Mr. Speaker, I see the clock ticking and I am afraid I may not have enough time, but I promise you I will be here tomorrow morning to continue this debate.
What we are discussing here today is very important for workers. In fact, I hope there are a lot of workers watching us now on the parliamentary channel.
I think people will finally find out what is hidden behind the Liberals' mask. The Liberals are always saying how they work for the common good and how they try to stabilize the economy. But at whose expense do they do that? At the expense of workers.
I formally accuse the Liberals of continuing their crusade against the workers of Canada and Quebec. A lot of Quebeckers are victims of this bill, and I find it unacceptable.
People must understand what is hidden behind the Liberals' mask, and I intend to take about twenty minutes to try to describe it.
What I want to say is that the Liberal government wanted its employees to go on strike. They did, and now it wants to legislate them back to work. And it is totally intentional. This problem did not come about suddenly. These people have been asking for salary increases for a long time.
As some of my colleagues mentioned, these people have not had a salary increase in six years. The government could have settled the issue over the last two years, but that is not what it has decided to do. It has been decided to wait until the very last minute. And now, they stand up and say “We are going to protect Canada's and Quebec's economy. We will put an end to this”. But the problem is of their own making.
Maybe I should tell you a little bit about my own background. During 20 years, I was a trade unionist with the CSN before entering into politics. I have had the opportunity to see what a government employer is. It behaves like the Liberals do. They sit at the bargaining table, and have negotiations. When it does not work out, they pass a bill.
Just imagine the power they can wield. All they need to do is leave the bargaining table, make offers that are lower than the union demands, and they will end up saying the employees do not take up what is being offered. Employees have the right to strike, and the government knows that.
Once the employees have decided to go on strike, the government introduces a special legislation.
It is unfair, cynical and machiavellian. That is what the government is. It is not the first time we can see that. It has done the same thing with postal workers, railway workers and now, with specific groups that are amongst the lowest paid in the federal public service. They are the victims of a government that is legislating them back to work.
I do not hold that view only because I have been a trade unionist. Members of parliament are here to represent constituents. In my riding, between 400 and 500 people working at the military base will be legislated back to work. This probably represents a fairly high pay loss in my riding. The fact that the government did not want to adjust those salaries also meant a loss of revenue for several years now.
Not only has the Liberal government shut down the military college in my riding, totalling $32 million a year, but now we are stuck with a special bill because the government has decided it has had enough. Canada is supposedly on the brink of a major crisis, yet it is this very government that has driven the federal public servants of table 2 and table 4 to use their right to strike.
Maybe we ought to settle this fundamental issue once and for all with this government. Does the right to strike still exist in the federal public sector? Does it? Do employees have the legal right to say “We have had enough of the proposals coming from the government, we have had enough on these never-ending discussions and negotiations, we have the legal right to decide to go on strike”?
What we have right now is a smoke screen, because as soon as the workers start using their right to strike, the government tells them “You cannot go exercize your right to strike, because you are disrupting the economy”. This is what the government often does. They did it to the rail workers on strike, to the postal workers on strike, and now they are doing it to the federal public servants who are members of table 2 and table 4.
What we have to remember about the Liberal record is not only the way the government has been badly protecting and even persecuting the workers. We also have to look at what has been going on with wage parity. How long have women in the public service been demanding wage parity to ensure that they are properly paid for their services? Public servants, many members of the public, and myself, all believe these women deserve to be paid fairly. But not this government.
We see the same thing happening over and over again. They are going to wait for a decision to be brought down in another case before they alter their position. If the judgment is to the government's advantage, it will say “We are now going to implement it”. If it is to the government's disadvantage, it will say “We are going to ignore it and do things our own way”.
The government waited very long before settling the issue of pay equity for women in the federal public service. I hope people who are watching us this evening will remember that, because most of them are just coming home from work. These are people who pay taxes so that the Government of Canada and other governments throughout the country, including Quebec, can continue to operate.
But this is not what this government is doing. It is targeting workers. Again, if we look at the impact on a riding such as Saint-Jean, we can see that it is not negligible. It was estimated that the riding of Saint-Jean alone suffers an annual shortfall of about $2 million, because the government is taking so long to settle the pay equity issue.
The workers should get used to the idea that to vote for a Liberal government is to vote against workers. In Quebec, many have realized that. Who really looks after the interests of workers in this House? Who will oppose special legislation that adversely affect these workers? The Bloc Quebecois has always stood for these workers.
This is one of the reasons the Bloc Quebecois is so popular in Quebec. For sure the millionaires, the banks and the insurance companies dealing with billions of dollars do not contribute a red cent to the coffers of the Bloc Quebecois, because we are popularly funded. We do not want our hands tied.
It is true that, when it comes time to put an x beside the Bloc Quebecois in the booth, these people hesitate. But workers, for example, can see just who can rise in this place and defend them effectively.
