House of Commons Hansard #64 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was workers.


Trent-Severn Waterway
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried.

The House resumed from October 16 consideration of the motion that Bill C-292, An Act to implement the Kelowna Accord, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:15 p.m.


The Speaker Peter Milliken

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-292 under private members' business.

(The House divided on the motion, which was agreed to on the following division:)

Vote #45

Kelowna Accord Implementation Act
Private Members' Business

6:25 p.m.


The Speaker Peter Milliken

I declare the motion carried. Accordingly, the bill stands referred to the Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development.

(Bill read the second time and referred to a committee)

It being 6:29 p.m., the House will now proceed to the consideration of private members' business as listed on today's order paper.

The House resumed from June 6 consideration of the motion that Bill C-257, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be now read the second time and referred to a committee.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:30 p.m.



Sylvie Boucher Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages

Mr. Speaker, today we are discussing Bill C-257. For me, the response is self-evident. The Canada Labour Code seeks to balance and to reconcile opposing interests in any labour dispute and not to promote the interests of a single group to the detriment of the other.

I shall explain. We are being asked to amend the Canada Labour Code concerning the use of replacement workers.

Anyone who has studied questions of labour policy closely knows that employing replacement workers is far from unanimously accepted, especially here in this House, to judge from the number of times the question has been debated.

There are those, like the opposition member, who have introduced a bill calling for the prohibition of the use of replacement workers during a legal work stoppage. I am sure that to the member it is almost a profession of faith to maintain that position.

On the other hand, there are those who just as fervently proclaim that an organization must have an absolute right to use replacement workers.

Usually, unions and employee groups are in favour of prohibition while employers normally support the use of replacement workers. Both parties are concerned about their survival.

As it often happens in this kind of debate, both sides offer solid arguments in favour of their positions. It is almost impossible to get either side to accept the point of view of the other. There is nothing surprising about that because we are dealing with a very sensitive issue.

In any event, what concerns me is that Bill C-257 appears to defend the interests of only one party. However, it is clear that as lawmakers our role is not to line up on one side or the other but rather to determine where to find common ground.

I believe that we must ask ourselves whether it is appropriate to arbitrarily amend the Canada Labour Code. Should we not ensure that the Code serves the interests of all the parties involved in labour relations? To me, the answer is clear.

The Canada Labour Code seeks to balance and reconcile the opposing interests in any labour dispute and not to promote the interests of one group to the detriment of the other. The question of replacement workers is a good example of that.

When part I of the Labour Code was amended a few years ago, this House opted for a happy medium between a total ban on the use of replacement workers and the right to use replacement workers.

The code does manage to provide a middle ground by allowing employers to hire replacement workers on a temporary basis and only if their purpose is not to undermine the union's efforts to defend the interests of its members. If an employer's intentions prove less than honourable, the union may appeal to the Canada Industrial Relations Board.

At present, the Labour Code has the merit of not favouring one party at the expense of the other. It leaves it up to the parties to conclude a fair collective agreement without infringing upon the right of the other party to preserve its livelihood. By being impartial, the code offers an approach which strikes a balance between competing interests.

This approach has been in use for some time now and, in most instances, the parties to negotiations under the Canada Labour Code have been reasonably happy with it.

The amendment proposed in Bill C-257 would jeopardize this precious balance. This makes it counterproductive, and therefore I cannot support it.

One also has to measure the impact of the use of replacement workers on the duration of work stoppages.

Some contend that prohibiting the use of replacement workers helps settle labour disputes faster. In their opinion, preventing employers from hiring replacement workers makes the bargaining process more effective. The member opposite shares that opinion.

Still, there are arguments on the other side. In fact, some independent expert studies indicate that in the provinces where the use of replacement workers is forbidden by provincial legislation, that is, in British Columbia and Quebec, strikes last longer, on average 32 days longer. Furthermore the probability of a strike in these provinces increases by 12%.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.

