Mr. Speaker, if I may, I would like to be able to make my presentation without hearing all sorts of comments. I respected the hon. members earlier, and I would also like to be able to provide explanations to those listening to us on television. This debate is important, and it is important that people be familiar with the issues.
So, lengthy strikes and lockouts can do enormous damage to Canadian workers, their families and communities. When they happen, the economy of the country suffers.
Hardworking Canadians want a context in which the rules are fair when a dispute arises with their employer. That is why we have to find the balance—I return to this idea of balance between the rights and responsibilities of employers, unions and employees.
Part I of the Canada Labour Code offers a solid system of checks and balances which permits all the parties to resolve their disputes in the context they require. It deals with this matter of antiscab legislation. The Labour Code has three parts, with Part II devoted to occupational health and safety and Part III to labour standards.
Banning the use of replacement workers would make the rules of the game unequal.
Bill C-257 would amend the Canada Labour Code by prohibiting all use of replacement workers anywhere in Canada. Prohibiting their use is not the solution.
I have at hand examples of places in Canada where there is antiscab legislation and where disputes have gone on a very long time. I give you the example of the Syndicat des travailleurs de Mine Noranda and the Noranda-Horne smelter, where 500 employees went on strike in June 2002 and stayed on strike for 11 months, despite the antiscab legislation.
The strike at the Société des alcools du Québec, affecting 3,800 employees, began in November 2004 and lasted three months, despite said legislation.
More recently, the strike involving the workers at Laurenco, Moulins Maple Leaf Ltée and the Syndicat des Métallos has gone on for over a year, since March 2, 2005, despite said legislation.
The lockout involving the Lallemand employees and the CSN, which began three months ago, is also still going on.
So I repeat that Bill C-257, which would prevent the use of replacement workers, is not the solution since it would upset the balance.
Moreover, I would like to dispel today the myth that the use of replacement workers prolongs labour disputes. In fact, a recent independent study refuted the idea that the use of replacement workers prolongs disputes or creates violence on the picket lines. The study clearly shows that the fact of prohibiting the use of replacement workers leads to longer labour disputes that are increasingly destabilizing.
These observations discredit the theory that the use of replacement workers gives rise to more frequent and longer strikes in Canada. The opposite is true. Recent studies show that, where there is anti-scab legislation, disputes last 32 days longer than where there is no such legislation.
As the members know, labour legislation in Canada was amended not too long ago. The Canada Labour Code was amended in 1999, just seven years ago, in order to modernize our legislation and improve collective bargaining. Every day we can see the advantages of the amendments and improvements made. Furthermore, these amendments were the result of lengthy consultations among stakeholders in the labour world. The exercise included a study conducted by Andy Sims, a former labour board chair.
The question of replacement workers was studied at length and with care at the time of the consultations and the debate in the House of Commons. During the consultations, the workers’ and employers’ representatives were able to reach agreement on a number of reforms when the legislation was amended. Still, it quickly became clear that there were two opposing camps on the issue of replacement workers. The members of the Sims task force were also unsuccessful in reaching a consensus on this thorny issue.
The current provisions respecting replacement workers in part I of the Labour Code in a way implement the recommendations that were supported by the majority of the members of the Sims task force. These provisions prohibit the use of replacement workers during a legal work stoppage if such use undermines the union’s ability to represent its members. This is regarded as an unfair labour practice. When a representative, employee or member of the union finds that replacement workers were used to undermine their representational capacity, they can file a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Then the complaint is analysed immediately by the CIRB.
The current provision is relatively new—it is only seven years old. We are still monitoring its effectiveness. That said, I can assure you that parties undertaking collective bargaining in Canada under part I of the Canada Labour Code have accepted this approach as a reasonable compromise.
We must consider another important principle. Let us go back to the negotiations I mentioned earlier. Some say that the employer's right to lock out employees offsets the union's right to strike, but that is not the case. The employer's right to continue operating during a strike corresponds to the employees' right not to go to work. The current provision in the code aims to balance the interests of both parties.
With respect to strikes, about 97% of all collective agreements under federal jurisdiction renewed in 2005-06 were signed without a work stoppage. This is a clear indicator of the health of our economy and the effectiveness of the code.
In closing, I would like to remind the members that since this legislative provision was adopted by this House in 1999, 18 grievances have been submitted to the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Thirteen were withdrawn, three were rejected, and two are still being examined. This sounds like balance to me.
Although unions are exerting a lot of pressure, I do not think we should respond immediately. We have to consider both sides. That is what happens now under the act adopted in 1999, which creates the best balance between workers, employers and employees.