Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Bloc Quebecois, and as its labour critic, on this special debate, but I share the government leader's distress in doing so. There is good reason to be sad when we are required as legislators to introduce such a bill in the House, since it constitutes admission of a failure in the way our organizations and institutions operate.
All of our labour relations are based on a relationship of power that is meant to be a fair one. When we are forced to take steps such as those being taken today, it means something has gone wrong with that relationship.
What we are dealing with is a legal strike, a strike by a legally recognized and constituted union. It is part of the rules for the labour relations process that, when the workers' side considers that what has been offered is inadequate, they may strike. This is what we are dealing with at this time: a union that is legally using its right to strike and, by the very fact that it operates within the governmental system—because the government wears two different hats in a context such as this one, as employer and as legislator—is having forced upon it special legislation.
The government, acting as both employer and legislator in this case as I said, wakes up one morning, supposedly exasperated after a few days of strike—at least as far as the people at Vancouver are concerned—and decides to take action, arguing that the services involved affect public health and safety, thus qualifying as essential services. Measures are in place since public health and safety is an integral part of essential public services, and that was the rationale for taking this line of action.
Right now, the government is going overboard and is failing to demonstrate—and this is where it is not following procedure—the urgency of the situation, but one does sense a kind of exasperation.
The government has, moreover, had its task made easier for it. I personally have a hard time figuring out the workings of the Reform Party, which set the table last Thursday by so eloquently dramatizing the situation in the port of Vancouver. In my opinion, it considerably facilitated the government's action and this is why Friday and today we see the government acting entirely exceptionally by taking measures to impose special legislation.
I think we ought to deal with matters one at a time.
The exceptional measure used here is the suspension of the debates on the order paper. It is called a special debate. We are talking about the motion that will enable the government to introduce special legislation, perhaps tomorrow. That is what we must be discussing. We will talk as eloquently as possible, except that the time frame as you know is very short.
It cannot be said often enough. It is an illegal strike. It is a process recognized by the parties and by society. We support bargaining and civilized balance. This has been upset today. It is excessive on the part of the government, which happens to be the employer, to try to impose its own rules, its own way of seeing things, its own working conditions.
We will discuss this into further detail later on, but we are convinced that it is still possible to negotiate in good faith, to restore a normal balance of power between the parties. Look at what happened at the two bargaining tables where there are now problems, that is table 2 and table 4.
For the benefit of members of parliament and those listening to us, table 2 deals with labour relations between the government and general labour, ships' crews and trades represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, while table 4 is for Canada's correctional services employees, who are also members of the PSAC.
Some progress had been made, albeit slowly at times, but at least to the point where, in the case of correctional services employees, an agreement had been proposed by a conciliator. That agreement was accepted by the union, but rejected by the employer. The parties could find a solution, provided they negotiate in good faith. This is where the attitude of the employer, the government, becomes a concern because, given that the conciliator's report had been approved by the union, there is already the basis for an agreement.
It may be premature and inappropriate for the government to take this kind of action today. It should have been a little more patient, a little more conciliatory. It should have tried to find a compromise, given that the union had committed itself, making it unnecessary to this kind of measure, which is always exceptional and sad. Only the government can get away with taking the sort of action it has taken today as an employer. From the smallest company to the largest multinational, no organization except the government has the power to take the action being taken today of legislating heavy fines to force people back to work under conditions set by the employer, in this case the government.
As for table 2 on general labour, ships' crews and so forth, the workers represented by this union are prepared to go the alternative route of arbitration, so desperate are they. It is good for the government to see how its offers are perceived, if they are seen as being as reasonable as it claims.
In our opinion, and this is why we are opposed, all efforts have not been made to reach a negotiated settlement. This is a serious matter. Time is running out, and let us not forget that these people's salaries have been frozen for six years. They have every reason to make demands, to make strong demands, given the rise in the cost of living, inflation, and so on.
The government has taken a very firm stand, and resorted to legislation to get its way. That is how we see it.
We think it is a matter of principle, that this is an illegal strike and that the government should honour the mechanisms currently being used. Neither the negotiations nor this House should be upset with strategies built on the other side.
I will summarize our position, which is clear. We believe the freedom to unionize exists in Canada for employees and employers. This freedom exists for the parties, and the option of calling a strike exists from the moment there are good reasons for doing so, and this is the case here. It is part of a fair balance of power, except when the employer is also the government and is abusing its legislative power. Special legislation must be used only as a last resort.
This has not been shown to be the case here in our opinion. In the meantime, we want the government to return to the bargaining table with an offer acceptable to the workers and to resolve the problem democratically and in a civilized manner through negotiation.