An hon. member

That is not true.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Sylvie Boucher Beauport—Limoilou, QC

The study does not offer any evidence that prohibiting the use of replacement workers is an advantage for employees and employers in those regions. Also, in spite of such legislation, every year Quebec and British Columbia process a large number of complaints pertaining to the use of replacement workers. In other words legislation has not eliminated the problem.

It is also interesting to note that in Ontario, which once prohibited the use of replacement workers, later removed the prohibition. And as my colleagues have already pointed out, the statistics do not show that preventing the use of replacement workers shortens the duration of work stoppages or presents advantages for workers.

We can debate this issue for a long time yet, but I know that everyone here feels that it is our duty to be good stewards of the Canadian economy, as long as workers’ rights and employers’ rights are respected in complete impartiality. Impartiality is the very foundation of the Labour Code.

This is a complex issue. The current provisions of the Labour Code deal with this complexity by establishing a fair balance between the interests of employers and employees.

Moreover the Labour Code prohibits an employer from punishing employees who refuse to replace workers who are locked out or on strike or from penalizing them. It guarantees employees’ right to strike and to regain their job.

At the same time employers may pursue their activities and provide useful goods and services during work stoppages. By allowing conciliation and mediation, part I of the Canada Labour Code can also help the parties concerned to resolve their disputes in an atmosphere of respect. So part I of the Canada Labour Code serves the interests of employers and employees equitably, in the difficult context of a labour dispute.

Passing the amendment proposed in Bill C-257 would upset the precious balance established and this would be completely ridiculous. The House should not support this bill.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:35 p.m.


Bernard Patry Pierrefonds—Dollard, QC

Mr. Speaker, I think it is important for this House to give its full support to Bill C-257 for several reasons, including respect for and consolidation of labour rights, which seem to me to be the most essential elements.

In that respect, this bill is part of Canada's ongoing industrial relations evolution toward guaranteeing fairness and balance between the prosperity of our businesses and the rights of workers.

I would also note that this bill seeks to ensure that labour negotiations take place according to rules that do a better job than we have so far of guaranteeing civility and clarity in the best interests of all parties involved.

Only when all of the parties to a negotiation—or to a labour dispute, if that is the case—are governed by rules that guarantee respect for the rights of each participant can we ensure a process that will mitigate the severity of potential conflicts.

Better yet, clear rules and respect for the rights of the parties are often basic conditions required to avoid worsening the situation and escalating conflict.

That is why this bill deserves the attention and support of the hon. members of the House because it is our primary duty to foster harmonious labour relations, which, in the end, are always good for our prosperity and always benefit our fellow citizens as a whole.

The measures set forth in Bill C-257 establish important standards that will help us achieve these objectives.

We need this bill, or else the rights of workers, which we claim to honour in our legislation, will be ignored and lose all significance or reality.

What would be the purpose of enshrining the right to strike in our legislation if employers could easily keep up the production normally done by the striking workers?

Under these circumstances, the right to strike obviously loses all significance and our laws to protect labour rights would be devoid of any real meaning

As a representative of Quebec in the House, I can attest to the fact that it has been setting a precedent in our country for nearly three decades providing powerful, compelling proof of the benefits of the spirit of this kind of legislation.

Quebec labour law prevents employers from hiring replacement workers, commonly called scabs, when a dispute goes so far as a strike or lockout.

When this Quebec legislation was still at the bill stage, there were very strong and usually negative reactions to it.

There was every reason for this because the spirit of this kind of legislation obviously profoundly altered the labour relations culture that had existed since the beginning of time.

This episode proved that change—especially progress in an area as sensitive as labour relations can be—is never without some conflict and upheavals in the beginning.

However, once the Quebec legislation passed, it did not take all the parties long to find something in it for themselves, to such an extent that there has been a consensus around it for a long time. No one believes anymore that it would be in their best interest to challenge it.

Everyone realizes that when legislation creates unambiguous rules that clearly define and stake out the powers and rights of all parties, negotiations usually benefit, especially because they are a lot more efficient.

