moved that Bill C-481, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code (mandatory retirement age), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, as the member of Parliament for Laval—Les Îles, I am proud to rise in this House to speak to Bill C-481 at second reading. The bill we are discussing today would amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Canada Labour Code regarding mandatory retirement age.
My bill has three main objectives. The first is to repeal subsection 9(2) of the Canadian Human Rights Act. This amendment would ensure that unions and federal employees' organizations would no longer have the ability to exclude, expel or suspend an individual from membership in the organization because that individual has reached the normal age of retirement for individuals working in positions similar to the position of that individual. To clarify, this means within the same professional group, but not necessarily in the same organization.
The second objective is to replace paragraphs 15(1)(b) and 15(1)(c) of the Canadian Human Rights Act with the following for paragraph 15(1)(b):
It will be possible to terminate the employment of an individual who has not reached the minimum age that applies to that employment by law or under regulations that may be made by the Governor in Council.
The third objective is to repeal paragraph 235(2)(b) of the Canada Labour Code. By repealing this paragraph of the Canada Labour Code, the legislator is ensuring that the employer will be obligated to pay severance pay to an employee who reaches an age at which the individual is entitled to receive a retirement pension from a complementary pension fund.
Many public service employees subject to union agreements do not want to give up their severance pay, which is a one-time payment. For many people, particularly single mothers or newcomers into the Canadian labour force, being able to stay at work longer is an important part of their career plan. Many who have been unable to save enough for retirement are depending on the extra money as part of their transition into retirement.
According to a 2008 Statistics Canada survey, only 29% of older workers indicated that their workplace pension would be their main source of income and only 14% have RRSPs. These preliminary results were recently presented by Jean Pignal, from the surveys division of Statistics Canada, at a workshop in Ottawa.
For the information of members, according to the Human Resources and Skills Development Canada website, approximately 12,000 federally regulated businesses and industries are employing 840,000 people, or 10% of Canadian workers under the Canada Labour Code, who would be affected by this bill if it were to become law.
Before I go further in the time I have, I will briefly inform the House of the genesis of Bill C-481. I will not go into lengthy detail about the cases that sparked my bill because there are several layers to these cases, including a Federal Court judicial review.
On August 28, 2009, in its second decision, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled that it was discrimination based on age for Air Canada to force two of its pilots to retire because they had reached age 60. According to the tribunal, the Air Canada Pilots Association had knowingly signed a union agreement with Air Canada that violated section 15 of the charter prohibiting discrimination on a number of grounds, including age.
The tribunal also ruled that not only had the Canadian Human Rights Act been breached because it prohibits discrimination based on age, but paragraph 15(1)(c) of the Canadian Human Rights Act is contrary to the charter because it perpetuates the prejudice with the following statement:
an individual’s employment is terminated because that individual has reached the normal age of retirement for employees working in positions similar to the position of that individual;
Bill C-481 aims to revoke that paragraph.
The tribunal based its first decision, which was set aside by the Federal Court in its judicial review, on its perception of what was normal, especially whether other airlines had the same requirements. In fact, not all airlines have the same requirements, at least not all Canadian airlines.
The earliest available statistics show us that between 1920 and 1922 it was normal for males to have an average life expectancy of 59 years and for females 61 years. However, in the 21st century we have a vastly different Canadian population than in the early 1900s. Today, life expectancy for males is 78.3 years and for females 80.7 years on average. In other words, what was normal then in terms of age is certainly no longer normal today.
The original conditions for mandatory retirement were unquestionably based on the social reality. Following the second world war, workers demanded stable jobs, better access to health care and safe workplaces. Workers asked for permanent economic security despite dips in the economy. The government listened to these concerns and created a number of social programs.
However, as unions gained strength in speaking for workers' rights, the mandatory retirement age of 60 became normal practice in union agreements. Today, in the 21st century, our social environment dictates a different course of action.
As federal legislators, it is our duty to set the standards in our laws. Our charter gives us that guidance. Transport Canada, in case my colleagues are not aware, sets the licensing policies for all our pilots. There are very stringent rules.
If this section of the Canadian Human Rights Act remains, it would continue to set a blanket standard for all organizations without paying attention to the charter or the specific norms that dictate policies within that organization, even though work positions may appear to be similar.
Just a few days ago, on November 8, 2010, the tribunal ordered Air Canada to compensate George Vilven, 67, and Neil Kelly, 65. Air Canada must reinstate these two former employees with the level of seniority they would have reached had they continued to work. They must also be compensated for lost wages and benefits associated with their seniority as well as for the pain and suffering they endured.
In fact, the tribunal was even harsher in its criticism and called on Air Canada and its union to pay for wilful and reckless damage. Unfortunately, the Human Rights Tribunal does not have the power to extend its decision to other cases. The decision rendered is only pertinent to these two complaints.
The tribunal cannot force Air Canada and the association to stop signing agreements that include mandatory requirements. Therefore, this clause, according to the tribunal in its remedial actions, remains operative. Only we as legislators have the power to repeal the defence now being used to terminate employees in any federally regulated employee organization by amending the law as it now stands.
It has long been recognized by the courts that this is a complex issue and can only be resolved by the legislature.
In 2006, when the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) was considering gradually raising the maximum age limit for pilots to 65 years, the Government of Canada said it agreed with the idea but its official response was negative because Canada wanted to eliminate the age limit, given that section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms prohibits discrimination on the basis of age. Canada does not reduce the privileges of a pilot who has reached the age of 60. Canada does not object if a pilot who is over 60 and holds a valid medical certificate from an ICAO contracting state pilots a registered foreign aircraft in Canadian airspace.
Research shows that, according to current trends, abolishing mandatory retirement should not have a significant impact on the average age of new retirees or on the total number of years worked. For people concerned about the consequences—I have spoken to many of them—the research indicates that two-thirds of older workers choose to retire before age 65, 43% of all workers retire before 65 and the average retirement age for all workers was 61 in 1991. In addition, 11.8% of Canadians between 65 and 69 years of age were part of the labour force in 2001. Immigrants and women may remain in the labour force longer to build up larger pensions. Employers are better able to plan for turnover.
I call upon my colleagues to pass the bill as quickly as possible so we can continue to uphold the hard-won rights of citizens of Canada and all those who fought and continue to fight for the type of democracy in which we are so privileged to live today.
I would like my colleagues opposite to remember that Brian Mulroney's Conservative government, in 1986, accepted the principle that served as the basis for the sixth recommendation in the report of the Parliamentary Committee on Equal Rights, which suggested that the Canadian Human Rights Act be amended so that employers could not invoke certain grounds.
Since then, we have made a number of changes and we must continue to build our labour force. The unions I have spoken to are prepared to implement these changes. A number of them went before the Canadian Human Rights Commission on behalf of their members and won their cases.
History holds our everyday lives together. Let us not be stuck in tradition because of the implemented laws that were necessary then. Let us use reasoned experience to guide us as legislators in the 21st century to continue to do the right thing for Canadians.