Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to the bill. I begin by congratulating the member for Winnipeg Centre for introducing the bill, which is an act to amend the Canada Post Corporation Act. I also acknowledge the member from the Liberal Party who indicated that he was planning to support the bill when it comes to a vote next week and for correctly describing it as an anomaly. Rural route mail couriers are somehow treated much differently and much worse than members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and other employees.
I find it passing strange that a few short weeks ago we had a backbench Liberal MP stand to ask a pointed and loaded question to allow the cabinet minister responsible to highlight the new three year agreement between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. At the same time here we are two or three weeks later turning around and apparently not going to offer reasonable rates and working conditions to folks who are delivering rural mail.
I would like to dedicate this speech to a woman who is a long time friend of mine, Doris Woodbeck. For many years she was the rural route mail courier in picturesque Prince Edward County in the Bloomfield area. Doris Woodbeck was virtually a second mother to me. She delivered mail through snow and sleet and freezing rain and all other things that our mail couriers are expected to do. She is a wonderful individual.
The people who have followed in Doris' footsteps, perhaps in her snow tires, are having some real problems these days because of the wages and working conditions. Most rural route mail couriers barely earn minimum wage. Their working conditions are reminiscent of another era.
The Canada Post Corporation can terminate their employment with just 90 days of notice. There are no standard work rules. Some RRMCs have more than one route. They get paid for delivering certain products on one route although they do not get paid for service on another. Work rules are changed arbitrarily and often with virtually no notice.
During snow storms RRMCs are routinely forced to shovel out the group boxes on their routes, again without compensation. They have to train and pay their own replacements. They are provided with basic supplies. Postal workers at some offices collect used elastic bands and give them to rural route mail couriers because Canada Post refuses to provide such basic necessities.
I would like the members present to listen to what some mail couriers are saying:
With a working relationship like this, it's almost impossible for us to obtain better wages and working conditions on our own. And we're not allowed to bargain collectively like other workers. Section 13(5) of the Canada Post Corporation Act prohibits RRMCs from having collective bargaining rights. This is a denial of basic rights.
This the subsection the member for Winnipeg Centre is trying to have repealed.
Perhaps one of the biggest problems is in the tendering process, as has been acknowledged, because the mail couriers have to bid on their routes. When they submit their bids they are often told they must accept the contract for less than they were making before.
The argument is that if they do not like it they can always quit. As a rule mail couriers find it difficult to complain about their working conditions because they know that their contracts can be pulled on 90 days of notice. With a working relationship like this one it is almost impossible for them to obtain better wages and working conditions. They are not allowed to bargain collectively as other workers are.
In 1986 the Canada Post Corporation applied to the Canada Labour Relations Board to review the structure of bargaining units at Canada Post. The Association of Rural Route Couriers applied for a standing at those hearings. A year later the labour relations board issued its decision which noted that the definition of a defending contractor included two basic criteria: economic dependence and an obligation to perform duties for another person. These criteria are reviewed from the perspective of administrative control and integration.
The CLRB decision was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal on the basis that while mail couriers may meet the requirements of employees under the Canada Labour Code, the CLRB exceeded its jurisdiction when ruling that subsection 13(5) did not apply.
The federal court recognizes that without this section the employees concerned would have benefited from all rights provided in the code. The federal court notes that subsection 13(5) is legal fiction designed to set aside reality. It also clearly recognizes that the purpose of this provision is to deny these workers the right to collective bargaining.
We move forward to today and the Liberal government did not ensure that the RRMCs were protected and that their conditions were improved. It simply denied them the right to protect themselves and to improve their conditions through collective bargaining.
Depriving collective bargaining rights is a denial of basic rights; a violation of the principles conveyed and promoted in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which came into effect a full 15 years ago now; a violation of our international commitments including the North American Free Trade Agreement; and a violation of the ILO, which the government proudly frequently says was one of the first signatories and which concerns itself with freedom of association and protection of the right to organize in the international covenant on civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights.
Two years ago in the first budget, which I had the honour and privilege of being in the House of Commons to hear, the federal government promised us that it would “look at new ways to deliver information and programs so that rural Canadians are full participants in Canada's future prosperity”.
We hope the government's promise to look at new ways of delivering information and programs is not just another way of saying that it will find cheaper ways of exploiting rural Canadians who deliver information and programs.
To date we feel the Liberal government has dodged the thorny issue of subsection 13(5). Postal critics for the Bloc, ourselves, and the party to my left have already sent letters on the issue to the minister responsible.
In conclusion, it is generally recognized that subsection 13(5) is a denial of basic rights, which helps Canada Post keep the wages and working conditions of rural workers at an unfair and impossible level. There is growing consensus that it should be repealed quickly. It is time that rural route mail couriers had access to collective bargaining rights which would allow them to protect themselves and to improve their working conditions.
Getting rid of subsection 13(5) would allow RRMCs to do this in a variety of ways. It would allow them to have access to the provisions of the Canada Labour Code. It would give them time to change the system by which they are forced to sign long term contracts. It would enable them to establish reasonable work rules so that CPC managers no longer respond to complaints by saying that if they do not like it they can quit. It would provide a method of submitting grievances when rules surrounding workloads or starting times are arbitrarily changed. Most important, it would end the pattern in which the financial objectives of Canada Post have been pursued by driving increasing numbers of rural route mail couriers into poverty.
For Doris Woodbeck and the 5,000 rural route mail couriers who are currently on the job, we wish them well. We trust that when this comes to a vote on Tuesday there will be a clear majority in the House of Commons to repeal subsection 13(5) of this act.