This week, I changed much of the tech behind this site. If you see anything that looks like a bug, please let me know!

House of Commons Hansard #128 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.

Topics

Business of the House

September 29th, 2005 / 10 a.m.

The Speaker

It has been brought to my attention that a clerical error has been found in the report to the House on Bill C-11, the public servants disclosure protection act.

In the Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates, a subamendment to clause 24(1)(b) was not recorded correctly in the English version of the report. Regrettably, the report to the House and the reprint of the bill have included this error.

Clause 24(1)(b) should read as follows:

(b) the subject-matter of the disclosure is not sufficiently important or the disclosure is not made in good faith;

Therefore, I am directing that a corrigendum to the report be prepared to insert the correct words in the English version of clause 24(1)(b). In addition, the working copy of the bill will be corrected in its next edition after third reading.

Environment and Sustainable Development

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to lay upon the table, pursuant to subsection 23(3) of the Auditor General Act, the report of the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development to the House of Commons for the year 2005.

This report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on the Environment and Sustainable Development.

Chief Electoral Officer

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I also have the honour to lay upon the table the report of the Chief Electoral Officer, entitled “Completing the Cycle of Electoral Reforms”. This report is deemed permanently referred to the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs.

Individual Members' Expenditures

10 a.m.

The Speaker

I have the honour to table the document entitled "Individual Members' Expenditures for the Fiscal Year 2004-05".

Order in Council AppointmentsRoutine Proceedings

10 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, the government has been very busy over the last number of months, and that is why I have the honour to table, in both official languages, a considerable number of orders in council recently made by the government. These will be deemed referred to the appropriate standing committees.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Liberal Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present the 46th report of the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs received from the Subcommittee on Private Members' Business.

Therefore, pursuant to Standing Order 91.1(2), this report contains items added to the order of precedence under private members' business that should not be designated non-votable.

PetitionsRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

NDP

Bill Siksay NDP Burnaby—Douglas, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am honoured to table a petition this morning from a number of residents of Vancouver Island, in Parksville, Chemainus, Nanaimo and Qualicum. The petitioners are calling on Parliament to amend the Canada Health Act and corresponding regulations to include intensive behaviour intervention therapy treatment and applied behaviour analysis for children who live with autism.

The petitioners are also calling on Parliament to contribute to the creation of academic chairs at universities in each province to teach these important therapies. These folks are calling on Parliament to serve children with autism and their families in a way that is better than what is currently happening.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Beauséjour New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I ask that all questions be allowed to stand.

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Is that agreed?

Questions on the Order PaperRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, discussions have taken place among all parties concerning the debate scheduled for later this day on the second report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans. I believe that you would find consent for the following motion:

That the debate on the second report of the Standing Committee on Fisheries and Oceans scheduled for later this day be deemed to have taken place, the question deemed put, a recorded division requested and deferred to the end of government orders on Wednesday, October 5, 2005.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Does the hon. chief government whip have the unanimous consent of the House to propose the motion?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Some hon. members

Agreed.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Conservative

John Duncan Conservative Vancouver Island North, BC

Mr. Speaker, we would be prepared to adopt the motion on division, if that would be preferable to the government.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

Can the first motion be put and the division deferred until next week? Is that part agreed to now? Having agreed to that, is it possible to have the motion deemed adopted on division instead of proceeding with the deferral?

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

Liberal

Karen Redman Liberal Kitchener Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, we would require some time to consult. If we could, we would like to revisit this perhaps later today.

Committees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

10:05 a.m.

The Speaker

The matter has now been dealt with. The motion has been put to a vote and the division has been deemed demanded and deferred to next Wednesday at the conclusion of government orders. If there are any changes, we will hear from the members of the House in due course and can change it.

The House resumed from September 28 consideration of the motion that Bill C-55, An Act to establish the Wage Earner Protection Program Act, to amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act and the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Wage Earner Protection Program ActGovernment Orders

10:05 a.m.

