Mr. Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to debate this important question of labour policy.
I must inform the House that I do not support the provisions of Bill C-380, and I will tell the House why.
Bill C-380 seeks to amend the Canada Labour Code to allow a pregnant and nursing employee who is subject to federal labour law to avail herself of the relevant legislation in the province in which she works. Under the proposed bill, a pregnant or nursing employee who is subject to federal labour laws will be able to opt out of the provisions of that law in favour of the provincial law.
We should review the subject matter of Bill C-380 in further detail before we can really pass judgment on it. We must ask ourselves a number of questions.
Do pregnant and nursing mothers currently receive adequate protection under the Canada Labour Code?
Members of the House will recall that the issue of protection for pregnant and nursing mothers under the Canada Labour Code already has been studied at the federal level. To ensure that their protection was adequate, the former minister of labour launched a survey of federally regulated workplaces to examine whether the current federal maternity related provisions were adequate and effective. The study found that the maternity related provisions of the Canada Labour Code adequately protected pregnant and nursing women in Canada. It recommended, however, that more efforts be made to inform Canadian employers and employees of their rights and obligations concerning maternity related leave and reassignment.
As members of the House will know, and as members opposite have alluded, there is currently a full review of part III of the Canada Labour Code. Among other things, the review is considering what can be done to help employees achieve a better work life balance, while also taking into account the needs of employers.
What arrangements do employees need to be able to respond to their family and other responsibilities?
What are the specific pressures facing female employees?
What good practices have employers and unions put into place to address these issues?
What legislation or other changes, if any, should be made to the federal labour standards to foster greater work life balance in federally regulated workplaces?
Are any current federal labour standards hindering efforts to provide flexible arrangements to benefit employees?
These are the broad questions that should be asked in a holistic review of the labour standards as they impact on employees' work and family responsibilities. We want to ensure that the federal labour standards remain relevant and reflect the revolving and evolving needs of Canadian workers and employees.
Currently, this review will examine such issues as the protection of pregnant and nursing mothers. However, the review will go much further. It will consider all aspects of the needs to balance work and family responsibilities. That is why it is premature to consider changes to labour standards legislation before the commission has had the opportunity to present its report and its recommendations. I would remind the House that the report will take into consideration the views of employers, the government and employees. It is a tripartite review.
Also the Labour Code already has been amended to provide substantial improvements to protect working pregnant and nursing women. Recently, amendments to part II of the Canada Labour Code gave stronger protection to a pregnant or nursing woman who believed her job may be potentially dangerous to herself, her fetus or her nursing child. If it is determined that a woman's job poses a health risk to herself, her fetus or her nursing child, she is entitled protection under part III of the code, which sets out the standards and employee obligations in the workplace. In these circumstances, part III requires the employer to modify the employee's working conditions or to reassign her to another job. If neither of these options is available, then the employee is entitled to leave.
Let me remind the House that women under federal jurisdiction, if they must take leave, have access to employment insurance which in many cases can be topped up by private insurance plans.
There are also federal-provincial issues to the bill before the House. To put these issues into perspective, it is important to remember that the Canada Labour Code, which the bill seeks to amend, applies only to employees working under federal jurisdiction. Federally regulated employees comprise 10% of the Canadian workforce in sectors of key importance to the Canadian economic infrastructure. They include, among others, workers in banks and in Canada's transportation and communications sectors. That means that 90% of Canadian workers are governed by provincial or territorial labour legislation.
This is a case where federal and provincial jurisdiction is clearly demarcated. This is not a case where federal and provincial governments have a joint role to play. They act independently within their own jurisdictions.
Amending the Canada Labour Code in a way that would allow individuals to choose between federal and provincial laws would only raise cross-jurisdictional issues and would create enormous confusion in the administration of labour laws. When it comes to the Canada Labour Code, we have a strong tradition in our country of consulting with major unions and employer stakeholders. These consultations are now underway regarding a comprehensive reform of federal labour standards.
Over the years we have accomplished a great deal in our approach. We need to keep working together to strengthen our social foundations and create a better way of life for all Canadians. That is why I fully support what the hon. member is doing by reaching out to Canadian women, children and families, but I think Canadians would be better served if we allowed the commission reviewing part III of the Labour Code to complete its work.
I cannot support the bill at this time. It is premature and the issues it raises need more research and study.