Mr. Speaker, this seems like deja vu to me. Here we go again with back to work legislation. We went through it recently. We probably heard many of the same debates. I heard the same heckling, the same sort of protestation from the other side that it was in the best interest of Canada to order these people back to work. It was somehow so essential to the well-being of the country that the government could trample all over the democratic rights of people to withhold their services.
It is galling to those of us in our caucus. We obviously do not approve of the movement to order back to work legislation in this matter. We think it is offensive, which is the best word that comes to mind. What is even more offensive is the fact that at the end of today I have no doubt the government House leader will stand and move closure on this debate. The government is piling insult upon insult when it comes to the democratic process.
I should point out that it will be the 50th time the government has introduced time allocation and closure. It is icing on the cake to the government. We are dealing with the subject of stripping away people's right to withhold their services and we will even strip away their right to have a debate about it in the House of Commons later today.
Let us talk about what this strike is all about, even before we get down to the terms of back to work legislation. What triggered blue collar workers to strike was the regional pay issue, the fact that a carpenter working for the federal government makes one wage in Halifax and another wage in Vancouver doing the exact same job.
There are even more glaring examples where a truck driver would be crossing the Alberta border to drop off a trailer to be picked up by another driver on the other side who would be making $3 or $4 an hour more in wages even though they are both doing the same job.
That had to end. The workers were pushed and pushed. They tried to negotiate their way out of it after bargaining year after year. It was not possible. They used the only weapon available to them, the strike weapon, the right to withhold their services to try to satisfy this issue.
I notice in the package being rammed down people's throats today that there is some movement on the zones. They are going down from 10 zones to 7 zones, but we should recognize the way the Liberals are doing it. It is almost unbelievable. Rather than harmonize in any kind of a common sense way they are merging the province of Saskatchewan and the province of Nova Scotia into one, Saskatlantic or something, because it will not cost them anything. There is no sense. There is no logic.
I will tell the House how flawed is the package we have been presented with today. The Liberals forgot Nunavut. On April 1 we will celebrate the creation of Nunavut and there are no rates of pay in Nunavut. They left it out. It was omitted. Even people working outside Canada are listed in the rates of pay. The people working in Nunavut will have none of it. It is crazy.
When I stood and asked a question earlier today I was saying this was a goofy package. There are all kinds of inconsistencies and flaws. Yet we will not be given a chance to give it the visitation it needs to review the clauses to try to correct some of these things because debate will be terminated.
We would be happy to point out some of the inconsistencies so that perhaps the Liberal government could correct some of them. One of the things that I pointed out is that correction officers are listed in schedule 2 of the bill. Correction officers are not on strike. Corrections officers do not have the right to strike. They are designated an essential service, but as the minister pointed out 600 or 800 of them somehow slipped through the cracks. In other words we are seeing exactly what we saw in the postal workers dispute. The government is trying to slide this in. It is trying to slip this in through the back door.
Back to work legislation is supposed to be about back to work. How can they order employees back to work if they are not on strike? In other words, the government is trying to designate these corrections officers as an essential service without having the guts to come in through the front door and stand up to the test of honest debate on that subject. They would rather do it by subterfuge and by stealth. It is truly offensive.
This is the same that happened to the Canada Post Corporation Act. They tried to slide the whole profitability issue in during back to work legislation. They wanted to use Canada Post as a cash cow. They wanted $200 million a year worth of revenue to come out of Canada Post, but they did not have the guts to come forward and introduce an amendment to the Canada Post Corporation Act. No, they tried to slide it in under the carpet again with the back to work legislation. We caught that right away. We did not have that bill more than five minutes before we noticed how sleazy that effort was. We find it offensive from where we are.
Let us really look again at the trigger of the strike, what caused the impasse. Certainly wages are part of it. These people have not had a raise in pay in seven years. They have not had a negotiated settlement in nine years. It has been imposed settlements all the time. Where is the right to free collective bargaining in this country if our own government, the major employer in the country, is always imposing settlements, legislated settlements like this one, year after year? With no raise whatsoever for seven years, the union was asking for a pretty modest package.
On March 12 when the talks broke down the union's position on the table was 2%, 2.75% and 2% with a 30 cent sweetener into the last two years. That is not exactly catch-up money. With the cost of living increases over that seven year period, union members are way behind. They are not asking to make all that up. On March 12 the government was not that far apart. The government's last offer to them was 2%, 2.5%, 2% and 1%, which is really not miles apart. Why then would it want to provoke a strike that has had such devastating effect on prairie farmers and our commodity industry? Why for the sake of a lousy 3% spread does it provoke a strike like this and cause the kind of rancour and disruption we have seen across this country? Where is the logic?
