Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to speak to Bill C-257. I would also like to thank the hon. member for Gatineau, who introduced this bill which the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert has masterfully shepherded along. We would not be here today, debating Bill C-257, were it not for the work of the hon. member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert.
My remarks will be mainly directed to the public and the viewing public. I think that the minds of the political parties concerned, the Conservatives as well as the Liberals, are pretty much set. But it is the citizens who are watching us debate this Bill C-257 with respect to replacement workers who will have the last word. We may be going to the polls again shortly, and it is my understanding that this will be an opportunity for the public watching us at home to punish these two political parties for their lack of action on the issue of replacement workers. Let us start by looking at what the use of replacement workers is all about.
Workers are unionized. They have the right to strike, the same way that the employer has the right to lock them out. They may exercise this right upon the expiry of their collective agreement; but for the entire life of the collective agreement, the only right they have is to abide by the agreement and do as they are told by the employer. We must not forget that, when bound by a collective agreement, one has to abide by it from the day it is signed to the day it expires.
Only once the collective agreement has expired can workers stand up to their employer and tell him that, during the life of that agreement, there were things they liked and others not. They put all aspects into perspective. They are basically without rights while the collective agreement is being negotiated, especially since the Canada Labour Code is completely different from the labour code in Quebec. They are without rights in the context of a strike in particular. What happens then? Negotiations go on for a certain period of time. If they eventually fail, the workers end up on strike.
Today we are discussing the issue of replacement workers. In the Canada Labour Code, the employer has all the rights. Even if the other opposition parties think that the poor employers do not have all the rights, we firmly believe that these employers have these rights. The proof is that if at the end of negotiations an agreement is not reached, the workers vote either to return to work or to go on strike. In the case of the latter, these workers find themselves on the street and the employer has every right to hire other people to replace the strikers.
This is where things get difficult. Why do we want to take up this issue? Because it is wrong that workers have the right to strike, but that they are the only ones punished.
Why does the employer have all the rights? If I understand correctly, the two other parties agree with giving all the rights to employers. Maybe there is something we do not know. Maybe something was said that we did not hear and that made the Liberals change their minds mid-stream. I do not understand. I think that everyone here has the right to their own opinion and that they have rights. We want to protect the rights of workers.
I come back to the situation I was just talking about. These workers are out on the sidewalk without pay. When they are not working they are not being paid, unless the union has the money to pay them during strike weeks.
These people earn no salary during the entire period. This can lead to some friction at home, since the father is not working and stays home. The children wonder what is happening and why their father is at home rather than at work. A loss of earnings leads to family conflict. All of this because of a strike.
What of the employer in all this? In the factory, the employer hires management personnel and has the right to use them to replace the workers, like in any other factory—including factories in Quebec.
The thing is that people from anywhere who do any kind of work are being brought in to do the work instead of using the workers who are on the picket lines.
Imagine, for just a moment, that you are a factory worker and you are not happy with the working conditions of your work place. You are on the picket line and you see a bus load of people who are coming to replace you in your job, often at a salary that is lower than yours was before you left. Thus, you find yourself in a situation in which the employers hold all the cards.
Why should an employer agree to negotiate in good faith with workers when he can do without those workers because the factory is still in production?
The employer never has to deal with problems. What could happen? Workers could be out in the streets for months and months. There have even been cases where workers were out in the streets for years.
During that time, these people go without work and without money because they want rights under a collective agreement and they want to improve their lot. Is there anyone in this world who does not want to improve their lot and their working conditions? We all want to improve our working conditions.
I do not know anyone who would negotiate a pay cut or poorer working conditions with an employer unless that employer was up against a wall and could prove to workers, in black and white, that there were serious problems. Then the employer could propose cuts to pay or benefits. Usually it is during bargaining that workers would make their demands known.
Earlier, I listened to the Liberal member talk about measures taken and essential services. Since 1999, rulings have indicated that section 87.4 of the Canada Labour Code is a provision to maintain essential services.
The June 30, 1999, ruling in Aéroports de Montréal vs. Public Service Alliance of Canada, CIRB File 20258-C, contains 15 references to section 87.4 of the code as pertaining to essential services.
The June 22, 2001, ruling in Atomic Energy of Canada Limited vs. several trade union organizations, CIRB File 21134-C, contains 60 references to section 87.4 of the code as pertaining to essential services.
The March 26, 2002, ruling in NAV CANADA vs. Canadian Air Traffic Control Association and several trade union organizations, CIRB File 21881-C, contains 30 references to section 87.4 of the code. This is nothing but an excuse the Liberals are using to justify supporting Bill C-257.