House of Commons Hansard #34 of the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was budget.


Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

7:15 p.m.


Marcel Proulx Liberal Hull—Aylmer, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the opportunity of presenting arguments to the members of this House I hope will convince some of them to support Bill C-257, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code.

Despite the remarks by the Minister of Labour, I want to congratulate him for coming and presenting his arguments himself or rather his officials' arguments, I should say.

The rights attached to the workplace have always been important to Canadian families. Work is a source of pride and dignity for workers. No one likes being replaced in cavalier fashion. No one likes feeling left out and no one wants to stay on the picket lines for weeks.

Harmonious relations between workers and employers is also essential. A dragged out dispute poisons relations, slows the return to work and dampens employee enthusiasm. A strike is never desirable, but a strike that becomes confrontation can leave wounds for many years.

For all these reasons and many more, we must support an amendment to the Canada Labour Code to ban the use of replacement workers, or strikebreakers, during strikes and lockouts.

First off, a careful read of the Canada Labour Code reveals the following at the start:

—there is a long tradition in Canada of labour legislation and policy designed for the promotion of the common well-being through the encouragement of free collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of disputes;

The use of strikebreakers or replacement workers is in direct contradiction with the preamble. As I will show, this omission in our Canada Labour Code makes a significant difference in the number of days lost for our workers and for businesses in Canada.

In addition, this bill is fundamentally important because it will serve to protect Canadian workers who come under the Canada Labour Code. It will, most importantly, mean an end to the categorization of Canadian workers, because according to their province or type of work, they may or may not be protected by similar legislation on the use of strikebreakers.

Indeed, this means we have two categories of workers in Canada and that is not acceptable for a country that respects the rule of law. Canada is a defender of human rights internationally, but in its own backyard it has a hard time imposing standard working conditions that are fair to all its workers. This situation is unacceptable.

The purpose of Bill C-257 is to amend the Canada Labour Code by putting an end to the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts. There is an important point we must understand. The use of strikes by employees is a legally recognized means to settle a disagreement with the employer, just as lockouts are a recognized means for the employer. The problem is that strikes become meaningless when the employer uses replacement workers. One could say that the employer has an incomparable advantage in the negotiation process. This process, which should be approached on a level playing field, currently gives the advantage to the employer.

What is the advantage? It is being able to hire replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or locked out. This situation takes away some of the negotiating power from labour representatives.

This strong bargaining position of the companies undermines the negotiating process with the workers since the use of replacement workers provokes anger on the picket lines, which can lead to violence, especially when buses—often escorted by police—try to cross the picket lines.

In such a context, it is not uncommon for vehicles to hit and injure legally demonstrating union workers. The employer has an unfair advantage in dragging out the negotiations since it makes a profit on the lower salaries it pays the replacement workers.

This situation contributes to diminishing the capacity of the striking workers to reach a negotiated agreement that responds fairly to their claims.

Consequently, replacing workers who are defending their rights on the picket line does not bode well for harmonious future labour relations between the parties.

Including a provision in the Canada Labour Code to prohibit the use of scabs would prevent work disruptions that are needlessly long or even simply needless in vital sectors of Canada's economy.

For purposes of comparison, 93% of workers in Quebec are covered by Quebec's labour legislation. Consequently, there is no reason why 7% of workers in Quebec should not be covered by the Canada Labour Code. There cannot be two classes of citizens in Canada. As well, statistics show that having an anti-scab law helps reduce the number of days lost because of labour disputes, despite what our colleague from Louis-Hébert said. The average work time lost from 1992 to 2002 is 15.9 days for workers who come under the Quebec Labour Code and 31.1 days for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. That represents a difference of 95.6% in days of work lost. Those lost days represent a lot of money for companies and for Canadian workers.

Another interesting statistic justifies an amendment to the Canada Labour Code. In 2002, even though workers under federal jurisdiction made up 6.6% of the labour force in Quebec, they accounted for 48% of the days lost because of labour disputes. Third, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees from 1999 to 2002 is 121.3 for workers covered by the Quebec Labour Code, compared to 266.3 for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. This is a huge difference: 145 more days of work lost. It can be attributed largely to the use of scabs.

