Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to talk about issues involving the labour code, issues that are somewhat near and dear to my heart given my background growing up as the son of a fairly major labour leader in the country.
As some members may know, my dad was the national director of the United Steelworkers in Canada. He was also vice president of the Canadian Labour Congress as well as chairman of the ICFTU, the International Congress of Federated Trade Unions, the home base of which was in Geneva. My mother and dad had 10 children so home was a bit like a union unto itself. It was at least described as a local, and at times I had to play the role of shop steward in trying to find ways to at least get the food off the table without somebody getting seriously injured.
I have grown up around unions. As a young man I wanted to work in the labour movement, and unknown to my father I applied for a job with the steelworkers so I could be an organizer and go up into the mines in Timmins and perhaps follow in his footsteps. He was not keen on that and told me there was no room for nepotism in the labour movement. He suggested I go find my own career, which I did.
Notwithstanding that, many of the issues being discussed today are issues with which I am quite familiar.
I also had the privilege and opportunity of serving in opposition to the Bob Rae government for the better part of five years where I was, for most of that time, the labour critic of that government. It was fairly easy to be critical of the Bob Rae government, whether it was labour policies, or economic policies or other issues.
The issues of replacement workers or as they have been colloquially referred to, scabs, has always been an issue that causes a tremendous amount of emotion and concern in the workforce, and leads to a lot of situations where there can be violence or problems if real care is not taken in the regulation of them.
While it does not ban outright the use of replacement workers, one thing that the Canada Labour Code does in my opinion, in a far superior way to the provincial labour codes or at least the province with which I am most familiar, Ontario, is it clearly puts into place some rules and regulations, which I would like to share with the House, that I think maintain a sense of peace and harmony in the labour management relations field which we have not enjoyed for a long time.
If we take a look at what is happening in this country, we will see there are disputes but the collective bargaining process is working and it is working well. There is the right to strike if it is a non-essential service, and that is a right that is as inherent in law in this country as one could imagine. It is part of the democratic process and is based upon the fact that the labour movement offers a real and necessary service to protect workers.
Too often people think the labour movement was important 20, or 30 or 40 years ago but is not so important today. I reject that idea. It is even more important today because it has changed dramatically. In the old days everybody worked in the steel industry and it was pretty clear cut what the issues were. It was the same way in the auto industry. Only 25% of the membership in the Canadian Auto Workers actually work in the automobile industry. The rest of them are in various workplaces. It is an extremely varied situation that is not as cut and dried or black and white as it used to be back in the forties and fifties when unions were growing with great strength.
Frankly, I think we should celebrate the fact that we have a very strong labour movement in this country. It is a movement that is dedicated to bettering the quality of life for the workers, with health and safety being a very major issue. It is important not only to the workers but to the people who run the actual unions.
I think more and more the labour movement is finding opportunities of negotiating with governments right across this country, provincial and federal, on how they can improve the situation.
The Canada Labour Code governs about 10% of the labour force while 90% of it comes under provincial jurisdiction. Of course it should be of no surprise that once again we are debating an issue that has a much greater impact on the provincial labour scene than it does on the federal. However that is not to say that we do not have a role to play. In fact we do.
As I have said, the Canada Labour Code does a number of things in relationship to this issue that I think should give some comfort to the labour movement. While it does not ban replacement workers outright, let me share with members what it does do.
Replacement workers, under the Canada Labour Code, cannot claim the status of employees in the bargaining unit, which means they cannot take part in votes on whether the current bargaining agent should be replaced or removed.
I submit that is extremely important. If in fact there is a situation where some replacement workers are being used, they cannot come in and take away somebody's job. It is quite clear that in many cases, particularly today, there is probably a requirement for some skilled training, for some proper knowledge of health and safety rules, and of the use of equipment. Therefore, it is not as easy today as maybe it was 30 or 40 years ago to bring in replacement workers, other than perhaps to use some of the management who might come in and who would know the system. They might have some training to keep the plant going, to keep the lights on while the negotiations take place.
If we were to ban that opportunity outright I think we would tilt the balance of the labour management relations that we have. Particularly in the federal employ we would tilt it too much in the wrong direction.
This gives some protection to workers because they know full well that if they go on strike their jobs are protected under the Canada Labour Code. Once the strike is settled, once they have signed an agreement and have a new agreement in place, they know these people will not be able to take over their jobs.
The next thing that the code does is it gives existing employees in the bargaining unit, as I said, the right to return to their jobs ahead of replacement workers following a work stoppage. I think I covered that in the same description of the first area.
Third, applications cannot be made to change or decertify a union during a prolonged work stoppage without the consent of the Canada Industrial Relations Board.
Certification, decertification, these are all very sensitive issues in the labour movement. I do not want to move away from the issue of replacement workers but as an adjunct to that, on the issue of whether there should be secret ballots in an organizing or certification drive, where the union comes in and wants to convince the employees that it can provide the kind of protection and service that will be to the benefit of those employees, there is a big debate over whether there should be a secret ballot vote.
On the surface, people say that it does not make any sense. Why would there not be a secret ballot vote? It is democratic. It seems fair. Why would we put people in a position where they would have to get involved in the politics of the labour movement?
Let me tell members that if they think this is tough politics, I can assure them that the politics of labour is a real blood sport. There are problems because there is intimidation. We do not see that much today because there are laws that protect against unfair labour practices by management or by the labour movement. However we used to see situations where the actual workers would be intimidated as to how they should vote.
I do not think that is fair and it is not something we should support. People should have the right to decide if they want to join a union or an association without being subjected to any kind of intimidation tactics on the part of an employer or, for that matter, on the part of the union organizers.