The costing of this spread is $7.8 million. I wonder what the total impact and the cost of the total impact to prairie farmers has been of shutting out the industry and the grain handling in this strike. A little more than $7.8 million, I think. This is what is really irritating about this strike. We fully endorse and respect the right of workers to withhold their service. It is the most peaceful way of handling an impasse. In the old days things got rowdy. Heads were split open. Withholding services in a peaceful way is the most civilized way of trying to put pressure on the other party.
It goes back to the ancient Greeks and Lysistrata . The women of Troy withheld their services from their husbands because they were tired of them going to war all the time. They were walking around with little tents instead of togas. That is the first reference we have to that kind of organized withholding of services. It is a time honoured tradition. We do it today because somebody has to recognize the historic imbalance in the power relationship between employers and employees.
That is why we have enshrined it in our charter of rights, that is why the United Nations recognizes it, that is why it has become one of the hallmarks of a free democracy, a strong and democratic trade union movement with the right to organize, the right to bargain and yes, the right to withhold your services if you reach an impasse. We have seen that trampled on twice since I have been here and I have not been here very long. We have seen those rights trampled on. I did not come to Ottawa to vote away workers rights. That is not why I came here. I will not have anything to do with it.
We have heard the Reform Party as if it were somehow the champion of the working class all of a sudden. This is particularly grating as a trade unionist. Reformers would like to wipe unions off the face of the earth. They have said so publicly. It is no secret what they think of free collective bargaining and the trade union movement. One Reform member is the only professional union buster I have ever met. It is honestly galling for us to listen to Reformers saying that they are on the side of the trade union movement. They do not even take phone calls from unions. They will not acknowledge or recognize organized labour. Lobbyists from unions who come to the Hill are not welcome to come to their offices. It is almost fraudulent for them to try to portray themselves as any kind of friend to the working class. It is almost unbelievable.
Let us get down to politics since we are in the business of politics. The irony of the whole thing is that the public sector votes Liberal. Public sector workers, by and large, support Liberals.
I really have to question the logic of the Liberal government poking them in the eye with a stick and provoking this strike in the way that it has if it really hopes to forge any kind of relationship. Even if I were not a socialist and a trade unionist, as a taxpayer I do not want the morale of my public sector so demoralized that productivity does drop. If we want to talk about the issue of productivity that we have heard so much of in the House lately, that is a productivity issue.
When the government does not give somebody a raise for seven or nine years and then keeps heaping more and more work on them because it used to take ten people to do a job but it has laid off half of them so the other five have to do the same work for less money, frozen wages, how does it hope to garner support from public sector workers by beating them up like this all the time? It is trampling on their rights. Now they are being ordered back to work.
Again, with the corrections officer thing, the CX table 4 worker is confusing to me. Not only do we have a case where they are not on strike, but they are being ordered back to work as a preventive measure or something.
In the package that we are having rammed down our throats unceremoniously in the next few days, the government does not even tell us what the settlement is to be. It is completely silent on what the settlement is supposed to be for the 4,500 corrections workers who are being lumped into this back to work legislation.
The Reform member for Selkirk—Interlake was talking yesterday about a pig in a poke. We are being asked to buy a pig in a poke because we do not even know what the package is. Obviously we will vote against it. Who in their right mind would vote for something when they do not even know what it looks like? It is a huge leap of faith and I do not have that kind of trust in the members opposite to act on strictly faith that everything will be okay, we will treat everybody fine.
Why do government members not state up front what the terms and conditions will be for those employees? Are they allowed to go back to the bargaining table and keep negotiating? That is what was implied. Negotiations are not really over for them. Why are they being legislated back to work and having the right to strike taken away? Most prison guards do not have the right to strike as it is. They were designated essential a long time ago. This is to try to catch those 600 or 800 who have somehow slipped through the cracks. In other words, it has nothing to do with back to work legislation. The government is trying to achieve some other, secondary objective.
