Used too often, it says that a collective agreement, a signed agreement made by both sides in good faith, is worthless if
a company can convince the Minister of Labour that it should be over-ridden.
Such an atmosphere would certainly be corrosive for labour peace. If a company could freely ignore a union and, in effect, renegotiate terms with individual workers, then we have made a mockery of the collective bargaining system.
We have created a situation where powerful companies can threaten workers with lay-offs, where they can scare workers into shredding the agreement their unions bargained very hard for. If the bargaining agent is no longer the exclusive bargaining authority, if the union duly elected by workers is no longer allowed to represent those workers, then we have put an end to a system that has worked so well for so long.
I am sure that the hon. member across the way would not want to see that happen. Moreover, we have added the complication by mixing apples and oranges. Section 108(1) talks about unions being asked to take an employer's final offer back to union members. That is a powerful tool already, but today's motion would drastically increase that power by tossing in the unrelated question of restructuring packages. Surely it belongs in an act dealing with restructuring rather than in an act dealing with collective bargaining.
Just how exactly does the hon. member propose to define restructuring proposals? Will it be a sincere attempt to reorganize the company's structure and function or is it simply a way to claw back wages and benefits gained through collective bargaining?
That is not to suggest in any way that the Canada Labour Code is perfect. Unfortunately, very few things in this world are so. However, Bill C-66 will improve and modernize the Canada Labour Code so that it continues to ensure stability, fairness and balance.
Bill C-66 is heavily influenced, as was said earlier, by the Sims task force. The Sims task force travelled the country, listening to the best ideas from labour, business and other interested parties.
When the subject of section 108.1 came up, all unions wanted it repealed. Employers wanted it modified to require a last offer vote on the employees' request. As the title of the Sims report says, it was seeking a balance. It saw no convincing evidence to change section 108.1 either way. What the task force did do was to suggest a broad range of amendments which would greatly improve and modernize the Canada Labour Code.
Time does not allow me to go into Bill C-66 in any detail, so I will simply pick one aspect of it. Bill C-66 speeds up the bargaining cycle, improves flexibility and allows disputes to be settled more quickly. It does this by extending the notice to bargain period.
Bill C-66 also replaces the two-stage conciliation process with a single 60-day stage.
The code will now expressly recognize the right of parties to agree to submit collective bargaining disputes to any kind of binding settlement.
There is much more to Bill C-66, but I have given the House a taste of how carefully considered amendments can do more good than the single heedless motion we have today.
I urge the House to soundly reject Motion No. 308. The motion would tilt the balance of power too far toward one side of the collective bargaining equation. It would encourage the reckless use of a provision of the code that should be and has been rarely used. It is in sum a hasty reaction to a problem that Canada simply does not have.
Just as the CAW and Canadian Airlines resolved their differences, a stable labour environment encourages even the bitterest of opponents to trust each other's word.
Canada's labour relations environment is too valuable to toss away for the sake of a quick political point.