Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand on behalf of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre who presented this very important private member's bill, Bill C-238, which would repeal section 13(5) of the Canada Post Act which restricts contractors from being treated as employees.
The reason the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre presented this bill was not only to represent the 5,000 people who do a superb job in delivering Canada Post's mail from coast to coast to coast in the very rural and very far-reaching areas of this country, it was also to correct a historical wrong.
Unfortunately these people have been restricted from obtaining any kind of furtherance in economic value by the restrictions which the Canada Post Act places upon them. They are not, in any way, shape or form, considered under the Canada Labour Code. Rural route couriers form one of the major sectors which is excluded from the Canada Labour Code strictly for economic reasons.
Maybe at one time in our history those economic reasons may appear valid, but they are no longer valid. I will read a subsection which asks why subsection 13(5) denies RRMCs, rural route mail couriers, their basic rights. Andre Ouellet outlined in 1980 when he was postmaster general that there were largely financial reasons for including subsection 13(5) which prohibits collective bargaining. He said that 60% of RRMCs worked fewer than four hours per day and if unionized would press for full time work. He also said that costs would escalate. That is absolute nonsense.
Today most RRMCs work eight or more hours a day. When they have a contract with Canada Post they are restricted from working anywhere else. Part of the contract is that they can only do that and nothing else. It restricts them in terms of their economic lives.
It is unfortunate that the member for Saanich—Gulf Islands and his party are not supporting this initiative. If he truly cared about the 5,000 RRMCs across the country he would go to the back lobby and instruct his party that this is actually a very good initiative. Perhaps he is afraid that these 5,000 people, heaven forbid, may want to organize themselves into a union.
That is not what we are pressing for. We are saying that if those people desire to organize, if they choose to organize, which they already are doing right now in terms of a quasi-group, an association to press issues forward through all members of parliament, they should have the right to do so.
We live in a democracy. The member for Saanich—Gulf Islands, whom I respect tremendously as a friend, should know that one of the key fundamentals of democracy is that workers have the right to organize. Whether or not he agrees with union principles is not the question. They should have the right to organize, and that is part of what this private member's bill will enable them to do if they so desire. The key point is for them to bargain collectively with the employer, which in this case is Canada Post, a crown corporation of the Government of Canada.
Canada Post in past years has made a tremendous amount of money in profit. A lot of it came from rural route mail couriers across the country. Pretty soon when the contracts come up Canada Post will contact the current holders of contracts, for example in Jeddore and Sheet Harbour in my riding or in areas outside Prince Rupert, in Yukon and in other areas of northern Manitoba or wherever, to say that the contract bidding time has come up and it expects them to lower their bid in the event they wish to be successful in furthering the contract. After working three, four or five years, depending on the length of the contract, they are being asked to work for less when inflationary pressures and everything else have hit them very hard.
I know you understand, Mr. Speaker, being from the great riding of Kingston and the Islands, that a large part of rural Canada is suffering under the weight of the lack of infrastructure, the lack of medical and educational facilities and the lack of business opportunities. These people are out in the dead of winter. Can we imagine delivering mail at 35 degrees below zero in northern Saskatchewan? That is a tremendous task and they are doing it for far less than the minimum wage.
Can we tell these people that for economic reasons they are not allowed to organize? I say no. The easiest thing the government could do, and perhaps it could sneak it into the budget today, is repeal subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Act. We would all be happier for it.
Many Liberal members come from rural ridings. They must speak with these people on a daily basis, I am sure. They understand this is a very good initiative and would put the government in a good light with 5,000 people. We may even applaud the Liberals for their effort on this very rare occasion.
The question is whether or not there are fairness and equity in today's government. We have now passed into the new millennium. It is really unfortunate that as we turned the calendar we left 5,000 people and their families behind. It is an important initiative. I encourage all members of the House to look into themselves to see if it is fair to discriminate against 5,000 people who do yeoman's work every day out there.
Many people in rural Canada do not have access to the Internet. They do not have access to the technologies of today. Their major link to government is through Canada Post, through the mail system. The first people they see are those people whose basements have been transformed into a postal outlet. Or, the first person they see is the one at their mailboxes on rural roads who delivers the mail sometimes in very treacherous conditions. To them they represent government and the best part of government, a warm body. They actually get to speak to someone who is working for the government through the Canada Post Corporation. The average person out there thinks of these people as employees of the government when in reality they are not. That is most unfortunate.
The bill should have been presented many years ago. Thank goodness the member for Winnipeg Centre had the foresight and aptitude to understand this was a very serious issue and presented it for debate today.
I mentioned before that their contracts with Canada Post prohibit them from doing work for other companies while performing their post office duties. Canada Post controls the timeframes for sorting and delivering the mail, the order of delivery on routes, the number of returns to the post office, and the manner in which the mail is sorted. Rural route mail couriers have to hire their own replacements, not because they are entrepreneurs who control their own work but because their contracts require they find replacements when they are sick or on vacation.
Canada Post has total administrative control over the day to day work of the RRMCs. Canada Post does not give them the mail and leave to them how they wish to deliver it. Rather there is a whole set of rules that determine how RRMCs do their work and there is direct supervision.
Basically what do RRMCs want? They want subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act repealed so they can bargain collectively. Letter carriers of Canada Post do the same work in other ways and they have collective bargaining rights. Private sector workers who deliver parcels in rural areas also have collective bargaining rights as do rural route postal workers in the United States.
In this day and age of free trade, globalization, NAFTA, et cetera, why would the so-called great democracy below us, the United States, allow its rural route mail couriers in its many rural areas to have the ability to bargain collectively for their rights? Why is it that Canada excludes that? The reason is subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Act, which needs to be repealed.
I could go on at length about this issue but what we need to do is quite clear. It would make the government look good, especially at budget time. The Liberals could even use it as an election ploy. I am sure they would love to use something to help them out after the recent HRDC fiasco, et cetera.
On behalf of my colleague from Winnipeg Centre and all members of the New Democratic Party federally and provincially across the country, we are proud to stand on behalf of over 5,000 rural route mail couriers so that subsection 13(5) of the Canada Post Act is repealed and these people are included in the Canada Labour Code and have collective bargaining rights for themselves and their families.