Mr. Speaker, it is a sad occurrence to again find the House of Commons involved in back to work legislation with a special bill entitled an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services.
This bill is also the subject of time allocation, so that there cannot even be any serious debate on the issue of this abruptly interrupted negotiation.
However, I have a great many questions. It seems to me, of what I know—and in the past I dealt with labour relations, I taught labour relations—that what cannot be regulated does not justify the bill as it is presented.
I would argue that the workers are on a legal strike. Not only are they on a legal strike, they are on a rotating strike. This is not a full general strike that will go on forever. It is a rotating strike, action taken by the workers in turn before the workday starts or after it finishes to get themselves talked about and of course to slow traffic. If they did not get themselves talked about, if they do not hold a full general strike, how do we know there is a problem?
There is a problem that strikes me as a fairly serious one. The problem, it must be repeated, is the fact that these workers have contributed their share to the deficit reduction. They have not had an increase in six years. Their collective agreement expired two years ago, or a little less. Some expired in June 1997, some in April 1997.
Are these highly paid workers? No. They can easily have 25 years' seniority and be earning $30,000. They are fathers and mothers. These are not people about whom we can say “These government workers are choking the public”. No. For the most part, they are blue collar workers, with positions of responsibility.
Some of them, such as those who were with national defence and were relocated, may have ended up in a region where the salary is lower than in their original region. It must be pointed out that, not only have these workers not received any increase for six years, but—and, as far as I know, they are the only public servants in that situation—they are not paid the same salary in all regions, unlike members of parliament or judges.
The further west they are, the higher their salaries. Conversely, the further east they work, the lower their salaries. The gap can be as much as $3 per hour. So, since many of them are paid about $14 per hour, an hourly difference of $3 is very significant.
The workers who come under the Public Service Employment Act would like to be covered by the Canada Labour Code. Why? Because the rules concerning essential services are not the same. What is the problem in this House? It is that these workers, by using their legal right to go on strike, do not have to provide the essential services they are expected to provide. But do members realize that the Public Service Employment Act does not include the type of provisions on negotiating and providing essential services that were recently included in the Canada Labour Code?
Such provisions on essential services did not exist when railway workers went on strike, but now they do. But they do not apply in this case.
Another very serious concern is that, for these negotiations, the government has suspended these workers' right to arbitration. Not all workers in our society have the right to binding arbitration, but those in the public service do.
Why was this right suspended? The fact that these workers, who perform duties that can be compared to others, have not had an increase for six years, may well explain why the federal government thought it best to prevent them from going to arbitration. Why? Because they would have been wrong? Hardly. Why then? Because, on the contrary, arbitration would have given the workers much larger increases than what they were offered and than the offer that in one case was actually lower.
I have trouble seeing any goodwill in the federal government's actions, all the more so when I read Bill C-76, an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of government services. The operational services group includes firefighters, national defence and coast guard workers, and so on. What I see in the collective agreement section leaves me enraged on their behalf.
Negotiating a collective agreement is important for workers who are not entitled to arbitration.
What does this bill have to say? Under “Collective Agreements”, clause 7 reads as follows:
The Governor in Council may, on the recommendation of the Treasury Board, and taking into account collective agreements entered into by the employer in respect of bargaining units in the Public Service since the Public Sector Compensation Act ceased to apply to compensation plans applicable to them—
—prescribe: a ) the terms and conditions of employment applicable to the employees: and b ) the period during which those terms and conditions of employment are applicable.
As I understand it, the government has not negotiated seriously and has refused mandatory arbitration, and now says “Well then, the governor in council, very familiar with the good of the people, will be the one to decide”. One might well term this “in lieu of a collective agreement” But no, it states “the collective agreement”.
It goes on:
The Governor in Council may provide that any of the terms and conditions of employment is effective and binding on a day before or after the beginning of the period prescribed—
So there we have it, the governor in council knows what is good for the people.
The terms of employment prescribed under paragraph (1)( a ) constitute a single collective agreement binding on the bargaining units composed of the employees referred to in that paragraph.
The same thing goes for correctional services. In the correctional services negotiations, union members obtained a majority report. Who was the minority? The government.
Why does the government not comply with the majority report? It empowers itself to act otherwise than its own law tells it to. It gives itself the means to go against a process that is not only legitimate, but legal as well.