What this kind of balance of power does in any industrial bargaining is make it possible for the parties involved to better assess the interests they have in common in any labour dispute.

Employers then become aware of their employees’ interests, and employees are better able to grasp the importance of the company they are working for being able to continue operating profitably and competitively, so that everyone, employers and employees alike, can benefit by ensuring that the company they are working in continues to exist and continues to function.

I would reiterate, however, that to succeed in this scenario, which is based on preserving the commonality of interests and which always benefits both parties at the end of the day, the rules of the game have to be clear and based on the law, and so does the balance of power.

That is where Bill C-257 takes a novel approach, an approach that we must admit is necessary today.

And we have a precedent here in Canada, in the Quebec legislation that bears witness to the wisdom of the legislative action we are being asked to take by supporting the bill we are considering today.

That is why I would like to thank my parliamentary colleagues who have put their efforts into drafting Bill C-257 and introducing it in this House.

In doing this, they have not only done pioneering work at the national level, they have also laid down important benchmarks for the work that must still be done to bring about the kind of prosperity that will provide the greatest possible benefits for Canadians, employers and employees alike.

This is achieved by recognizing and consolidating workers’ rights, in a spirit that also recognizes the interests of our businesses. But we must also not forget the fact that a business is, first and foremost, the sum of everyone who works in it, employers and employees alike.

That is why the more that decisions made by a business are in the common interests of the parties who work there, the greater the guarantees it will have that it will be able to continue operating and that it will have a future.

It is because Bill C-257 reflects that recognition and that spirit that I have the honour of confirming that I will be voting for it.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:45 p.m.


Yvon Godin Acadie—Bathurst, NB

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to stand in the House to speak to Bill C-257, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers).

We know how many times such a bill has been introduced in the House and rejected by only a few votes. Personally, I can speak from experience. Before talking about the bill per se, I would like to make a few comments.

In her speech, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages, the spokesperson for the Conservatives, said that we must reach a balance and that anti-scab legislation is not balance. British Columbia and Quebec both have an anti-strikebreaker legislation that works relatively well. It is not true, as the member said, that such legislation produces an increase in the number of strike days, which is 32 on average. I can say that in my riding, workers in the turf pits remained more than 1,500 days without working when the company Lamèque Quality Group declared a lockout. That is more than 32 days. Strikebreakers were called in and that created violence on the picket line. That was the result.

Our laws give us the opportunity and the right to become members of a labour union. They give us the opportunity and the means to negotiate collective agreements. However, in case of a strike or lockout, we give the employers the opportunity to abuse those rights by hiring scabs who take legitimate workers' jobs. Where is the just balance in that situation?

The Conservative member said that Ontario had had such a law and that the government had decided to eliminate it. But she neglected to mention that it was Mike Harris, a Conservative who was then Premier of Ontario, who eliminated it. She said that there has to be a balance, that things have to be fair. The Mike Harris Conservatives also passed a law saying that every employer should have a poster on their company walls describing how employees could go about getting rid of their union.

If the idea is to find something fair and balanced, I do not understand why that same premier and the Conservatives in Ontario did not pass a law to tell employees how to join a union. How is that balanced? That is what Mike Harris and the Conservatives did in Ontario.

Are the Conservatives workers' friends? Do they deserve workers' votes? It will be up to workers to decide. Is it fair if, when you work for an employer, you cannot go on strike and when you are on the picket line, you watch scabs go by. That happened at a company in Bathurst, New Brunswick, in my own riding. It has been a year now since a man from outside the area came to Bathurst to buy Le Château, a hotel. In the negotiations, he decided to take the employees who were working for $9.50 an hour and reduce their pay to minimum wage, $6.70. The employees opted to go on strike. For more than a year, scabs have been doing the employees' work. It is shameful.