Of course, Quebec is not the only province with such a labour law. As was mentioned earlier, British Columbia passed a similar law in 1993, which reduced strike days to levels comparable to those in Quebec. It also resulted in a 50% drop in the ratio of time lost. Similar anti-scab legislation is producing remarkable results.

Ontario adopted anti-scab legislation in 1992, but scrapped it a few years later following a change in government. Despite the rhetoric spouted by opponents, there were fewer work stoppages, union demands were more moderate and there was less agitation on picket lines during the period in which this legislation was in effect.

I would now like to give a specific, although not unique, example: Vidéotron in Quebec, which my colleague from Gatineau has already mentioned. We could not forget this labour dispute that lasted more than 10 months. The dispute affected more than 2,200 employees of the cable company, who were on strike or locked out from May 2002 to March 2003. This long labour dispute deteriorated and one of the major causes of the deterioration was the use of scabs. Because of the company's action, people committed acts of vandalism to company property. If such a law had been in effect, that vandalism likely would not have taken place, since frustrations would not have mounted so high.

I could give other examples. We need only think of the recent labour disputes involving CBC, TELUS, Sécur Desjardins, Cargill and Radio-Nord. These disputes illustrate the damage that can be caused by the lack of such protection within our labour legislation.

We must bear in mind the human factor, above all, in this legislation. Yes, this factor must be considered, because the feeling of not being respected by an employer who chooses to use scabs undermines the morale of workers. Depending on the length of the dispute, this can lead to family problems and household debt that could have been avoided.

Of course, I could go on at length, for several hours even. It is the government's duty to implement measures to ensure that the atmosphere of labour relations is fair and equal across Canada.

In conclusion, anti-scab legislation is crucial, because it will allow for greater transparency and fairness in the resolution of labour disputes. This is why I rose to speak in the House today, to defend the interests of all Canadian workers.

I ask the House to promote the well-being of our citizens at work by supporting Bill C-257.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

7:25 p.m.


Libby Davies NDP Vancouver East, BC

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise in the House today as the labour critic for the NDP to speak in support of the bill put forward by the Bloc Québécois. We are very happy that this bill is in the House. Indeed, I seconded the bill, as did many of my colleagues in the NDP. As the member from the Bloc has said, this is a repeat effort to bring this very important issue forward in Parliament to ensure that the rights of workers are secured in this country where they are federally regulated.

I want to say on behalf of the NDP we understand that freedom of association, collective bargaining and the right to strike are fundamental labour rights in Canada. In fact, these are hard won rights that historically workers have died for in some cases. The issue in the bill we are debating today is fundamental and central to the rights of workers in Canada, and that is the use of strikebreakers.

Labour rights are a human right. Workers have the right to withhold their services if collective bargaining fails. Fair wages, a safe workplace, pay equity, health care and pensions are all hard fought achievements of the labour movement and collective bargaining. However, there is still a glaring omission, and that is that there is no adequate federal provision to ensure that the use of replacement workers or strikebreakers is banned in this country.

I heard the Minister of Labour earlier today raise the question as to whether this proposed bill is good. Yes or no, he asked. He went on to point out that workers want to have rules that are fair. He said that we need to strike a balance between the rights of employers and the rights of unions. I have to ask the minister, is it fair when members of a union have legally gone on strike, they should have their right to strike completely undermined by the use of strikebreakers? I do not think this is a fair situation whatsoever. There is nothing balanced about that. There is nothing that is balanced in the favour of workers.

In fact, the provisions presently in the Canada Labour Code are very inadequate. If they were adequate, we would not be debating this bill today.

We have to be very clear that we are dealing with the fundamental issue of the rights of workers and the fact that when workers go on a legal strike, they have an expectation and a right to assume that the rules will be fair and balanced. We believe it is very important that federal legislation affecting workers under federal jurisdiction acknowledge the right to expect that strikebreakers will not be allowed.

