Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to speak today.
The excellent bill introduced by my colleague from Berthier—Maskinongé is designed to fill a major gap in the legislation that hurts workers. The bill seeks to benefit people who have worked for 15 or 20 years in a business where a labour dispute occurs. It may be that the employer has locked out the employees or that the union has decided to go on strike. It is impossible to know how long a dispute might last, but one thing is certain: conflicts at the federal level last the longest. Why? Because there is still no anti-scab legislation. The Bloc Québécois has tried for years to have such legislation passed so that no one can replace workers who go on strike. It is always easier for the employer to find managers to replace workers during a labour dispute, and that is why disputes are becoming longer and longer.
My colleague opposite said that this was not important because less than 1% of the population was affected. I would like him to go into the ridings and tell those people that this is not important, that there are not enough of them and that they will not get anything, even if they have paid employment insurance premiums for 20 years. This is the big problem this bill seeks to address. If someone has worked for 52 weeks before a dispute, he or she would, in theory, be entitled to another 52 weeks of employment insurance benefits.
It is impossible to know how long a dispute will last. If it goes on for 52 weeks and the employer decides the following week to close the business because of a lockout or for some other reason, someone who has worked for 20 years will not receive any employment insurance benefits. Have the members opposite thought about that? Someone who has worked for 20 years will not be entitled to EI because he or she has been on strike or locked out. That makes no sense.
The champions of repression on the other side of the House are doing everything they can to send people to prison for any reason they see fit. Inmates are luckier than honest workers. An inmate is entitled to a qualifying period of 104 weeks, twice as much time as an honest worker. I cannot understand how the Conservatives can change their tune when it comes to workers. Why does the government not give workers the same 104-week qualifying period as inmates? It makes no sense.
I hope that anyone listening to us this morning will be able to see that this makes no sense. The Conservatives keep introducing bills to impose two-year prison sentences for people who steal a car or what have you. But when it comes to workers, the government says they are not important, and that they represent less than 1% of the population. The Conservatives need to stop making publicity out of the big cheques they sign. With that money alone, they could pay workers after the 53rd week.
They should start thinking about why their spending with taxpayers' and workers' money is systematically out of control, and why they promote themselves on the backs of these people. A worker covered by a collective agreement has one opportunity to stand up for himself.
He cannot do this while the collective agreement is in effect; only when the agreement has expired. The only point at which a worker can tell his employer that he will go without a raise, will go without pay, is during the collective bargaining process. That is the only time he can stand up for himself. He has the right to tell his boss that he would rather go without pay, because he does not agree with the new collective agreement; he can walk out and assert his rights. This individual is using the right to strike given him by the province. He is using that right. But if the strike lasts more than 52 weeks, he will not be entitled to anything, as I have already mentioned. That makes no sense.
When it comes to employment insurance, there are a lot of things the Conservatives do that do not make sense. Last week, we spoke about Bill C-50, which provides an additional 5 to 20 weeks for workers who have worked seven of the last ten years. This bill should not even have been introduced here. The government could have simply created a pilot project. There was no need for all the readings, the speeches and the committee stage. A pilot project would have served the purpose.
I suppose that, with this bill, the Conservatives wanted to restrict the rights of workers and bring them to their knees again. That is all they want to do. They do not want to help workers who pay taxes, thereby ensuring that the government has operating funds. When it comes to giving something to these people who are more often than not referred to as the middle class, there is never anything for them.
Had the Conservatives really wanted to do something for these workers, they would not have given them 5 to 20 additional weeks of benefits. They would have restored the Program for Older Worker Adjustment, or POWA. It would have been fair for a 55-year-old worker who lost his job because of a plant closure to have access to such a program.
That being said, I fail to understand, once again, why the Conservatives do not help these workers. When businesses are in trouble, the government is first in line to give them the money everybody wants in order to save them. We saw that with the auto industry in Ontario. Billions of dollars started pouring into this industry. The government had no problem giving money to those companies.
Tomorrow, we will be debating the Canada-Colombia free trade bill. What does this government want to do? It wants to help mining companies take control of Colombia and ensure that workers over there have no rights. Not only is the government stripping away the rights of workers here, but it wants to do the same in another country. It does not want Colombian workers to have any rights. I find it despicable that the government would give more rights to prisoners than to workers.
I hope the Conservatives will change their minds and vote in favour of this bill which, I can assure members, is an excellent piece of legislation.