London North Centre Ontario

Liberal

Joe Fontana LiberalMinister of Labour and Housing

Mr. Speaker, as I began my debate yesterday with regard to Bill C-55, the wage earner protection program, I indicated that I think this is a fundamental new bill that speaks to the aspirations of working men and women who get up each and every day to work and expect to be paid for the work and the time they have put in.

Bill C-55, a combined effort with my colleague, the Minister of Industry, is about helping working men and women, about the protection of workers whose employers are undergoing restructuring or become bankrupt. Under the current system, as I said yesterday, too many workers are vulnerable when employers enter into a restructuring or file for bankruptcy. Canadian workers suffer lost wages, reduced pension benefits and an uncertainty that the collective agreements in place may be unilaterally challenged by a court. That is unacceptable to this government and, I am sure, unacceptable to most members in the House.

Let me explain again what this program will mean for those unpaid workers. Under the current system in a bankruptcy, three-quarters of the workers receive nothing for their work even though they had gone to work for their employers. At the end of the day, three-quarters of them get absolutely nothing. Overall, the average payout is only about 13¢ on the dollar. That is why I believe this bill is important for working men and women.

The situation facing unpaid workers in Canada exposes a real gap in our system. Clearly, changes are needed. That is why this government is taking action to protect workers' wages. For example, we are now proposing new measures in this bill that will provide workers guaranteed payment for unpaid wages of up to $3,000. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 workers in all sectors, in all provinces, in both jurisdictions, are left with unpaid wages or reduced pensions due to employer bankruptcies in Canada. We intend to rectify that situation.

The reforms will also amend the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act to establish a limited superpriority for unpaid wage claims of up to $2,000. Under the new limited superpriority, a unpaid worker will be one of the first to be paid from the current assets of the bankrupt employer.

The limited superpriority for unpaid wages better balances the risk of bankruptcy between employees and other creditors of the bankrupt company. We believe that right now the burden weighs too heavily on the employees and that workers' wages, their time, their effort and their covenant to go to work each and every day must be respected. I believe this will also assist the government in recouping its costs in the wage earner protection program because it will be the government which will try to recoup this from the estate of the bankrupt company and the workers will not necessarily have to do that.

The payment of up to $3,000 will immediately be paid to those workers who are waiting for their wages to be paid for work they have already done. To provide a better balancing of risks, secured creditors whose security was comprised by the limited superpriority will be granted a preferred claim to the extent that their security was compromised. This will reduce the effects of the reforms on secured creditors.

The issue of pensions also concerns many Canadian workers. Currently when a company goes bankrupt, contributions taken from employees' paycheques may not be paid to the pension plan for them, and the contributions that employers should have made are only paid after almost every other creditor gets paid. I am sure we would all agree that this is unacceptable. People go to work each and every day, each and every week, each and every year, and surely at the end of their working career, through a choice of their own, perhaps, their pensions ought to be there. The proposed reforms would improve this situation.

In a bankruptcy, a receivership, a proposal or a CCAA filing, contributions that an employer should have made or that were deducted from an employee's paycheque would be required to be paid into the pension plan for the benefit of workers because most other creditors get paid.

When employers are trying to restructure under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act to avoid bankruptcy, this reform would provide a mechanism whereby employers and unions could try to renegotiate the collective agreements under the relevant labour legislation, and that is because this government believes in collective bargaining. It believes that the arrangements that have been made between an employer and its employees should be respected and not be allowed to be taken away, that contract that has been entered into should not be frivolously taken away from the parties. If there is no arrangement that can be made, then existing collective agreements remain in force. I believe that is an important principle to which we want to adhere.

If changes were agreed to, the union representing the employees would have a right to claim in the bankruptcy an equal amount to the concessions that they granted as damages and this amount would be as an unsecured creditor. Again, that speaks to a great principle. Above all it would guarantee workers' rights again under existing collective agreements.