We have already heard that in British Columbia and Quebec this legislation is working in the provincial jurisdictions. We can point out very clearly that when legislation like this is in place, we actually see an environment that produces labour stability. The government in British Columbia is not a progressive government. It is a centre right government, yet it understands that this provision in the B.C. labour code is something it would not dare touch because it has brought stability to the workplace in British Columbia.

By contrast, the very nasty TELUS labour dispute and the lockout of TELUS workers went on month after month in B.C. This was a huge issue. One of the reasons it went on for so long is that those workers were under federal regulation and there was nothing to protect them from the use of strikebreakers, contracting out and out sourcing jobs. It made the strike go on much longer.

There is also the example of Vidéotron in Quebec. There is the example of the CBC. I would add another one.

Last weekend I was very fortunate to travel to Yellowknife to participate with members of PSAC and the Union of Northern Workers who have now been on strike for about 60 days against a huge multinational corporation, BHP, which has refused to negotiate in good faith. One of the big issues in that strike in Yellowknife is the use of contractors, which really are replacement workers or strikebreakers.

Again we see an example where workers have legally gone on strike. In this case they are trying very hard to get a first collective agreement. They are up against a massive multinational corporation, the Australian BHP Billiton that had worldwide profits of $7.5 billion in 2005. This is a very powerful corporation. What tools do these workers have to ensure that they get a fair collective agreement if they are constantly being undermined in their right to strike by the use of what the employer calls contractors but in effect are strikebreakers?

That is a very recent example of where if there were adequate provisions in the Canada Labour Code for federally regulated workers, we would be protecting the rights of those workers at the diamond mine in the Northwest Territories. I want to congratulate the member for Western Arctic for the strong stand he has taken to uphold these very fundamental rights of the members of the Union of Northern Workers, Local 3050. They are taking on a very difficult struggle.

I would love to be able to say that this legislation is going to go through so that we can ensure that the kind of situation that is taking place in that strike in the Northwest Territories does not have to be repeated in any other situation where federal regulation occurs.

I want to make one other point. Clearly, 100% of the members of the NDP will be supporting Bill C-257. In fact, I mentioned Bill C-295 earlier which is our own bill against strikebreaking. The member for Vancouver Island North has brought that bill forward. We will be debating that bill also. We want Bill C-257 to go to committee. We want discussions to take place to strengthen the bill. The Canadian Labour Congress has a very intensive campaign under way. The NDP will be participating in that campaign. I want to say that we are going to get this bill through.

It was such a huge disappointment and quite appalling that in the last Parliament virtually the same bill was lost by less than a dozen votes. Members in the House had better be aware that there will be a very active campaign undertaken on this bill for anti-scab legislation.

I heard the member from the Liberal Party. Of course the Bloc will support the bill because it is the Bloc's bill. The NDP will support the bill. There were Conservative members in the last Parliament who supported the bill. We are hoping very much that members of the Liberal caucus will also support this bill.

We have this opportunity in this Parliament to actually do something that will make a real difference in the lives of workers and protect their rights. Passage of the bill would actually produce a stability and a benefit for the whole community and the economy.

We are very glad that this issue is before the House today. We want Bill C-257 to go through as quickly as possible. We want to encourage individual members of Parliament to be open to factual, objective information, instead of taking an ideological position. We want members to look at this bill on its real merits and how it actually supports labour management industrial relations stability. That is the evidence that is before us, despite what the Minister of Labour told us today.

This type of legislation has been in effect in Quebec since 1977. It has been in effect in British Columbia since 1993. It has actually helped to produce stability. If we can manage to get this bill through the House for those workers under federal jurisdiction, then we should be leading the way to say to other provinces that they should be bringing in similar legislation at the provincial level.

In closing, the NDP is happy this bill is being debated. I would encourage members to support the bill. The bill is very important. We want this bill to be enacted and have a majority of support in the House. We were so close the last time. We want to make sure that the bill passes this time and goes to committee so that we can have a discussion. We can look at amendments, but to support the bill in principle is something that is very important. The NDP caucus will support the bill 100%.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

7:35 p.m.