In Quebec, employees of CHNC New-Carlisle have been on strike for more than three years. Three years, and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Minister for la Francophonie and Official Languages has just said that the Conservatives think that having anti-scab legislation in Quebec has led to more strikes.

We must remember that CHNC is under federal jurisdiction and this is why the strike lasted longer. For example the strike at Radio-Nord took years to be settled. I went to Rouyn-Noranda and Abitibi personally to meet with people on the picket lines. Watching the scabs go by was not a pretty sight.

We remember well the strike that took place in the mines in the Northwest Territories, the tragedy that occurred there where once again a company’s employees saw scabs taking away their living—and they say it has to be well balanced. They are capable of prolonging a strike. I come back to Lameque Quality Group, where they were locked out for 43 months, and the provincial government gave loan guarantees during the lockout of $500,000. It was shameful to see.

We can hope that the Conservatives will take a close look at their conscience and have a little heart for the workers, because it is not just anybody that votes for them; I am sure there are also some workers. This is not acceptable. It is as if we arrived at Parliament one fine day and a group of scabs was entering Parliament to do our work. Perhaps we would think differently then.

Looking at Quebec’s experience, looking at what took place in Quebec with the anti-scab legislation, there are fewer strikes and lockouts in Quebec and there is greater harmony between the workers and the companies when it comes time to bargain. The proof is there.

After this legislation was passed by the Parti québécois, the Liberals were elected twice, but they did not dare to remove the anti-scab legislation, even though they could have. That means that it works. In British Columbia, they could have abolished the anti-scab legislation, but they did not because it works. In Ontario, they had strikes under Mike Harris, under the Conservative government and besides that they told employees how to get rid of the unions. That means that the Conservatives do not believe in an association that defends workers.

I never saw a bill from the Conservatives proposing to abolish the right of employers to join the chamber of commerce. To my mind the chamber of commerce is the union of businesses, of employers, of companies. The Conservatives never put forward legislation to prevent employers from joining the chamber of commerce. But they come up with the sort of legislation they introduced in Ontario. Today we see the Conservatives’ reaction.

If we want a healthy work environment, one in which workers can join the association of their choice, we cannot go just part of the way. We cannot cater only to large corporations, to rich companies or individuals who make workers suffer. That is what happened at the Bathurst hotel and workers have been on the picket line for a year, while scabs are doing their work, because the employer reduced their wage from $9.30 an hour to $6.70 an hour, by taking away all their benefits.

This must no longer be tolerated. We need harmony. Rules must be established to prevent abuse, and the only way to prevent it is by enacting legislation to prohibit scabs from entering workplaces to replace workers, who have been granted the right by the government to resort to strike or lockout action. We give workers rights and then we turn around and give them something else that they can break.

We know what happens on picket lines. They fill armoured buses with workers and put their lives in danger. I could perhaps understand scabs who are unemployed and feel they have no other option. But it puts those workers in danger. Then, the police are forced into dangerous situations. We see fighting in the streets that should not happen.

I congratulate Quebec on its anti-scab legislation. I also congratulate British Columbia. It is now our turn, at the federal level, to do our job and become leaders in eliminating the use of scabs.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

6:55 p.m.


Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

Mr. Speaker, allow me first to commend the commitment of my colleague from Gatineau, who introduced the anti-scab legislation, Bill C-257, and who thereby showed his generosity toward and understanding of workers' rights and his dedication to defending them. I would like to congratulate and thank him.

A lot has been said about the anti-scab bill. The hon. member for Acadie—Bathurst spoke about it quite eloquently, as did the Liberal member. They made fine analyses of this bill and the advantages it presents.

I have to say—and it is not said enough—that anti-scab legislation reduces the length of strikes. It also reduces violence on the picket lines and at the employer's facilities. It improves the general mood. If the strike is short and all the people have been respectful for the duration, the mood is far better than at the plant next door where conditions were much worse and more problematic.

This creates balance. It creates balance between the workers and employers in Quebec. This respect and balance in pressure tactics available to each party results in labour peace in Quebec and in British Columbia. This is advantageous both to the employee and the employer.