It is intellectual dishonesty to try to go through the back door. We have seen examples of it. It is not unlike the idea of taking a deduction off a person's paycheque to use it for a specific purpose and then to use it for something completely different. That is a breach of trust that borders on theft. I would never say the government is stealing from workers because I know that would be wrong. It is certainly a breach of trust to deduct something for a specific purpose and to use it for something else again. That is fundamentally wrong whether it is dishonest or not.
This is along those lines. This is misrepresentation. It is subterfuge. It is stealth. It is trying to say this bill is about back to work legislation. For 14,500 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada it is about back to work legislation. The government is trampling on their right to withhold their services.
The other 4,500 must be as confused as I am. The 4,500 prison guards must be mystified by this. The government has taken away their right to strike and they are not even on strike. They do not strike.
The package we were given today is 530 pages of very detailed wage schedules with wage increases accurately itemized. These are the increases being imposed on these workers. Nowhere does it say they are getting a 2% raise or they are getting a 2.75% raise. It is up to us in the few short hours we have to try to get our pocket calculators out and figure out how much of an increase is this new wage schedule the government has listed. A bunch of us were calculating away. I would think it was the hope of the government House leader and the minister for the Treasury Board that we would not be able to figure it out. Again, stealth and subterfuge.
Even in a court of law one has to tell the other side what one is doing and what evidence one will present. Here we were presented with 530 pages of evidence that we have to plough through and try to make some sense of, yet the government is asking us if we are willing to vote with it today and support this.
It is almost inconceivable. I did not think I would see things like this when I came to Ottawa. It is really quite an eye opener for me how this place really works. It is disappointing.
As a trade unionist I went through a great number of issues like this. We were never legislated back to work because I was in the private sector with the carpenters union. We had the right at least in the private sector.
I guess it is all the more reason for not going to work in the public sector. The pay is lousy and the minister responsible for the Treasury Board will steal your pension and there is not even the right to strike when trying to improve the terms and conditions of employment or to elevate the standard of wages and working conditions. How do working people advance their causes if they do not have the right to strike? It is the only tool we have left.
To add insult to injury, this is the same government that has given us advance warning that in early or mid-April it will be introducing legislation so that it can get its hands on the public sector pension plan surplus, $30 billion. That is its next big windfall.
First it paid off the deficit on the backs of its own $10, $11 and $12 an hour employees by freezing their wages. It pays off its deficit there. The only advantage for taking a public sector job used to be there was a reasonable pension plan. That was always the excuse. The wages are crappy and it is a thankless job but at least there was a decent pension plan. Now it is targeting that, zooming in there. First it was the UIC program and now it is the pension plan.
Honestly, this is probably the most uncomfortable situation I have been in since I have been in Ottawa just because the circumstances surrounding this bill are so nonsensical, so unnecessary.
Talking about pensions and wages, I was a private sector carpenter. I made about $25 an hour. It was good money. The public sector carpenter makes $15. Figure that out. Still the government wants to contract work out instead of using its own forces. It will contract it out to the private sector, often to immediate family or close personal friends. It would rather pay $25 an hour than pay its own people $15 an hour.
That is what led to a lot of the hard feelings and the animosity that led to an impasse in these negotiations. It was that huge disparity between the public sector and the private sector in terms of wages. How can it be explained? Never mind the regional differences. Those we have already dealt with, that it unfair for a carpenter to make $15 an hour in Halifax and $10 elsewhere under the arbitrary zone system.
Is there is any commitment to the concept of equal pay for work of equal value? The prevailing wage in an area for a carpenter might be $25 an hour. The federal government pays $15 and takes away the ability to elevate the standards of wages and working conditions by trampling on their right to withhold services. It is added insult to injury. How does a working person ever move forward without being able to exercise that one basic, fundamental right to withhold services for the sake of moving them and their family forward?
It is the most peaceful way to solve any kind of impasse. It is not violent. People look at it as economic violence. It is not economic violence. What gets foisted on workers is economic violence. The threat of layoff is economic violence.
The constant Damocles sword hanging over every public sector worker's head, that is economic violence, when people are threatened with their jobs every minute of every day. A workplace that used to do a certain task with ten people is now asked to do it with five and then freeze their wages for seven to eight. I doubt that many public sector workers feel very inclined to keep voting Liberal if that has been their practice. I doubt it very much because they have been poked in the eye with a stick one too many times, their rancour has been provoked.
Watch next month when the government finally tries to get its hands on the surplus of the pension plan. It will wake a sleeping giant. It will regret the day this was even raised because they will rise up in a way they have never been seen before. The government will regret it.