Another example is the EI fund. Who pays for the EI fund? People will tell me it is partly paid for by employers, and I would agree. But workers put in a large amount. And with all the changes to the EI fund, all the amendments to the legislation since it was introduced, who has benefited? The government, which, in my opinion, is levying an indirect tax. Workers contribute every week.
In Quebec, we have workers who have paid EI premiums for 25 or 30 years. During the ice storm, to give one example, we asked the government to be more flexible, because people needed money. Workers needed money to cope during a major disaster. And the government said no.
This government continues to say no to workers, not just to those who are the victims of disasters. Members should take a look at the wording of the legislation. My colleague, the member for Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup—Témiscouta—Les Basques, is doing an excellent job, so that these inequities will be corrected.
Unfortunately, the government is turning a deaf ear, all the while accumulating billions of dollars in the fund and paying down its deficit. In the meantime, big corporations have it great in Canada. It is workers who are watching their salaries and living conditions slide ever downward. It is not for nothing that this Liberal government has been accused of going after workers. In my view, this is another blatant example.
There was another development recently. This goes back a few weeks.
A few years ago in the House, I raised the important issue of the Singer employees. I was told for two years, after I do not know how many questions, that the government had no responsibility in that case, whereas it was clearly stipulated in the contract that the government was a trustee, that it was the guardian of the plan and the fund.
It allowed Singer to stop paying premiums, taking the money from the fund surplus. Today, Singer workers, who are 83 years old on average, receive a monthly pension ranging from $20 to $50. There are people, like my father, who worked in that company for 45 years. We told the government “Look, this does not make sense. You were a trustee of the fund. Why did you allow the company to take money from the fund?”
If we annualize the whole pension fund, what has been taken out of it from 1962 to today, plus the accumulated interest, we get around $8 million, which could greatly benefit the Singer pensioners.
And what has the government been planning for the past two years? It has watched the public service pension plan grow. It has been getting ready to put its hand on the surplus. Contrary to what the President of the Treasury Board often says, the surplus does not belong to the government. Public servants have been paying into this fund.
Today there is a surplus. It should be used to enhance the pension plan and not by the government saying “This belongs to us now. Workers, you have contributed for 10, 15, 20 or 30 years. There is a surplus, but sorry, the plan will remain unchanged, while we are use it to eliminate the deficit, we are using your money for other purposes”. The money is used for purposes other than the one provided for in the act, namely to enhance these employees' pension plan.
I noticed that the former workers of the Singer Company have probably been the first victims of this government's intentions to reach into the pension funds of its own employees. The government will not admit that I am right and that it should help those 250 people who on average are now 83 years old. The government will not help those people by enhancing their pensions because this would put at risk its intention to dip into the federal public service employees pension fund.
For those workers who are listening today, I believe those are examples which should not be forgotten. Do we have to ask who the Liberal Party is defending? Is it defending workers, those who pay the bulk of taxes and income tax? I do not believe so. What has happened here today is despicable, but we could already feel it coming last week. I have had contacts with people on the Canadian forces base in my riding who are in touch with their union delegates. I told them that I had the feeling a special bill would be introduced in Ottawa.
I learned Friday that there had been two attempts to get the debate going rapidly. I believe workers sensed, knew what was coming. This is not to mention the way workers were treated. As far as I know, workers on strike have the right to put up picket lines and to protest in front of the offices of members of parliament or ministers.
By the way, the people who come to my riding office want to tell me about their concerns, not to protest in front of my office. They go do their picketing in front of the Liberals' offices, since they know these hon. members are responsible for the situation they are in, because, as I said, the government really wanted this strike to happen. Now that it is here, they want to quash it.
There is also the issue of privatization. I remind the House that less than a year ago this issue was very much on the agenda. The government wants to contract out to some agencies the work being done by several people at DND and throughout the federal public service. For some years now, we have seen the government contracting out.
Listen to this. At CFB Saint-Jean, we have personnel with 20 years of service and officers who are retiring. These officers are paid. Those who have worked for 20 years get their full pension. They turn around and set up businesses, and they tell their employees “Sorry, friends, I can rehire you, but you will not get $12 or $13 an hour. I can afford to pay you only $8 an hour”.
These officers are double dipping. They get their full pension from the Canadian army, they set up businesses, and they make profits by lowering the working and living conditions of workers.
What do we have before us today? When I say that this strike was planned, it is because the government is laughing at the workers when it says “Special legislation is coming up. If you do not accept our offers, you will strike out because we will impose them on you”. The government is taking advantage of this special legislation to lower the terms and wages offered to the workers.
However, this is not all the government has up its sleeve. It is saying to these workers “You are not skilled workers, anybody can do your work. So, if you do not accept our offers, we will impose special legislation on you”. Moreover, we often hear that employers say to their employees “If you are not happy with what you are getting, you can resign, leave your job”, whereas they are the lowest paid in the public service. The government wants to make money on their backs, saying “If you all resign, we will give the contract to the private sector, and we will make even more money”.
This is why I say that what is happening here today is really unfair and cynical. The Bloc will stand up because, to my knowledge, it is the only party that has been standing up for the workers, so far.