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.