Everyone wins. In Quebec in the past 30 years, no one has questioned the anti-scab legislation that has existed there all this time. That means we have real labour peace. We have balance. It does not lean to the right of centre or in favour of major industry. That would be a false balance, which is what we currently have in places without anti-scab legislation.

In Quebec, one of the problems is that 90% of workers are under federal jurisdiction and are entitled to the benefits of anti-scab legislation. Some 8% of the workforce in Quebec is under federal jurisdiction and is excluded from these benefits. The Bloc Québécois is working hard for those people in collaboration with all the other stakeholders in Canada. It is for this reason that we have to stop having two classes of workers in Quebec.

On June 6, the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec made some arguments that did not make much sense. He said there was less investment in provinces that had anti-scab legislation. I do not understand why he said that.

First, the Minister of Labour and Minister of Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec, who is also the member for Jonquière—Alma, voted in favour of this bill. I will give you the date. It was November 5, 1990, and it was Bill C-201, introduced by the member for Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour. He voted for it.

On May 1 of this year, when I asked him in this House, he said that, in Quebec, that was fine, that it was a distinct society. I do not agree with him on the term “distinct society”, but it is what he said. He said there was a tradition in Quebec, an obvious culture in favour of anti-scab legislation, but that, as a minister, he had to consider this under a “Canadian angle.” However, he is now telling us that he will vote against this legislation. It makes no sense for the Conservative Party to vote against legislation that is also beneficial for workers across Canada, and not only in Quebec.

If he considers this under a Canadian angle now that he is a minister, he must then change his mind and vote for this bill. Since we are only at second reading stage, he should at least vote on the principle of the bill to give it an opportunity to be studied in committee. There we could really discuss it. He could invite his witnesses who are saying that strikes last longer.

The member for Beauport—Limoilousuggested that anti-strikebreaker legislation would contribute to increasing the frequency of strikes. This hypothesis was disproven by a researcher named J.W. Budd, who, after reviewing over 2,000 collective agreements in Canada, concluded that there is little evidence suggesting that anti-strikebreaker legislation increases the frequency of strikes.

Those are the Conservative Party's arguments. All of its arguments are bizarre, to say the least.

The minister's first argument that there has been less investment in provinces with anti-strikebreaker legislation was quickly disproven using statistics. He has not brought the argument up again.

I would add that the studies he consulted were conducted by the Fraser Institute and the Montreal Economic Institute. We know these two right-wing think tanks manipulate the numbers until they say exactly what employers want to hear. We have therefore taken these studies and the minister's arguments with a grain of salt. He seems to have done the same, because he has not brought those arguments up again.

On September 22, he came back to the House with a second argument. He said something that is worth hearing again:

Thus, there is no evidence indicating that prohibiting the use of replacement workers has any of the alleged benefits for workers—

Not a single one. Tell that to the millions of workers in Quebec. Tell that to all those who have been on a picket line. Tell that to all those who were on a picket line while replacement workers were crossing it to steal their job, their spot, their salary. Tell workers who must get into debt during a strike because of the presence of replacement workers in their plant that an act prohibiting the use of replacement workers is of no benefit at all. Tell that to workers who, along with their family, are experiencing emotional distress because they do not know where they will find the money to pay next month's rent.

So, when the minister claims in this House that there is no evidence indicating that prohibiting the use of replacement workers has any benefits, he is not credible. We know that he is exaggerating. If he had said that there might be a shred of evidence to that effect, we would have taken his comments into consideration, but he said there is no evidence at all. As we know, such sweeping statements are meaningless, and this is what we thought of the minister's argument.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.

An hon. member

It is true.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

7 p.m.


