Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join the debate on the motion brought forward by my colleague from Regina—Qu'Appelle on a compelling and important issue.
I am disappointed in some of the comments on the motion from some of the speakers. By the same token I am heartened and encouraged by some of the remarks that I have heard from members of the Bloc Quebecois and Progressive Conservative Party.
Many of those speakers pointed to the social benefits of an increase in paid holiday time. One member stated that there was nothing wrong with being able to get to know one's children. Just because a person works in a day to day job to put food on the table, there are additional secondary benefits to more time spent with one's family and more time to develop as a person as well, as a more rounded individual, through leisure time and activities.
One thing that did not come up in some of the debate was the obvious benefit in terms of job creation, in spreading the work opportunities throughout the workforce. One more paid week of vacation spread across the public sector workforce or the workforce under the Canada Labour Code would create enormous opportunities for others to enter the productive workforce. I am thinking specifically, given the nature of the debate later today, of the aboriginal community. Even though Canada enjoys a relatively low level of unemployment, that level of unemployment is epidemic in the aboriginal community. We need to create opportunities and vacancies for aboriginal people to join the mainstream workforce. This reduction of work time is one way that we could observe that.
In the 19th century Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federation of Labour, stated:
As long as there is one person who wants work and cannot find it, the hours of work are too long.
It can be said that in many workplaces under the federal jurisdiction unionized workers do enjoy four, five or even six weeks of vacation time because of negotiated collective agreements. That is not the norm for many people under federal jurisdiction. There are no unions in the banking sector and in a large part of the communications sector.
Members were using the United States as an example. It has no guaranteed paid holidays, while its rate of unionization is at 12%. In the Canadian workforce 30% of workers are unionized and can enjoy the protective umbrella of a collective agreement.
We have heard about the health benefits, the reduction in stress and the more productive workforce. Workers do not have to take time off for personal needs nearly as much, whether caring for the family, dealing with their home life issues, or dealing with a dental appointment. With a reduced workweek the productivity actually spikes because people are taking less time off for personal days. The European community experience has been, even for those countries that have gone to a 35 hour workweek and six weeks paid vacation, that productivity has gone up and that these changes meant no loss in pay.
There are numerous benefits to this point of view and mindset. If we are to enjoy the gains in profits and productivity that we have made over 20 good years, as far as the economy goes, these benefits should be passed on to employees in terms of quality of life issues, whether it means a shorter workweek or more weeks of paid vacation per year. The motion was put forward not in terms of some kind of selfish grab so that workers could have more leisure time. It was put forward for all the best of intentions, that we be a healthier and more robust and productive economy with a workforce that could enjoy more paid vacation.
I would like to cite the example of Sweden. Sweden has six weeks of paid vacation as the norm but it also has 16 days of paid education leave above and beyond holiday time so that workers can expand their skills in a job related way or adopt other hobbies and skills to develop as well rounded individuals. That is the kind of environment that we would like to see promoted in Canada.
It is a timely and topical debate for the House of Commons. As we keep raising it, we hope it will capture the imagination of Canadian workers and the Canadian public to adopt this progressive motion.