Motion No. 1
That Bill C-257, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing line 4 on page 2 with the following:
“(c) use, in the”
Motion No. 3
That Bill C-257, in Clause 2, be amended by replacing lines 3 to 10 on page 3 with the following:
“employer from using the services of an employee referred to in paragraph (2.1)(c) to avoid the destruction of the employer’s property or serious damage to that property.
(2.4) The services referred to in subsection (2.3) shall exclusively be conservation services and not services to allow the continuation of the production of goods or services, which is otherwise prohibited by subsection (2.1).”
Mr. Speaker, I am very proud to stand in the House today to introduce Bill C-257 which would forbid the use of replacement workers, now at report and third reading stage. As you know, very few private members' bills reach the last stage of the legislative process.
But, before I begin my speech, I want to thank first, the member for Gatineau, who introduced the bill, and also the hon. members for Laval and Vaudreuil-Soulanges, who gave me their place in the order of precedence to allow me to speak for the first hour of debate.
There was a great deal of debate by the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities. After the bill was passed at second reading on October 25, 2006, it was debated at length in committee for four long months, not including the months spent prior to that. This bill was tabled on May 6, 2006. However, in the past 17 years, a dozen bills have been tabled in this House by the Bloc and have been debated. An almost identical law has been in force in Quebec for 30 years and in British Columbia for 14 years. This bill has been the subject of a great deal of debate, discussion and testimony that was given, seen, heard, debated and discussed.
Today, I am presenting two amendments that are not at all frivolous. They are being made primarily because the Speaker of this House ruled that the Liberal amendments regarding essential services were out of order because, in his opinion, they broadened the scope of the bill.
As hon. members will see, our first amendment eliminates a small phrase to avoid redundancy. I will call this an amendment for the purpose of consistency.
The second amendment modifies clauses 2.3 and 2.4. It is necessary since the amendment of the member for Davenport is now inadmissible and we still had to address clauses 2.3 and 2.4.
These new Bloc amendments correct the translation error in the original bill. In addition, they clarify the French version, which now states the original intention of the Bloc Québécois, which is to define who is able to work during a labour dispute.
As I have said elsewhere, the Bloc's bill is modelled on Quebec law, and keen observers may notice that clauses 2.3 and 2.4 of the bill, as put forward in the amendment, are almost identical to the two paragraphs of section 109.3 of the Quebec Labour Code.
As I said earlier, these Bloc amendments aim to clarify the possibility of employers allowing management to work during a labour dispute in order to maintain production. This is the first case. I said it once, and I will say it again, because some people have misunderstood the Bloc's bill: this bill enables managers to work when there is a labour dispute.
The Bloc amendment also allows the employer to use the services of unionized employees to avoid the destruction of the employer's property or serious damage to that property. The bill initially introduced by the Bloc last May 6 allowed this, but there was a translation error that indicated, particularly to anglophones, that it did not allow it. There was a lot of confusion there and this second amendment clears up the confusion. It also clarifies the French version, which now leaves no room at all for interpretation.
Under the amendments proposed today, Bill C-257 permits two categories of persons to work: managers and unionized employees who must see to the conservation of the employer's property. In another situation, unionized employees who are on strike or lockout can go back to work. We refer to the Canada Labour Code itself, to its section 87.4, which already exists. In the language of trade unions and labour, we call this the essential services clause. It is already in the code.
The Conservative government and some other members in this House make a point of ignoring section 87.4. They prefer to use scare tactics about the consequences of our bill.
I would like to quote section 87.4, which is often referred to as the essential services section, as I mentioned earlier. It complements the Bloc Québécois bill very well. Here is subsection 87.4(1):
During a strike or lockout not prohibited by this Part, the employer, the trade union and the employees in the bargaining unit must continue the supply of services, operation of facilities or production of goods to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.
The seven subsections that follow in the existing Labour Code explain how this agreement can function, the role of the Canada Industrial Relations Board in the development of these agreements and the situations in which the Minister of Labour can intervene. In passing, I would add that section 87.7 even specifies the essential services to be provided to grain vessels, and obliges employers and employees to ensure the loading and movement of grain vessels. There are many exceptions, but the health and safety of Canadians is extremely important. The Canada Labour Code already covers that.
Mr. Speaker, you said so yourself, yesterday in this House. You related section 87.4 to essential services, explaining that, although the code does not use that term, the concept is there.
In response to the questions I asked on February 7, 2007, the Canada Industrial Relations Board, whose mandate is to interpret the Canada Labour Code, indicated that section 87.4 is, in fact, often interpreted as a section on essential services. Cathy Braker, senior counsel for the United Steelworkers, said that she could cite several examples. She added, “I can tell you that the language that is reflected in section 87.4 is language that is reflected in almost all of the statutes dealing with essential services across Canada”. Furthermore, unions and employers, in both verbal and written communication, often associate section 87.4 with essential services.
Entirely by chance, last week, when there was talk of special legislation and I was doing some research on the CN Rail dispute, I found a letter dated July 26, 2006, signed by the United Transportation Union president, and entitled “Subsection 87.4(1) of the Canada Labour Code, agreement for essential services”. The letter repeats the term “87.4”, meaning the agreement for essential services.
The bill in front of us is an excellent bill. Similar or almost identical measures have been in place in Quebec for 30 years now, since 1977. Statistics show that employees and unionized workers regulated by the Canada Labour Code lose more workdays due to labour disputes than those who fall under the Quebec Labour Code. Employees under the Canada Labour Code spend more days away from work due to labour disputes. That has been proven. Workers under the Canada Labour Code represent less than 8% of workers in Quebec but they account for 18.8% of person-days lost in work stoppages. These number are extremely high and speak for themselves. Moreover, the number of labour disputes has been decreasing in Quebec in the last 30 years. There were nearly 300 in 1977 and only 75 in 2005. We can see the number of labour disputes is on the decrease in Quebec. Conflicts affecting workers covered by the Quebec Labour Code are less violent because workers on the picket lines are less susceptible to harassment by replacement workers. Workers feel a lot of injustice. One must admit that in the present situation, the Canada Labour Code creates an unbalance. There are negotiations between workers and employers but all of a sudden, a third group of players—the replacement workers—comes into the game. They play for the employer's team. Changing the rules of the game like that creates a completely unfair situation.
In conclusion, I would say that the scare tactics of the Minister of Labour did not fool anybody.