Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the House leader of the government. I think there may be some other forces at work as far as opposition to the bill is concerned.
We asked a question in the House about whether the ministers from British Columbia were feeling heat with regard to how their constituents felt about Bill C-19. It was very apparent that the entire British Columbia caucus including the ministers had expressed concerns about the bill. It is obvious they would like to get the bill through the House and out of sight before there is any more dissension in the ranks.
Could it be that some of the Prime Minister's compliant backbenchers were questioning the impact the provisions of Bill C-19 would have on their constituents? I really think that is the case.
Having talked about the undemocratic aspect of time allocation, I will talk about some of the undemocratic aspects of the bill. This bill and its predecessor which died in the last parliament were based on recommendations of the Sims task force in “Seeking a Balance”. Seeking a balance is a great approach to labour relations. I do not think anybody in the House wants to see one side totally outweighed by the other side. The scales in any negotiation should be more or less at a balance so that both parties have equal footing.
Let us examine the bill to see if it attains a balance. I begin with a little history. The code has not been altered in any significant way for the last 25 years. It was indeed an important piece of legislation and it is time to update it.
If we are making changes that will be in effect for another quarter of a century, we had better make sure we get it right and that the balance is there. If we are to open up this area only every quarter of a century we had better make sure we get things pretty well balanced right from the start. From what I have seen the bill is neither fair nor balanced.
Many of the witnesses appearing before the Standing Committee on Human Resources Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities called for changes to the bill. Government members are fond of saying that both labour and management have problems with the bill and therefore, if they both dislike it equally, it must be balanced. That is rather weird logic.
What would they say if both sides said that they agreed with the bill and think it is fair and balanced? I suppose the Liberals would respond by saying that the bill had to go back to the drawing board. This seems like a rather shortsighted approach to the whole problem because it fails to take into account the impact the bill will have on the national economy and on innocent third parties.
Federal jurisdiction in labour matters is interprovincial and international in scope. While less than three-quarters of a million Canadians work in industries covered by the labour code, federally regulated businesses are service oriented and involve the free movement of goods, services, capital and people across Canada. Because of the unique nature of the federal system alternative sources are not readily available. In a lot of cases they are simply not available at all.
The operation of these industry sectors is vital to the daily functioning of the national economy. We have seen that time and time again. As recently as December we had a work stoppage at Canada Post that cost small and medium size business $240 million a day. Over 10,000 people were laid off in mail dependent businesses. Charities that rely on the generosity that emerges during the Christmas period saw their fundraising activities go flat. The government eventually legislated everyone back to work, but after months of arbitration consensus a collective agreement has not been reached.
Bill C-19 will not protect innocent third parties that lose millions of dollars when government run monopolies cease to provide essential mail service. It has nothing to offer those workers at Canada Post who lost salary as a result of the disruption.
Bill C-19 is missing a dispute settlement mechanism that would protect innocent third parties and the national economy from devastation when the services of a monopoly are withdrawn.
That is why the Reform Party supports final offer selection arbitration or some other dispute settlement mechanism that would accomplish the same goals. Our aim is not to tie the hands of labour and management but to give them the tools to resolve their differences. It is definitely not, as the parliamentary secretary suggested in her comments, to be the big brother who makes all the decisions, the government that makes all the decisions for management and labour. Not at all.
I do not know how many times I have tried to explain the way this mechanism works in this House. Later on I will endeavour to explain again. I certainly hope that at some point the government will come to its senses and realize that this is the sort of thing that has to be done in order to protect innocent third parties and the economy of Canada in general, along with the jobs of people who work in all sorts of spin-off industries that rely on federally regulated businesses. Stable labour relations will promote investment and reinvestment.
It is in the interests of labour, management, producers and processors that these disputes be resolved without parliamentary intervention. I emphasize without parliamentary intervention. It is in the interest of all Canadians that we have a reliable access to essential services to keep employment within our borders and to establish and maintain our reputation worldwide as a reliable exporter of goods.
As I have mentioned many times in this House, final offer selection arbitration does not favour one side or the other. How does it work? For the umpteenth time, if and only if the union and the employer cannot make an agreement by the conclusion of the contract, the union and employer would provide the minister with the name of the person they jointly recommend as an arbitrator.
