Mr. Speaker, Bill C-19 introduces for the first time in the Canada Labour Code provisions that would require the maintenance of activities necessary to prevent immediate and serious danger to public health and safety during work stoppages.
The bill also introduces a requirement for employers and employees in the ports to continue to provide services to grain vessels loaded at licensed terminal and transfer elevators.
The official opposition has put forward motions to amend these provisions. One would make economic hardship to the national economy a criterion for requiring parties to maintain services during a work stoppage. The others would require the parties in the ports to continue to provide their services to all vessels and to authorize the board to refer collective bargaining disputes in the ports for settlement by final offer selection arbitration.
Together these amendments would effectively remove the strike and lockout rights from all parties in the ports as well as large numbers of other employers and employees subject to part one of the code.
Such an interventionist approach is contrary to the wishes of employers and unions who engage in collective bargaining under the code.
There is no precedent in Canada for the standing removal of strike and lockout rights from private sector parties as the official opposition is suggesting with respect to parties in the ports.
In addition, no Canadian jurisdiction includes economic impact as a criterion for maintaining services during work stoppages, nor did parties subject to the code support such an approach.
The Sims task force examined the issue of maintenance of activities and concluded that the right to strike or lockout should be removed from any group of workers or any employers subject to the code. The task force did recommend that the code include specific provisions for the protection of public health and safety, criteria supported by both labour and management.
The maintenance of activities provisions in Bill C-19 fairly balances the collective bargaining rights of employees and employers subject to the code with the public's right to protection of health and safety.
Turning now to the grain provision, grain has been declared to be for the general advantage of Canada. It is a multibillion dollar industry exporting to over 70 countries worldwide. The livelihood of over 130,000 farmers and their families depends on Canada's maintaining its reputation as a reliable exporter.
These interests must, however, be balanced with the rights of labour and management to determine fair terms and conditions of employment through collective bargaining.
Since 1972 there have been 12 work stoppages in west coast ports which have disrupted grain exports. Nine of these work stoppages have involved longshoremen and their employers and were ended by parliament. Only three work stoppages have involved grain handlers and in one case the major terminal elevators in Vancouver were not affected.
Two independent studies found that longshore employers and unions have avoided their collective bargaining responsibilities by using disruptions to grain exports to trigger back to work legislation.
The grain provision in Bill C-19 is designed to reduce disruptions to grain exports caused by work stoppages in the ports, reduce the reliance of parties in the ports on parliamentary intervention in their disputes and maintain the strike and lockout rights of parties in both the port and grain handling sectors.
Claims that this provision discriminates against other resources by singling out grain for special treatment overlook the fact that grain has already been singled out by longshore employers and unions using it as a trigger for back to work legislation.
Claims that longshore unions will use the revenue earned by loading grain to finance longer work stoppages are without foundation. No more than 200 employees in a total west coast longshore workforce of well over 3,000 ever service grain vessels.
In the main port of Vancouver the percentage of longshore employees assigned to grain vessels is between 5% and 8%. After tax earnings from this source would not sustain a lengthy work stoppage for the union which maintains no strike fund.
This provision has the full support of the grain industry and the grain producers who, unlike other resource producers, have no relationship or influence on collective bargaining between the longshore employers and unions. I also want to note that the government has committed to reviewing the effectiveness of this provision in 1999.
I think it is important that if one had been at the hearings and heard farmers speak about this clause and knew how much the western farmers need this clause it would be hard to understand why the Reform Party is trying to hold up this bill. It is hard for me to understand why it is holding the western farmers hostage in this particular issue.
I do urge members to support the provisions in Bill C-19 and reject the radical approaches being suggested by the official opposition which would conflict with Canada's International Labour Organization commitments.