Madam Speaker, Bill C-238 seeks to remedy an historic injustice. In 1981, when Canada Post Corporation was formed by virtue of the Canada Post Corporation Act, the drafters of the bill knew that it would have one specific impact on labour relations. The employees would no longer be covered by the Public Service Staff Relations Act and would be covered under the Canada Labour Code. This new crown corporation would fall under the Canada Labour Code.
The postmaster general at the time, André Ouellet, realized that under the Canada Labour Code the definitions of dependent contractor and independent contractor are different. As postmaster general he realized that rural route mail couriers were definitely dependent contractors under the definition in the Canada Labour Code.
He had to take speedy measures because he thought it might cost money. If this group of people could be considered employees or dependent contractors they would have the right to bargain collectively. They did not want that so they specifically took measures to deny this group of workers the right to bargain collectively. That is where the source of the problem we are trying to deal with today lies.
Rural route mail couriers are the only group of workers in the country who are specifically barred from the right to free collective bargaining by legislation, strictly for economic reasons. Other groups of employees do not have the right to strike if it is an issue of confidentiality, national security, or some reason to that effect. However there is no reason in the world to deny this group of workers the right to bargain, the right to organize, or the right to withhold their services other than sheer monetary issues.
Other speakers have pointed out that in the U.S. rural route mail couriers are allowed to bargain collectively. In Mexico rural route mail couriers are allowed to bargain collectively. Even private sector rural mail couriers, people who deliver mail for instance through Zipper or one of these places, are allowed to bargain collectively and have formed unions to better themselves. Yet this group of 5,000 employees in Canada are not allowed to do so.
As pointed out by the previous speaker, the right to free collective bargaining is one of the basic tenets of a free democratic system. We find it galling that the government of the day took specific measures in 1981 to deny these workers their rights. Given the opportunity to correct this historic injustice and given the speeches we have heard from the other side, it sounds like it is not prepared to do it at this time.
Rural route mail couriers are very well organized. They are very committed and very dedicated. They have been lobbying on the Hill trying to garner interest on the issue. One item raised by the Liberal member who spoke today was a misunderstanding of what Bill C-238 would do to eliminate subsection 13(5) with regard to labour relations.
If I may answer the question put in that speech, if the employees are allowed to form or join a union it may not be CUPW, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, but a completely different union. They may form their own independent association. Even if they joined CUPW there would be no bumping as such. They would be considered an independent bargaining unit, a separate bargaining unit represented within the corporation.
To alleviate any fears, there is no danger of existing mail couriers losing their jobs by virtue of being bumped, should they join that organization. There is again no guarantee that they would choose to join any one union. It is just that they would have the right to bargain collectively. History has shown us that the only way working people can move the terms and conditions of their employment forward is by bargaining collectively. It is a given.
It is my best hope that the House would allow the bill to go forward to the committee stage, at which stage I would like to move some amendments to the bill that I consider to be friendly amendments.
We must make sure everyone understands that we only seek to alter the relationship for rural route mail couriers, not other mail contractors. We have no interest in trying to cloud the issue about trucking companies that may be contractors for Canada Post or the airlines that have contracts to carry mail, et cetera. We are talking about them.
We do have language drafted now which would clarify the matter that the only people we are seeking to deal with are rural route mail couriers. Should members of the House see fit to allow the bill to go to committee stage, it is our intention to co-operate with amendments that would clarify any misconceptions in that regard.
In argument to show why these actions are necessary, it is useful to hear what some rural route mail couriers have told us in the previous months leading up to the bill. Many have told stories of finding it more and more difficult to do their routes and make any profit whatsoever. The tendering process has been so corrupt, flawed and loaded against the employees that they found it impossible to raise their bidding price with the cost of living. As such all their costs and expenses are going up as all our costs and expenses are going up. Fuel costs, car insurance and the things they have to pay are through the ceiling, but they are unable to obtain fair compensation through current tendering practices.
I have a quote from a female rural route courier who said:
I have been serving rural Canada customers for 17 years. After that much time, I gross $70 a day, out of which I have to pay average expenses of about $30 a day for things such as gasoline and car repairs. I have hurt my back at work. I don't have any sick benefits. For a while, I was able to work half time.
She had to hire someone to do the other half of her job and had to pay them $50 a day. For the period of time that her back was injured and she could only work half time she had to pay more than she earned in a day to hire a replacement. She could not hire someone for half a day for less than $50. By the end of last year she was unable to work at all and her replacement was getting the full $70 a day.
We can see the difficulty. I know rural jobs are hard to come by. In many places these are off farm jobs that provide a second income for a farming family, but there is no reason why there should be a huge gap between the conditions for delivering mail in the city and the conditions for delivering mail in the country. It becomes a rural-urban split and a rural-urban bias which these people are starting to resent. Another women said:
I haven't had a holiday since I started at Canada Post seven years ago. I can't afford to take one. I gross only $87 a day, out of which I pay all my operating expenses. When it came came time to renew our contract I was told by Canada Post that I had better lower my price or I won't get it again this time, so I actually bid myself down.
That is not a fair tendering practice. I am from the building industry and I know about contracts and contract letting. One does not put out a tender, phone people back and shop the price around saying that their price was pretty good but somebody else was lower and if they want it they had better come in lower. In the industry I come from we call that crooked. It is offensive to hear that it happens in this regard. She went on to say:
Since I got the contract, I have on many occasions had parcels that would not fit into my car, especially after loading all my other mail. I have had to make extra trips to be able to deliver those large parcels. That means extra costs and more work time for me, but I don't get the additional compensation.
With take home pay of $900 per month after expenses, I could stay home and make more money on welfare.
There are pages and pages of stories of anecdotal evidence which leads us to believe that something has to be done. Rather than try to impose some solutions on these workers, let us listen to what they are asking us to do. What they want is the right to collective bargaining, not to try to put band-aids on a tendering system that is actually broken.
I appeal one more time to members of the House to vote for the bill at second reading so that we can get it to committee. I will have the bill amended to alleviate many legitimate concerns that were raised. I think we could do a service for these 5,000 employees and meet their concerns about their jobs.