Madam Speaker, it is my pleasure to rise to speak to Bill C-55. I particularly want to thank the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre for the battle he has been fighting for workers for many years.
That has been recognized in this House. Earlier, I heard the Conservative member for Kootenay—Columbia allude to the job done by the member for Winnipeg Centre, and the Bloc Québécois member for Chambly—Borduas acknowledged it as well. This goes to show that discussions have been ongoing in the House of Commons for a number of years. Unfortunately, the then majority government consistently denied workers the opportunity to benefit from wage protection and pension protection in the event of a bankruptcy.
We will recall how shameful and outrageous it was in New Brunswick, when Nakawick went bankrupt, to see employees who had worked for the company for 30 years, who were 53 years old and had not reached retirement age, lose their pension fund.
We have to remember that, when a collective agreement is negotiated, that is part of the so-called package. When you negotiate a collective agreement and the employer agrees to a 12% increase over three years, the pension plan is part of that 12% that the employees have obtained.
What message is this sending? I am not talking about now, because I am in favour of Bill C-55. It is a step in the right direction, but I do not think that it goes far enough. Are we sending unions and employees a message, saying, “Do not negotiate private pension funds. Ask for the maximum amount of money instead. You will be much safer if you handle your money yourself”?
The fact is that an agreement has been signed at the negotiating table, providing that the workers would have a pension fund and that the company would be responsible for setting money aside for these workers.
I am suggesting that this may not be the appropriate legislation. Indeed, when we look at pension funds, instead of having a bill, we should say that a company is responsible for setting aside a fund that neither the company nor any creditor that might come back to collect money following a bankruptcy can touch. That money would be set aside and guaranteed to be there. It would be put in a fund for workers.
As I already mentioned, I find it absolutely appalling when we look at the wage issue. It does not make sense that a man and a woman who get up every morning and go to work for a company, who help it make money over a period of 30 or 40 years, would suddenly find themselves in trouble because the company has filed for bankruptcy after spending too much and not closely monitoring its finances. All of a sudden, at the end of a week, it decides to go bankrupt. As for the workers, it is too bad, but they are not getting anything. It is the banks that will get money before anyone else does.
As regards students, for example, the government is telling them, “You will have 10 years to go bankrupt”, as if students were second-class citizens. By contrast, large corporations would be first-class citizens and would be protected. The Liberal government, and also the Conservative government when it was in office, have always protected big companies.
As we can see in the last budget, the government wanted to grant a $4.6 billion tax cut to large corporations. The Conservatives were not happy when the NDP said no to this minority government. Instead of giving this $4.6 billion to large corporations, we want it to go to ordinary Canadians. We want affordable housing and we want money to be set aside for that purpose, to the tune of $1.5 billion. We want this $1.5 billion to be used to reduce the debt of students, children and Canadians.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives complain daily in the House about how the Liberal government has bowed to the demands of the NDP by giving something to ordinary, everyday people. As if it were disgraceful to give students money. As if it were disgraceful to demand affordable housing so that the homeless can find suitable accommodation. That is how the Liberals saw it. Since they are a minority government, they had to give in. Otherwise, they would have had to put up their little election signs.
The Conservatives cannot believe that the money has not gone to big business. They are upset about it. Once again, they are defending the big banks. I am convinced that if any legislation in Canada were to put the workers first, the workers would be protected.
It is the public who votes in an election, not corporations or the great friends of the government. In fact, a company president gets only one vote. Consider Inco in Sudbury. If it has 8,000 employees, then that many people get to vote for politicians. Inco, however, has only one president.
How can this government show such little respect for the workers and try to make us believe all kinds of things? It is incredible. I was listening earlier to one of my Liberal colleagues say that by not paying them, they are protecting them. He said that they should be happy, since they being protected. He is trying to make them believe that if the money were not given to the bank than they might not have had a job. This is what they want people to believe. Furthermore, this government is trying not only to make us believe but also swallow the fact that workers who leave their employment are not entitled to EI. And if they make a mistake in their EI application, they might end up owing the government $10,000.
However, Mr. Dingwall can resign his position and get a $500,000 severance package. The government feels responsible for a former Liberal minister who has resigned his position. So, it gives him a half a million dollars. But when lowly workers leave their job, they are not entitled to EI. This is completely unfair.
I believe it is time we had a bill, one to which amendments could be made, particularly concerning students, so that they can be treated just like any other Canadian. I hope Canadians are aware of how they are treated. Workers are not entitled to their pension money if there is a bankruptcy, but the banks can get their money. A former minister who is working for the government leaves his job for no valid reason—he should perhaps have been sacked—and is entitled to half a million dollars.
An ordinary worker let go for misconduct is not eligible for EI, but Mr. Dingwall, with his $750,000 in expenses and his $274,000 salary, a man who even claimed the cost of a little pack of chewing gum, is entitled to a half million. Unbelievable.
In another case, a person who has stolen $1.5 million from the Government of Canada writes a $1 million cheque to pay it back and avoids going to jail. What is more, that person acquires the job of going around to our universities telling our students how not to get caught. Unbelievable. What kind of world are we living in?
Personally, I hope Canadians are going to wake up and clearly tell the government, or any political party, that they will no longer put up with this. They want protection. Someone who goes to work wants to get the wages he is entitled to according to the number of hours worked. If the company has been able to enjoy all these profits over the years, the worker at the very least deserves his pay at the end. He also deserves payments from the pension fund that was negotiated for him.
He also deserves a respectable life and a respectable retirement.
This is why we support Bill C-55. It does not go far enough, in my opinion. We should work on it and broaden its scope. All colleagues in the House should sincerely support it. It is not enough to express one's support for workers, while the major corporations and the banks are the ones really getting the support.