The reforms would also clarify that the regulatory procedures available under any labour legislation would be allowed to continue when an employer is trying to restructure under the insolvency regime. This would ensure that the rights and the obligations of the employers, unions and employees in the areas of industrial relations, occupational health and safety and labour standards would continue to be enforced by the regulators. However regulators would continue to be stayed if they were acting as a creditor to the employer.

We have listened to the stakeholders and to our partners. We have listened to Mr. Georgetti at the CLC; to Mr. Hassan Yussuff, the secretary-treasurer; to Mr. Buzz Hargrove from the CAW; and to Mr. Ken Neumann from the United Steelworkers Union. We have consulted widely with the small business community to ensure that this is a balanced act that speaks to not only the needs and the requirements of small business but, more important, to the working men and women who in fact make businesses successful and make this economy so successful.

Therefore we have put forward an ambitious legislative agenda. I believe there is consensus in the House to support the bill. I would hope that the other parties support the bill. The day has come that we stand up for working men and women in this country, protect their wages, protect their pensions, protect their collective bargaining and the negotiations that have taken place. We believe this is a forward looking plan that speaks to our constituents, to the men and women who, each and every day, get up and go to work. All they expect is to be paid their wages, that their pensions are in place and that their collective agreements will stand.

We look forward to the support of all parties. This is too important of an issue for us to play politics with. We would hope that the committee would deal with it as quickly as possible so we can become law in the next number of weeks.

Wage Earner Protection Program ActGovernment Orders

10:15 a.m.

NDP

Pat Martin NDP Winnipeg Centre, MB

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for introducing the bill. It is something we in the NDP have been awaiting for a long time and we welcome it. As the minister pointed out in his remarks yesterday, there are over 10,000 commercial bankruptcies a year in this country leaving many employees owed back wages, benefits, et cetera. The bill, I would hope, puts the interests of workers first in the event of a bankruptcy.

My question is a technical question which has two parts.

First, the total amount of back wages that the employee could draw from the new wage protection fund is $3,000. We find that figure low by the calculations that we have done of the bankruptcies that we know of. I would ask him how they arrived at that figure, and it is something we obviously will raise at committee.

The second part of the question, though, is that the government would seek to have those wages reimbursed by standing in line as a creditor when the trustee of the bankruptcy discharges the bankruptcy. In other words, it would try to get that money back from the bankruptcy but it would only try to get back $2,000. Why should the bankrupt company be allowed to get away with the other $1,000 margin that it is contemplating? Why do we not try to get all the money back that the government pays out to the affected employee?

Wage Earner Protection Program ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Fontana Liberal London North Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the comments of the hon. member from Winnipeg who has been very supportive of the bill. He has even had a private member's bill that was sort of complementary to this one. However let me address his question.

First and foremost, I think we have done a great deal of analysis with regard to the $3,000 cap. We believe that the $3,000 cap will be sufficient to cover off approximately 97% to 97.5%. In other words, when we calculated the small businesses and wages that have been lost, the $3,000 seems to capture most of it. We will look forward to presenting some of that information in committee.

I am flexible. If we need to move it up I can only say that I think the $3,000 will meet the true test to ensure that everybody gets his or her money. We do not want to play games with people's wages, at least as a government and through this particular bill. Obviously that is a great leap from the 13¢ on the dollar that is now being recovered under a piece of legislation that is obviously not working for workers, and so on and so forth.

Yes, we will try to cost recover but the government will be the creditor in terms of being able to recover money from the estate of the bankrupt company if there is any particular money. We believe that not only the $3,000 but the limited super priority will ensure that we can recover some of that money, which is why I indicated up to $2,000. We are prepared to look at whether that needs to be changed. That is why we think the net cost for this particular program, once there is cost recovery of some sort, is about $30 million or could increase to $50 million.

We look forward to discussing the details of whether that cap of $3,000 is sufficient, which we believe it is, and whether the $2,000 cap with regard to cost recovery is enough. We are prepared to present evidence that it would be enough. I thank the member and his party for their support as we move forward on this important legislation.