Robert Bouchard Bloc Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak on this anti-strikebreaking bill, but at the same time, it makes me somewhat uncomfortable to have to address this issue once again. This is not the first time that the Bloc Québécois brings in a bill to protect the rights of workers. As far as I am concerned, that issue should have been resolved years ago.

I will clarify one point for the benefit of the labour minister. First, the Minister of Labour is from a riding with the greatest number of unionized workers in Canada, if I am not mistaken. I would just like to respond briefly to the minister. The studies cited by the minister were commissioned by right-wing organizations. Any study by the Montreal Economic Institute or the Fraser Institute invariably tends to support the interests of management and to back the employers. Also, the study on the duration of labour disputes was based on figures from 1967 to 1993. Talk about old figures. These were provided by very large corporations, but no SMEs. As we know, however, Quebec's economy is more SME based. In a word, these studies have to be taken with a grain of salt.

At this point, I would also like to introduce some statistics. The average number of work days lost in Quebec, between 1992 and 2002, by workers governed by the Quebec Labour Code was 15.9 days. The average for those governed by the Canada Labour Code was 31.1 days, or almost double.

Between 1992 and 2002—these are recent figures—in Quebec, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees governed by the Quebec Labour Code was 121.3 days; for those governed by the Canada Labour Code, 266.3 days were lost. That is substantial.

Therefore, all arguments are in favour of adopting this bill as soon as possible.

This anti-scab legislation will prohibit the use of strikebreakers or replacement workers during a labour dispute. The objective of the bill is to harmonize the provisions of the Canada Labour Code and the Quebec Labour Code.

We know that Quebec has had anti-scab legislation since 1977. There is no question that Quebec's legislation has helped Quebec move forward in terms of labour relations, in addition to reducing the duration of labour disputes, curbing violence during strikes and lockouts and, particularly, improving the working environment. It is not easy going through a strike or lockout. I will not add any other arguments as they were presented by my colleague from Gatineau.

The adoption of anti-scab measures will put an end to the existence of two categories of workers: workers falling under Quebec jurisdiction and workers in companies under federal jurisdiction.

At present, federal regulations are inadequate. Everyone agrees. The very vague provisions of the Canada Labour Code limit the use of strikebreakers, but this is by no means enough. The Bloc Québécois tabled a petition with over 46,000 signatures supporting the position of workers and calling on the government to adopt measures that will prohibit the use of replacement workers.

At the moment, only British Columbia and Quebec have legislative measures preventing the use of strikebreakers. Four provinces, including Ontario, have had anti-strikebreaking measures in their respective labour codes.

However, there was a strong consensus among the various unions about anti-strikebreaking measures, in the case of employees under provincial jurisdiction and for those under federal jurisdiction.

Anti-strikebreaking legislation is essential in the work world of today because it truly recognizes the workers' right to strike and establishes a better balance between employees and employers.

In New Brunswick, the union leaders have for awhile been calling for additional anti-strikebreaking measures in their provincial labour code. The same thing is happening in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where the unions are trying to convince their governments to adopt such measures.

In recent years, certain strikes and lockouts have led to an upsurge in violence by employees facing replacement workers. We need only think of the 2,200 Vidéotron workers, who, after replacement workers were hired in a dispute in 2002, committed acts of vandalism against Vidéotron facilities.

All of these disputes—for there have been many of them—have several points in common. In all cases, they were long disputes in sectors where the workers are governed by the Canada Labour Code and where the use of strikebreakers is permitted.

The Vidéotron dispute lasted over 10 months; the Sécur dispute, three months; and the Cargill dispute, 38 months. Finally, at Radio-Nord work stopped for 20 months.

Half of these labour disputes were marked by acts of vandalism and violence. I want to be clear that recourse to violence and vandalism is never justified, and must be condemned by workers’ representatives in no uncertain terms. However, the feeling of being powerless and of not seeing the end of the strike or lockout inevitably drives some workers to reprehensible and illegal acts. For the Bloc Québécois, this is a worrisome situation which finds its solution in the measure proposed today, this anti-strikebreaker bill.