The union and employer would be required to submit to the arbitrator a list of all the matters that they agreed upon at that point and a list of all the matters that were still in dispute. For disputed issues each party would be required to submit their final offer for settlement. The arbitrator then selects either the final offer submitted by the trade union or the final offer submitted by the employer, that is, one or the other. There is no compromise position. The arbitrator's decision would be binding on both parties.
Is this government intervention? No, this is not government intervention. This is a last ditch effort that the parties must go to if they cannot come to an agreement by themselves. We believe that a permanent and fair resolution process must be put in place, removed from the whims of government.
Back to work legislation has become too predictable and management and unions have come to count on it. What does it solve? We legislated the postal people back to work but they still do not have the contract settled. What does it resolve? We got the mail moving, reluctantly I suppose in lots of cases, but we do not have the contract resolved. How is that ever going to be resolved?
Would it not be far better if we did that sort of thing up front rather than wait for a work stoppage that polarizes everybody? Everybody has an opinion on whether or not there should be a work stoppage at the post office or other essential services. Then they are still faced with the dilemma of having to settle this contract. Sure the people are back to work but what has really been settled?
We believe that it is time for permanent legislation that would provide both sides with predictable rules and a timetable by which to negotiate.
The risk to Canadian jobs should be minimized as well. Not only will a significant number of jobs be lost in the export sector if these disputes cannot be resolved, but jobs at the ports will be at severe risk when alternative means to ship goods are utilized. The use of more reliable U.S. west coast ports would result in a loss of cargo and a loss to British Columbia ports.
The costly interruption of government business should not be allowed to occur. While there is a need for regulation by various levels of government, it is unnecessary to put emergency measures in place each time labour and management are unable to reach a satisfactory agreement. Resolving the differences of the two groups can be achieved without interrupting the regular flow of government proceedings.
We are not talking about ending the collective bargaining process but making it work better through final offer selection arbitration. Every time back to work legislation is used, it usurps the collective bargaining process. Final offer selection works best when it is not used at all.
I would like to cite the Manitoba case. On February 10 an hon. member from Winnipeg told the House that this sort of mechanism was used sparingly. In fact the Manitoba relations board received only 97 applications in all the time that there was legislation in that province.
Of those 97 applications, only seven were ever ruled on by a final offer selector or arbitrator. Four went to the union package and three were ruled in the favour of the company. In the vast majority, 72 cases, the application was withdrawn because the parties returned to the bargaining table and found a satisfactory resolution by a more conventional means. This is a perfect example of final offer selection.
If the government does not like final offer selection, if it thinks that it has a bad connotation because it came from the Reform Party, which I suspect it does think that, then let it conjure up its own dispute settlement mechanism and call it whatever it wants. The government can call it the Liberal solution for all I care, as long as it works. A lot of people in Canada depend on these services, not only those people who directly depend on the service but, as I said before, also those people in downstream jobs and spin-off economies.
Any mechanism that causes both parties to work out an agreement through their normal negotiation process is a lot better than any legislation that puts an end to a contentious work stoppage.
Instead of including a dispute settlement mechanism in this bill, the drafters sought a solution to the problem at west coast ports. They ignored the recommendation of the west coast ports inquiry and opted for a provision that was not considered by the Sims commission.
We definitely support the concept of farmers moving their grain to markets unimpeded by labour disputes beyond their control. We think it is absolutely within the farmers' rights to be able to transport their product from the farm gate to the high seas. Maybe that is not an inherent right, but I believe that they should be supplied with the mechanisms to do that.
I have said before in this House when talking on agriculture bills, the problems of production are largely overcome, except for natural disasters which are caused by weather related problems. The farming community has the technology, the expertise and the grain varieties to produce great crops if weather conditions prevail.
The production of crops is not the biggest barrier to making a living on the farm. Nowadays you have to pay attention to the marketing of those crops. If those crops are not marketed properly, you simply are going to go backward in your farming operation. It is absolutely vital that when the farmers' crops are ready to be sold, and there is a willing seller and a willing buyer, that they are able to be transported as far as the high seas to get them to their customers.
That sums up the fact that we believe farmers deserve a better deal than they are getting from this government.
Right now we have the assurances that if the grain gets to the port, I said if, it will be loaded on the ships. But there are a lot of unions between the farm gate and the port. If there is a work disruption anywhere along there, the grain simply does not get to the port. So what good is a mechanism that loads grain that is not in the port? It is absolutely worthless.
