Madam Speaker, the first amendment we are dealing with today seeks to reverse an amendment that was passed at the committee stage, moved by a member of the Bloc Quebecois, that would amend the definition of danger to make reference to pregnant and nursing mothers.
I want to say by way of opening that the NDP finds no fault whatsoever and agrees to a large degree with many of the points made by the recent speaker from the Bloc Quebec. One of the most compelling representations made to the standing committee dealing with Bill C-12 was one put forward by Professor Katherine Lippel from the University of Quebec at Montreal.
The NDP caucus certainly concurs with many of the things she pointed out about the importance of taking extra measures and extra steps in the workplace to protect the special interests of pregnant and nursing mothers. I am glad to point out that the hon. Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Labour in her recent address to the House also seems to agree these are valid issues that need to be dealt with in the Canada Labour Code at some point.
In order to protect the health of pregnant workers, their unborn children or children who are nursing, our party believes that it is necessary for workers to have the right to be reassigned to tasks that do not present a danger to their health or the health of the unborn child or the nursing child.
If the reassignment of these workers to other less hazardous work is not feasible, the workers should be allowed to withdraw from work and be compensated thoroughly or without any loss. Workers should be made whole and should be able to feel free to leave the workplace without jeopardizing either their income, opportunity or ability to re-enter the workforce after the nursing period or the pregnancy is over at the same stage as they left.
If we were serious about putting a true right to protective reassignment in place to protect the unborn child or the nursing child, it is important that it permits the withdrawal of work without penalty. That is a key point which I believe the member from the Bloc made. I believe the member was motivated to make that point because the law in Quebec provides for that. In that regard the law in Quebec is far more favourable to pregnant and nursing mothers than the Canada Labour Code.
I wanted to preface my remarks by saying how wholeheartedly we agree with the concept and how we look forward to the day when the Canada Labour Code is amended to accommodate pregnant and nursing mothers in that fashion. I also want to point out that Bill C-12 is the product of exhaustive consultations between labour and management over the past seven years across Canada.
The experts in the field, the actual stakeholders and practitioners in industrial relations in the federal jurisdiction, have viewed every clause and every aspect of the bill. They did not seek to amend the definition of danger when the recommendations were finally put forward to government and when government finally tabled Bill C-12. Even at every stage of Bill C-12 to this point, neither the labour community nor the management community in the federal sector has felt it necessary to amend the definition of danger as it stands in the act.
The NDP is of the view that Bill C-12 has much merit and is eagerly anticipated by those who practise in the federal jurisdiction. It has such a possibility of protecting the health and safety of workers in the workplace that we are very reluctant to enter into any kind of amendments at this stage that may delay the speedy passage of Bill C-12.
The best thing that could possibly happen is that Bill C-12 gets through report stage, gets into third reading, and gets passed through the Senate prior to the end of this session of the House. If it is left over to the fall, we are fearful that it may jeopardize the progress that has been made through the process of consultation, negotiation and now debate in the House of Commons.
I liken it to a lengthy and exhaustive round of collective bargaining. Seven years ago labour and management sat down at the table to start to review part II of the Canada Labour Code. Both parties came to the table with a number of issues they wanted dealt with. They exhaustively went through clause by clause every aspect of part II of the Canada Labour Code.
Both sides showed real generosity and a spirit of compromise to make it work. Everyone had to compromise their positions and temper their demands with reason so they could put together a package that would be palatable, would serve the needs of their industrial sector, and ultimately protect the rights of workers.
Bill C-12 achieves that in most regards. One of the gains we look forward to in Bill C-12 is the strengthening of the rights of workplace safety and health committees so that they might better oversee the conditions in the workplace to make sure that they do not present any danger to workers.
It allows for regulations that every employer has to establish and monitor a prevention program for the workplace. These are big moves to anyone who actually knows the realities of this industrial sector of federal jurisdiction. To actually have agreed on issues like that one shows huge movement and great progress.
Whereas we are sympathetic to the issue raised by the member from the Bloc at committee, we believe the Canada Labour Code should deal with the rights of pregnant and nursing mothers, but not in part II. Frankly part III of the Canada Labour Code is the area which deals with the reassignment of pregnant or nursing mothers if they feel there is some risk to their health in the workplace.
I should point out that part III is currently being reviewed and amended by the same exhaustive process which we dealt with in part II. We are satisfied the experts in the field, the true practitioners in the field, will be seized of the issue and will make recommendations to amend part III to give satisfaction to those who are concerned about the issue and to those who believe, as we do, that the current code does not go far enough to look after the special interests of that group of workers.
We also believe that it would be wrong at this point to change the definition of danger in part II of the code to specifically point out any group of workers. The definition of danger should be a general clause that deals with all workers in the jurisdiction. It should not point out any particular occupation, trade, gender or age group.
To be truly legally effective, the definition of danger has to be a very general term that will stand up to any challenge from any sector. We believe it was a mistake, although a well meaning mistake, at the committee to seek to amend the definition of danger to specifically refer to any type of worker.
The last and final point is that the only reason we find it necessary to oppose the amendment passed at committee and therefore vote in favour of the amendment we currently have in front of us is the very real fear that if this were subject to review, challenges or exhaustive interpretations by the judicial department, or even if it ran into problems at the Senate because it may add some unnecessary complications to the definition of danger, we may run the risk of delaying the whole bill and losing the opportunity to pass it in this session of the House.
For that reason I urge all members to vote in favour of the motion we have in front of us, which would reverse the vote made at committee to include pregnant and nursing mothers in the definition of danger in clause 2 of part II of the Canada Labour Code.