Since 1995, the Bloc Québécois has been trying to get a bill passed that would prevent the hiring of individuals to replace striking or locked out employees in companies governed by the Canada Labour Code and striking employees in the federal public service. If the Bloc Québécois, supported by the largest labour federations in Quebec and Canada, continues to fight for the passage of such a bill, it is because action is urgently needed to amend the federal labour code as quickly as possible and mitigate all the negative effects of a strike or lockout.

In conclusion, I will recall a few figures of which I spoke earlier. We have seen there is a very high average in the case of employees governed by the Canada Labour Code, and a much lower average in the case of employees governed by the Quebec Labour Code.

I will close by saying that this bill would put an end to two categories of workers: those governed by the Quebec Labour Code and those governed by the Canada Labour Code.

Canada Labour CodePrivate Members' Business

7:45 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The time provided for the consideration of private members’ business has now expired and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

A motion to adjourn the House under Standing Order 38 deemed to have been moved.

7:45 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a privilege to rise to speak about an issue that is very important for this country. It is in regard to economics and also in regard to my constituency and many others that are dependent upon the tourism trade.

It is also important to Americans and concerns the western hemisphere travel initiative. The introduction of passports for entry to and exit from the United States, not only for Americans and Canadians, will have significant economic impacts on our economy and trade.

Currently, the government has failed to put forth a plan on how it is going to deal with tourism. When I rose in the House of Commons, I agreed with the government that the previous Liberal administration had done nothing on that file. We heard a number of comments from the government side from a series of ministers, blaming the previous administration. However, it is not enough to criticize the previous Liberal government. We must have a plan. That has not happened yet.

Interestingly enough, the first question that was answered by the Minister of Public Safety said this of the Liberals: “They broke faith with Canadians in not taking action on this file”.

Subsequent to that, in a supplementary question, I talked about the NDP being asked for ideas by the Prime Minister. We actually did table a tourism strategy, one that deals with requesting expectations from the United States in terms of amelioration and the effects of the implementation of the WHTI.

For example, the American ambassador continues to talk about the documents the Americans want to have at the end of the day as being a work in progress. With a looming deadline, not knowing what the documents are and having no money to fund that process is a serious problem.

Second, we called for the extension of Canadian passports from 5 to 10 years, reducing the fee for seniors, and having them free for veterans. We also spoke about a national tourism strategy with the provinces and the municipalities to clear the air about what is going on right now. We see from Statistics Canada a continued decline of American tourism in Canada.

Interestingly enough, the Minister of Industry responded. He is responsible for this file in terms of tourism. He had previously declined many opportunities to discuss this in this chamber. He responded by actually blaming the previous administration and said, “This is a lot more than what was allocated in the previous Liberal Party budget”.

The problem with this issue is that the member for Vancouver Kingsway was the previous industry minister responsible for this file. He sat with the Liberals at the time. He crossed the floor and now he sits with the Conservatives. Quite frankly, the Minister of Industry probably has breakfast with the Minister of International Trade, who now sits with him in caucus and blamed him for not doing enough.

We just cannot have the blame game any more. We must have a plan. Why can the Minister of Industry not extract what the Minister of International Trade was going to do on this file? Why did he do nothing? Why will he not table a plan in the House of Commons because people will lose their jobs this summer?

7:50 p.m.

Oxford Ontario


Dave MacKenzie ConservativeParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety

Mr. Speaker, I rise in response to the question put to the House by my colleague, the member for Windsor West, regarding the United States western hemisphere travel initiative. The member has in the past raised the issue of the need for a strategy to address the potential impact that this initiative may have on Canadians should it be implemented as it was set out in the law passed by Congress. The government has been clear in its strategy of advocacy with our American counterparts and also on implementing new measures such as the more than $400 million recently allocated to border security issues in budget 2006.