Besides, if we were to talk to people in the alfalfa dehydrating business who are also farmers, chemicals, sulphur and potash exporters and lumber producers all stand to lose millions of dollars. They would say that and ask “Where are our assurances that we can move our product? Our products are important too”. Certainly they all admit that grain is important. Certainly they all admit that the work stoppages always seem to occur when there is grain to be shipped through the ports. But other products are extremely important to the producers, to the people they employ and to the Canadian economy.
People on the other side would say yes, yes but the work stoppages always come when grain is moved, and grain has been used as the ace in the hole. Now we are going to move grain. What now is going to become the ace in the hole?
Are we going to find that petrochemical producers can put as much political pressure on the government as the grain farmers did? Are we going to find that work stoppage somewhere in the transportation or at the ports is going to require parliament to reconvene and legislate people back to work because of a work stoppage in the transportation area? It is altogether possible.
Does this bill actually improve anything? I guess it improves things provided that grain continues to move to the port. It is a small baby step forward but we are not content with baby steps. Why not make some real progress? If this act is not going to be opened up for another 25 years, it is incumbent on us to do as much as we can in the time that we have.
I would like to talk a little about replacement workers. The provision on replacement workers could further impede the movement of goods and services in Canada. The new Canada Industrial Relations Board created by this act will be able to deny employers the right to continue to operate, to earn a living by utilizing replacement workers or in some cases maybe even to reassign their own management employees.
Did it ever occur to the powers that be that if we had a dispute settlement mechanism in place, something of the type about which I have been talking, there would be no need for replacement workers in federally regulated workplaces? If the disputes could be settled without having to have these painful, polarizing, agonizing work stoppages, then there would be no need for replacement workers.
This is how the replacement worker issue should be addressed. I hear my colleague from Winnipeg saying not to call them replacement workers, to call them scabs. Some would say that a scab is something temporary while the healing process takes place underneath. I am not sure if that is exactly what my friend from Winnipeg is talking about.
I do not think it is fair either that we should be allowing any group of people, particularly in this case the industrial relations board, to get into a position where they can certify a union without a majority.
I heard the parliamentary secretary explain that the basis for union formation is that it will be done where there is majority support. That is all very well. I have no reason to distrust my colleague, the parliamentary secretary, but I would feel a lot better if those very thoughts of hers were codified, for instance, if we said in this bill something if we have indications that there may be the need, the want or the demand of the workers to form a union, the way to determine that is through a secret ballot vote. It would be exactly the way we are selected for this place, through a secret ballot vote.
Representatives from the labour movement say they we do not want that because there could be intimidation. I do not think there would be any more intimidation there than there is during a federal, provincial or municipal election. That is a tried and true process. We have been using it here for over 125 years, based on the model used in Britain.
It is very interesting to note that Britain has gone to the secret ballot method. Even the Labour government that has taken over from the Thatcherites has seen fit not to change that part of the labour law. I do not know what all the protest is about a secret ballot vote. Perhaps some day that will be addressed in this House.
Very unfortunately we only have less than two and a half hours to debate in the entire day today, so I am sure that this will not get addressed. But I would like very much to be in a position where I could question the government on that very aspect.
We talk about certifying the union without a majority. Although the parliamentary secretary assures us this is not the intention of the bill, we have to look at recent history. There is a case in Ontario where the people at a Wal-Mart store in Windsor voted 151 to 43 against being certified by the union and had their wishes overturned by the Ontario labour relations board and had the union certified against the obvious wishes of the majority. There was a more than three to one majority and the Ontario labour relations board said “we think you people would have voted otherwise in different circumstances and therefore we are going to certify the union whether you want it or not”. That is absolutely undemocratic at the best and totally asinine at the worst.
This bill, as its predecessor Bill C-66, is a piece of legislation that the Reform Party simply cannot support. We believe firmly in the right of people to organize and to withdraw their labour if necessary. But when we are talking about the only game in town, as in the case of the post office, or the ports, or the railways it is not as though a corner store goes on strike. It is an inconvenience but it is not a catastrophe. We can go to a different store, a store that is not in trouble with a work stoppage. But when the ports or the railway go on strike, we have no alternative at all.
That is the basis on which I base my remarks today. I thank the House again for allowing me to share my time with my colleague from Saskatchewan.