Wage Earner Protection Program ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Peter Goldring Conservative Edmonton East, AB

Madam Speaker, I appreciate the goal of the bill. I think it is an admirable goal because employees are sometimes the ones who lose out in cases of bankruptcies. However the question and concern I have is about the number of bankruptcies a year, at about 11,000 that is indicated by the information. Of those, how many actually do leave the employees in the lurch? Is there an average percentage or number?

From my own business experience, it is very common that most companies going into bankruptcy do have options. They have options sometimes of paying employees, paying key suppliers or protecting their own personal loans and securities. They have these options and that is just a reality. To come back afterwards on those is extremely difficult.

However with those types of options my concern is too that if the great majority of companies that would be subject to this, or of the 10,000 businesses a year now that do pay out their employees, would there be some monitoring in the future to see if the percentage changes or shifts, to see if this does not actually help those potential bankruptcy companies to off-load the responsibility onto the government, viewing this more as, in effect, an additional revenue source that they can use on their last minute bailout? Will there be monitoring of those circumstances?

Wage Earner Protection Program ActGovernment Orders

10:20 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Fontana Liberal London North Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, that is an important question. During the consultations we wanted to ensure that the burden would not be shifted to the taxpayer or to the government and that it would remain where it should. In our consultations with the Bankers Association and other small business groups, we were able to set the priorities that we thought would not switch the balance but would make employers that much more responsible.

Yes, we need to monitor to ensure that kind of offloading does not happen.I The member has raised an important question. The employer does have options before receivership or bankruptcy. Most of the small business people I know treasure their workers and go out of their way to ensure they look after what they can. However sometimes situations occur where that might be impossible and therefore four or six weeks worth of wages may very well be impacted.

We are really talking about people who are the working poor. In most cases, in the federal jurisdiction, in telecommunications, transportation and so on, labour unions and employees look after themselves but it is the small business people who are making $6, $7 and $8 an hour. I think members will find, as we debate this and as it goes through committee, that we have looked at a way of ensuring we have balanced the interests of small businesses, that do have a number of options and do look after their own employees, with the needs of the people who are working, for the most part, in the retail sector, in the low wage sectors of our economy. Those are the very people we want to protect.

Wage Earner Protection Program ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Carole Lavallée Bloc Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Madam Speaker, I thank the minister for his presentation.

The Bloc Québécois will be supporting this bill in every way, because we believe that it is a step, albeit a small one, in the right direction. The direction taken is what matters to us above all.

We do have some concerns, however, which I will raise later during the course of the day.

Yesterday, the minister said there were precedents to the wage earner protection program. That is indeed the part of the bill that presents the most interest. Similar programs already exist in the United Kingdom and Australia, where action was taken on this issue.

I would like the minister to describe these precedents and tell us when such approaches were developed and which were the most interesting and conclusive results. I would also like to know which aspects of these precedents the minister took his inspiration from.

Wage Earner Protection Program ActGovernment Orders

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Joe Fontana Liberal London North Centre, ON

Madam Speaker, I thank the Bloc Québécois and its critic for their support of the bill. I look forward to positive and constructive suggestions from her and her party.

Canada will be among some countries that have indicated that they want to protect wages for working men and women. The member mentioned the U.K. and Australia. In some cases there are other countries where the employers must pay for this particular benefit for their workers and in some cases it is the government, through the taxpayer, that will look after these particular workers. There are various arrangements between countries.

Ontario had a wage earner protection program some time ago but the employer was expected to contribute. Of course when the Conservative government of Mr. Harris came into Ontario he scrapped the wage earner protection program because obviously he did not want the employers to have to pay for it.

We will share numerous examples with our colleagues. We believe this model of having the government, through the taxpayers, make an investment of $30 million to $50 million a year to look after our working men and women, the most vulnerable in our society, is a small investment. We will share examples from other countries with the committee as it looks to developing the proper model. After having looked at all of the models around the world we believe this one is the right one for Canada.