Carole Lavallée Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert, QC

I expected him to come and tell us today that it is the environmentalists' fault, but in the end he did not show up and nor did the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. Not only did he not come here to explain his arguments, he did not even explain them to FTQ officials from the Outaouais region, who wanted to meet with him. He did not even agree to meet with them. Not only does he not want to debate the issue, he does not want to meet these people, and he does not even return their calls. This means that their arguments are either too weak or shameful. That would be surprising, but who knows.

The benefits of such an act can be seen in Quebec, where millions of workers have been protected by such legislation for the past 30 years. We can even provide numbers. In fact, my colleague, the hon. member for Gatineau, will give some very relevant and accurate figures. But we do not need numbers to see what we are seeing, to hear what we are hearing, and to show how effective Quebec's antiscab legislation has been over the past 30 years. It is just common sense.

I invite all members of all parties—and especially members of the government party—to face the facts and vote for their constituents, for their workers, not for their leaders who subscribe to a neo-conservative ideology and too often side with a few company executives instead of with the people. What is important is the human factor.

I see that I have only a minute left, and that is too bad, because I wanted to talk about all the people throughout Quebec and Canada who have mobilized to support this bill. Obviously, the CLC is behind this bill, but so are the FTQ, the CSN and the CSD. They are working and will continue to work very hard to convince the members of this House of the benefits of this bill.

I would also like to talk about Monique Allard of Quebec City, who is getting people to sign petitions, because she really believes in this legislation. There is also Mario Elrick of the CMOU, the Canadian Marine Officers' Union in St. Catharines, who is doing an outstanding job as well. They believe in this legislation. The minister should talk to them instead of to the Montreal Economic Institute or the Fraser Institute, which feed him arguments that do not stand up and that he does not dare repeat here.

I say that we should give this bill a chance in second reading so that it can be discussed in committee.

From the witnesses who appear, we will hear the most intelligent, most brilliant arguments and the experiences people have had. We will also hear all kinds of arguments, including those of the right-wing think tanks of the Minister of Labour and Minister of the Economic Development Agency of Canada for the Regions of Quebec.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

7:05 p.m.


Luc Harvey Louis-Hébert, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened very carefully to the last two speakers.

Someone talked to me about the Bathurst hotel. I would like to inform my colleague from Acadie—Bathurst that that hotel is not under federal jurisdiction. What we are talking about here is federal legislation. I found his example a bit strange. It is as though, by adopting federal legislation for federal companies, we ended up adopting anti-scab legislation applying from coast to coast to coast, in all provinces.

There is a problem here. It is as if the Canadian government decided to encroach on provincial jurisdiction by imposing anti-scab legislation on all of Canada.

Let us make no mistake. Our friend from Acadie—Bathurst talked about the Bathurst hotel. I do not see how that hotel could fall under federal jurisdiction or how it could be seen as a federal company. I would not want to speculate, but I think that that was the hon. member's example.

Following that, they talk about statistics. Every month, when I see the statistics from Radio-Canada, I notice that the unemployment rate in Quebec is from 1% to 1.5% higher than the average for all of Canada. They tell me each time that everything is fine. No, I am sorry, that is not the case. Out of 2.7 million workers, 1.5% more people are unemployed in Quebec. That means that 27,000 workers are not working.

It is for those people that I rise to speak today; for those 27,000 workers who, in the end, have no work, and perhaps that is because of an anti-strikebreaker law that causes employers to locate somewhere else rather than to come to Quebec. It is for those 27,000 workers that I am speaking today.

Whether they talk to me about balance or any other issue, it is a matter of provincial jurisdiction. Each province is free to do what it wants. I see no reason why my government, the Government of Canada, should interfere in these areas of jurisdiction. Quebec has its law and does very well. I am from Quebec and I live with that law. Nevertheless, I do not see why I would try to force all other Canadians to accept what I have at home. I am happy with what I have; it is perfect, but live and let live.

Moreover, I do not see why the Bloc Québécois want to introduce a law today requiring all of Canada to be like them. I am sorry, but I respect my neighbours. If they want to do it, let them do it but it is not up to me to oblige them.