I have known a few union organizers in my time. I have known some great ones and I have known some who were not afraid to use the hammer, shall we say, in terms of creating problems in the workplace.
While the Bloc's intention here may be good in the sense that it wants to protect workers by eliminating the use of replacement workers, we have found across the country that provinces have come down on both sides of the issue. There is not a clear agreement. There is no consensus on this particular issue anywhere in the land. Some provinces have banned it outright and others have not touched it at all. Other provinces banned replacement workers, found it did not work and then changed the law again.
As long as there are rules, as long as there is balance and fairness in this thing, the old axiom is, “if it ain't broke, why fix it?”. I do not think there is any evidence, nothing that I have heard argued here today on behalf of the Bloc or anybody else, that would lead me to conclude that this situation is broken or that we need to make this kind of an amendment which could create some kind of chaos throughout the country.
I should also point out that while one cannot apply to decertify a union during this, this is an extremely important aspect for the safety and solidarity of the unions. Just because there is a strike and they have brought in replacement workers to keep the business going, to keep the lights on and the basic fundamentals operating, they cannot, through the back door, turn around and apply to decertify, therefore putting the union out of business and, in essence, break the strike that way. That is not what I would call fair and reasonable labour practices.
The Canada Labour Code addresses that by saying that one cannot decertify during such a time period. My friend shakes his head. I guess he does not like the truth, but that is one of the ways the Canada Labour Code actually protects.
I would also add that there is a further protection under the code, and that is that employees are free to choose their bargaining agent, and work stoppages cannot be prolonged in the hope that workers will be forced to abandon their collective bargaining rights.
I have known men and women who literally have died in the pursuit of the right to bargain freely and collectively in this country. The days are not that far in the past. In my home town of Sault Ste. Marie where I was born and where most of my older siblings grew up, it was and still is basically a one industry town. Algoma Steel would be familiar to everyone. I used to listen to horrible stories of accidents that occurred in the steel plants. I know they would also have happened at Stelco in Hamilton, down on the east coast and wherever. I even heard of stories where the situation was so unsafe that people were actually dragged into a blast furnace and killed in a terrible industrial accident.
We cannot say that those kinds of things will not happen again, but it was not all that uncommon an occurrence in the 1930s and 1940s in this country. While we may have moved way beyond that, we have to recognize the gains that have been made.
Just to give an example of how far I think we have come in labour relations, Canada Post is one of the crown corporations that reports to me as a Secretary of State for Selected Crown Corporations.
I think in general the Canadian public would agree that the labour relations between Canada Post, management and labour have never been better.
I do not know what all the fuss is about but perhaps some members do not understand the labour issues. In any event, the labour relations between Canada Post, the management and labour have never been better. We seem to have peace in our relationships.
There are still some outstanding issues. I know CUPW wants to talk about organizing the rural mail couriers, and that is an ongoing issue that will be dealt with, but by and large we have very good, solid relationships. I think that is as a result of having a law in place, such as the Canada Labour Code, that gives confidence to people on both sides of these issues.
I should also say that the Canada Labour Code, further to the other comments, protects workers who are unfairly dismissed or disciplined during a work stoppage by providing them with recourse to grievance arbitration. It also ensures that employees continue to be covered by their benefit plans during a work stoppage.
What would we achieve if we were to adopt this recommendation by the Bloc Quebecois? If we were to make the amendment then we would come down hard on one side of the issue. I am quite sure people in the corporate sector and people in crown corporations would have concerns. People who run operations in which 10% of the Canadian labour force are employed would be very concerned that we would do anything in a unilateral fashion such as this by simply a stroke of the pen. We have very positive, solid, long term relations with the labour movement in this country, particularly with those who are affected by the Canada Labour Code.
I should say as well, in addition to the issues of what else the Canada Labour Code does to protect workers in case of a strike, that it does prohibit their use if they are hired specifically to undermine a union's ability to represent its members during a work stoppage. I understand that might be subjective and that it might be hard to prove, but in reality in the workplace it is not as hard to prove as one might think. The rhetoric and the heated exchanges that take place during a labour strike, very often the Labour Relations Board would see clearly if there were attempts to decertify or to undermine the credibility of the management of the union.
This actually takes me to an interesting point. People do not really think of a union as a business but I can tell members firsthand that it is a business and a big business. In the 1960s I acted as a chauffeur for my father and a number of his cohorts as we drove from Toronto to Sudbury. I was not totally sure what was going on, but I have since studied it and have found out what was going on. It was called a raid. I think anyone involved in the labour movement would understand what a raid is. It was the United Steelworkers attempting, and successfully doing so, to take over Mine Mill.
That happened in the 1960s. It was not too many years ago, in the early 1990s, 30-some years later, when I was in Sudbury at a meeting and some people wearing Mine Mill jackets came up to me and said that they remembered my father who destroyed their union. In reality, however, the steelworkers led the raid, took over the membership in that area and built the strength of their union.
I can hear members opposite asking what that has to do with the issue. It all has to do with the strength of the labour movement and how one maintains confidence in a relationship in the labour movement. Labour is a business and a big business. Union dues are involved. The labour leaders are absolutely committed and dedicated to representing the men and women, the rank and file who work in the workplace, to ensure they are safe, that they have good collective bargaining agreements and that they are protected, as they clearly are under the Canada Labour Code.
By just simply putting in a motion that would cast aspersions against the code and that would destroy the balance between management and labour, does absolutely nothing to contribute to the labour peace which exists in the country and which protects men and women in every industry, not only the federal industry that is governed under the Canada Labour Code but also by those that are governed under the provincial code.
I think we have struck the right balance and for that reason cannot support the Bloc's motion.