Mr. Speaker, I am proud to stand in my place to speak to this motion and, more important, to stand in solidarity with the striking PSAC workers at the Canadian War Museum and the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
I want to thank the member for Timmins—James Bay for speaking so eloquently about the impact on our natural heritage and culture as a result of the strike. As the NDP's labour critic, I want to take a few minutes during the time I am allowed to speak this afternoon to talk about the labour issues that are at stake.
As we are aware, 420 workers at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the Canadian War Museum have been on strike since September 21. That is 80 long days, 80 days during which the union has worked tirelessly to achieve a fair and just collective agreement, 80 days during which management has stonewalled and piled up budget savings on the backs of its employees.
This impasse is not going to end on its own. The Minister of Labour has to act and she has to act now. She cannot leave for the parliamentary recess when she knows that her holidays will mean prolonged days of hell for 420 of the country's best public servants.
Let me remind the House of how we got here.
On March 19, more than eight months ago, the union representing the employees at the museum, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, served its notice to bargain. After 13 negotiating sessions, the parties were unable to come to an agreement. Major concerns regarding contracting out, job security, recognition of seniority and wage parity were all still outstanding. In fact, the parties had signed off on only two of them.
On June 24, the union filed for conciliation. The parties met in mid-August and talks broke down within a few hours. On August 27, the union voted 92% in favour of strike action. The union and the employer met again from September 15 to 18, but talks broke off and, as I said earlier, the employees have been officially on strike since September 21.
Since the strike began, numerous attempts have been made by the union to reach a settlement. Museum workers have attempted to present their concerns to the museum board, but security evicted them from the meeting and did not give them an opportunity to speak. They have approached cabinet ministers, opposition party members and bureaucrats and have held rallies and information pickets, all in an attempt to bring their concerns forward and have them addressed in a meaningful way by management.
On November 17, the Minister of Labour, the hon. member for Edmonton—Spruce Grove, said in the House:
Mr. Speaker, as I have indicated, we have been working with both parties since before the strike began and, in fact, for quite some time. This is a very difficult situation for both parties. We encourage them to come back to the table as soon as possible to find a resolution.
As I indicated, I am prepared to appoint an arbitrator, but unfortunately at this time, neither of the parties will agree to that.
Following that statement, the striking workers gave their union a mandate to seek a fair settlement through arbitration, but the employer did not agree and, instead, requested that the parties return to the bargaining table. In good faith, the union accepted.
Negotiations resumed yet again on November 20, but were suspended until November 25 at the request of the employer. On November 26, the employer tabled a without prejudice final offer and the negotiating team decided to put that offer to a vote of the membership.
On November 26, striking workers from the Museum of Civilization and the War Museum reviewed the employer's offer and voted overwhelmingly to reject the corporation's final offer. Hundreds attended the meeting, voting to reject the offer by a margin of 96%.
On November 26, John Gordon, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, wrote to the Minister of Labour, advising that a negotiated agreement was highly unlikely. He said in his letter:
“At this stage, I believe that the only reasonable solution is to submit the outstanding issues to a third party. This is, in my opinion, a fair solution under the circumstances, but a solution the employer has to date refused to accept.
Given the union's willingness to accept your direct intervention through the appointment of an arbitrator or otherwise, and the employer's refusal to agree to same, immediate action on your and/or Parliament's part is required”.
Since the beginning of the strike, the union has made it very clear to the employer, to the mediator, to members of Parliament and to the general public that what workers at the Museum of Civilization and the War Museum seek are the same terms and conditions of employment as other federal workers doing the same work in the national capital region.
These employees are the only federal museum workers in Ottawa-Gatineau with no job security whatsoever and no recognition of the years of service in a number of critical areas, including career advancement. Their salaries are the lowest among all federal museum workers in the National Capital Region.
Workers at the two museums have little or no job security. The majority of the floor staff, guides, program animators and hosts work on temporary contracts. Most of them have been working from one contract to the other for long periods of time. Out of 55 guides at the museums, only 6 are permanent employees.
The museums do not respect employees' years of service outside of vacation scheduling. This affects layoffs and internal hiring procedures, meaning that managers can hire people or end their contracts on a whim, with no consideration of years of service. Last year, the museums laid off workers, including a woman with over 20 years of service.
I would like to remind the members of the House that women working in precarious or part-time employment are consistently at a high risk of poverty, especially women with children.
Unlike other federal museums in the region, workers at the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the War Museum have no opportunity for career advancement under their collective agreement. There are no provisions that give preference to internal candidates when permanent positions become available.
One guide has worked as a “temporary” worker for over eight years. She applied for a permanent position twice, was forced to interview for it both times and ultimately the job was given to a less senior employee. In another case, an administrative worker has been temporary for 19 years.
The current practice, corroborated by the employer at the bargaining table, is to sever temporary employees immediately before they reach the threshold in the collective agreement to become permanent and rehire them under a new contract three weeks later. These employees start from the bottom in terms of salary when rehired and acquire no seniority. These practices are blatantly unfair.
Unlike most other museums in the region, the workers have no protections against contracting out. Security and cafeteria services have already been outsourced to private companies. The remaining workers wonder if their jobs could be next.
Lastly, when compared to colleagues at other museums, workers at the Museum of Civilization and the War Museum are paid the lowest salaries in the National Capital Region. Meanwhile the museums CEO, Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, makes 20% more than any museum CEO in the region, $236,000 a year plus a maximum performance award of $61,400.
It is no wonder that PSAC members are fighting above all for respect; respect from their employer, respect from members of the House and respect from the government they serve.
I urge the minister to show the same respect to museum workers that she showed to the teamsters just a week ago. I would ask her to bring the same pressure to bear on the museum as she did on the management of the Canadian National Railway. In the rail strike it took five days. Surely, after 80 days, PSAC members deserve nothing less.