Mr. Speaker, what I am about to say is very important. It has a lot of importance in reference to western Canada, particularly in the grain industry. We will deal with that.
I want to emphatically say that the blame here and this debate is happening today because of inactivity and inaction on behalf of the government of this country. Treasury Board has had two years to resolve this issue. Because of the inaction of Treasury Board and this government, members of PSAC table two were required to go on strike in order to get their message across to the President of the Treasury Board. It is inexcusable that labour-management relations have dropped so low that in two years they could not get to the bargaining table and come up with a resolution to a labour issue.
I speak from experience. I have had ample experience in dealing with numerous unions in a previous life. I can also stand here today in front of the House and say that in all of the negotiated settlements we had, not once did we require a strike mandate to get a settlement. Not once did we have our unions hit the bricks in order to get what they felt was a reasonable negotiated settlement from the corporation. That speaks to good, honest, equitable, in good faith negotiations between labour and management. That is something this government and the President of the Treasury Board do not understand, open honest negotiation, an honest negotiated settlement with their unions, in this case PSAC table two.
Let me talk about PSAC. I stood in the House not that long ago when PSAC was still on strike. It is still on strike today but perhaps not in the next couple of days. I said in a statement that it is unconscionable to have a unionized group of individuals who have not had a wage increase for seven years. Not to give a wage increase to any labour organization for seven years speaks to disaster.
Since 1991 we have all gone through some very tough economic times over the last seven years. There was a thing called the recession. I am sure most members will remember the recession of 1991-92. It is pointed out to us regularly when we talk about how after 1992 the economy got spurred along by a number of very major initiatives that the government of the day put into place. However, I digress just a bit. From that point on when those initiatives of that government were put into place, the economy did turn around. We are seeing the fruits of our labour today because of those initiatives taken in 1991-92.
Let us go back to PSAC's position. Since 1991 it has not had an increase.
The same circumstance faced us and we gave increases to our unions. They may very well have been small increases. They were half of 1%, three-quarters of 1% on an annual basis. The reason we did that as an employer is so we would not have to worry seven years later about trying to catch up. We did not have to worry seven years later about having a very disappointed and unhappy union that would go on strike. We never had that because we were logical in the way we faced labour-management relationships.
PSAC table two has not had an increase for seven years. Of course those workers frustrated. We would be frustrated if we had not had a wage increase for seven years. Members of the House gave raises to themselves. Mr. Speaker, you, me and members in the House got salary increases. We did it ourselves.
By the way, members of this party said we would rather see wage increases go to the RCMP, to PSAC and to those government employees who have not had salary increases for seven years. When we ran for office we knew what we were going to be paid. Those people have families like we do and they have to make sure they keep pace with inflation. They have not had it, but they should have a wage increase.
PSAC went back to the table for 14 days. On the last day the government decided that it would try to negotiate in good faith. Those negotiations lasted for three hours. Then the government walked away from the table. That is why we are here today, with a PSAC strike that is still ongoing and a government that is not prepared to negotiate honourably and fairly.
As I said, two years is a long time. Fourteen days of negotiations with nothing happening is a long time. The frustrations of PSAC came to a boiling point and it went on strike.
Unions have certain rights in negotiated agreements. PSAC has the right to strike. PSAC has the right to remove its services from the government, the employer that is paying its members. The PSAC membership has taken that strike vote and it has taken that strike to the streets. That is the right of PSAC and the unions.
I had the opportunity to meet quite a number of PSAC members in my office over the weekend when I was in my riding. They are like the rest of us. They have families, they have jobs, they have lives, they have mortgages and they want to go back to work. They actually want to go back to work. They would rather be working than not working and on strike. However, they want a settlement which is fair and equitable. I mention the strike vote because they have the right under their union agreement to take their services away from government.
Last week when the grain weighers went on strike they impacted another industry, an industry that is very important to me and my constituency in western Canada, and to Canada in general. In my opinion they crossed the line. They went too far. When I met with these people I mentioned that. I told them that I spoke on their behalf, that I believed the government and the President of the Treasury Board had not done what they were elected to do and that they had been negligent in their duties. But when these people took their services away and impacted the agricultural industry, they stepped over the line.
As members are well aware, the agricultural industry is in difficult straits. We have problems in trade relations with our major trading partners, the United States and Japan. We have problems with commodity prices worldwide. Western Canadian producers are getting the lowest commodity price they have had in generations. There is difficulty in the farming economy to the point where the government has put together the AIDA program, an aid program to give farmers the opportunity to plant their crops again this year.
We recognize that there are serious implications when the trade of that agricultural commodity is impacted. I told the PSAC members that, unfortunately, this could not happen.
I was very fortunate last month to travel with the agriculture committee to Washington. I was very fortunate this month to travel with the minister of agriculture to Japan. Two issues were always being put on the table by our major partners. The United States of America is our major trading partner and Japan is our second largest trading partner in agriculture. In both cases our trading partners told us that they would trade with us if and only if we could guarantee delivery of our product in a reliable fashion.
Remember what I just said. There are problems in the world with commodity prices. There are problems in the world with a number of other countries producing the product that we would like to sell to the open market. There is a lot of competition out there. We have good customers who depend on us. They depend on the delivery of that product. The delivery of that product has been impacted by the PSAC strike. That cannot be tolerated.
The best solution is not back to work legislation. The best solution is not to force people to do something they do not want to do. The best solution is to get the President of the Treasury Board back to the bargaining table, to sit down and negotiate a fair settlement with that organization, which in fact should be dealt with in a similar fashion as other members of that organization were dealt with previously.
They are not asking for anything totally out of the ordinary. They are asking for fair compensation. That is all they are asking for.
I said that they should not to be forced back to work. We will debate this legislation that is before us right now, the back to work legislation. However, I cannot in good conscience suggest that farmers in western Canada will be able to take this on the chin, a third party which has absolutely no opportunity of getting its grain moved without PSAC going back to work.
The process is something we would like to talk about. As I said earlier, this motion should never have been introduced. This should never have been an issue. It should never have been a problem. I again must repeat myself and say that I hold this government totally to blame for not solving this problem before it got here. The government had two years to solve the problem. It should never have come to the floor of this House. Now it is here. We will have to make sure that grain exports, grain handling and grain transportation are not impacted by this group of individuals in PSAC.
In my closing remarks to the union people whom I met with this weekend I told them quite emphatically that we cannot stand for what they are doing and how they are impacting grain. We will have to consider supporting back to work legislation if they are not able to get back to the bargaining table or back to work.
I am very disappointed that we have to be here today to speak on this issue. I will hopefully have an opportunity when we debate the legislation within the next day or two to explain why it is totally unfair that this government has not been able to come up with a negotiated settlement with this particular table of PSAC.
I would be more than happy to answer questions. I wish the motion would come forward quickly so that we could debate it.