These are solid planks in a strategy that is making progress on this issue, but more is being done. Shortly the government will launch a new website dedicated to dealing with the western hemisphere travel initiative. This website will communicate important and timely information directly to Canadians to ensure that they are fully aware of the situation and the requirements for travel. The government is making every effort to ensure that Canadians have the information they need to make informed decisions, such as what documents they can use now to travel to the United States and what is being done to facilitate and enhance cross-border travel and trade.

Today for example, Canadians need to know that they can continue to cross the border with documents that convey identity and nationality data such as driver's licences and birth certificates. They can also enter each country using their NEXUX, FAST and Air NEXUS program membership. Canadians can also use their passport, one of the most secure documents of its kind in the world and one that will be accepted even after any new documentary requirements are implemented.

The Government of Canada recognizes and shares the U.S. commitment to a secure border. Both countries are working collaboratively to develop a plan to implement the WHTI in a manner that addresses the threat of terrorism while facilitating the flow of legitimate travellers and goods across our shared border. It is one of the most important bilateral border issues facing Canada and the United States at this time.

The potential impact of the WHTI is now well established our country, but more work has to be done in the U.S. We continue to call for more economic impact studies south of the border as we believe the effects upon the U.S., particularly the northern border states, will be even more pronounced in terms of real costs.

The message is being heard. Recently at a one day conference on international issues in Gimli, Manitoba, a number of high ranking officials from both Canada and the U.S. voiced their concerns. The Prime Minister attended this event and assured Canadians that this continued to be a priority for this government. He also made the case for Canada's position in Cancun at the Security and Prosperity Partnership leaders summit. He will continue this frank and open discussion with President Bush in Washington in July.

The Minister of Public Safety and the Minister of Foreign Affairs have held productive consultations with their American counterparts. The U.S. government recognizes our commitment to resolve this issue on behalf of Canadians while respecting the security concerns of Congress. In fact, the U.S. Secretary of State recently remarked that the U.S. is very comfortable with border security cooperation from Canada.

The government is making good progress on this issue and this is being recognized. We are not complacent now and we will continue to work to preserve our historic, unique cross-border relationship with the U.S.

7:55 p.m.


Brian Masse NDP Windsor West, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is incredible that we are still at this point in time. The Minister of International Trade, who the current government blamed for not doing anything, previously sat with the Liberal administration. I asked him back in April 7, 2005, to take some active steps. What do we have right now? We have a website that will be put in place as a solution. I do not know when that will happen, however.

We can have meetings, recommendations and all those things. That even is happening outside the government. The premiers recently expressed their concern about our current situation and the fact that the federal government had to get involved. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities expressed how important it was. Everyone has been expressing it, but the federal minister responsible for tourism has to come up with a plan and a website is not a plan.

It is not sufficient. We know people are going to lose their jobs this summer. First, there is going to be a decrease in trade because the dollar is escalating right now. Second, there is absolute, utter confusion out there about the requirement of a passport because of misinformation. The Minister of Industry has been missing in action on this file. When will they table a plan in the House of Commons so we can get some real action? A website is not enough.

7:55 p.m.


Dave MacKenzie Conservative Oxford, ON

Mr. Speaker, this government has been extremely active in working with the Americans to come up with mutually acceptable solutions to enhance border security without harming tourism and trade.

Over the past 100 days, the government has worked hard to stand up for the interests of Canadians on this matter. The Prime Minister has established a constructive dialogue with President Bush on border issues and the President has acknowledged that his government is looking at solutions that address Canada's concerns.

The Minister of Public Safety has held discussions with his counterpart, as has the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Our ambassador has made this his top priority, after helping to solve the softwood lumber issue. Numerous meetings have been held with senior White House, administration and state officials.

These efforts are paying off. Already a number of positive developments suggest that there may be greater flexibility on this issue, including the possibility of a delay. There are no guarantees that recent efforts to alter the course of this law will be successful. That is why the government will continue to press its case with the U.S. government and why it will continue to work tirelessly on behalf of all Canadians.

7:55 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker NDP Bill Blaikie

The motion to adjourn the House is now deemed to have been adopted. Accordingly the House stands adjourned until tomorrow at 2 p.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 7:58 p.m.)