Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers).
In short, the bill is anti-scab legislation. It is almost identical to my bill on the same subject. In fact, my bill, Bill C-337, was introduced prior to the one we are debating today, but the lottery system that governs the timing of private member's business is such that Bill C-386 has come up first. That is absolutely fine, as long as we can ensure that the long overdue ban on replacement workers finally becomes law.
The last time I spoke to this issue in the House, I was deliberately provocative by quoting Jack London. London, of course, is best known for his novels, The Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf. However, germane to the debate today is his 1915 Ode To A Scab. I would still recommend that poem to all Canadians who may be watching this debate today. A quick Google search will lead you straight to the verse. However, despite its powerful description of the odious and destructive nature of scab labour, in the interest of not teasing the bears on the Conservative and Liberal benches, I will refrain from reading it into the record today.
Let me, instead, begin by quoting the preamble of the Canada Labour Code. It states:
—there is a long tradition in Canada of labour legislation and policy designed for the promotion of the common well-being through the encouragement of free collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of disputes;
The intent of the preamble is to create some balance in labour relations. Capitalist economies embody inherent conflict between the economic interests of business and the economic interests of workers. The very nature of the employment relationship is authoritarian and exploitative and thus conducive to insecurity, distrust and class antagonism. The level to which these underlying conflicts manifest themselves in the workplace is uneven. However, combined with broader social inequalities and precarious labour market opportunities, employers hold the upper hand. That remains true with or without anti-scab laws.
The introduction of a formal regime of collective bargaining, the right to strike, minimum wages and occupational health and safety laws were all accomplished by the struggles of the labour movement to right that imbalance.
The one piece that is still missing in establishing a reasonable balance of power in the workplace relates to the fact that most businesses in Canada are still permitted to hire people to do the jobs of striking workers.
It is true that there is a provision in the Canada Labour Code that prohibits the use of replacement workers if they are used to undermine the union's representational capacity. That provision is enshrined in section 94(2.1) of the code. While the section sounds like it ought to be effective, in fact, it is a paper tiger. As long as a business keeps up the facade of continuing to bargain with the union, it allows employers to carry on business as usual with the help of scab labour.
That situation is untenable. It undermines a fair and reasonable balance in negotiations between employers and employees. Allowing employers to bring in replacement workers during a legal labour dispute negates entirely the only power that workers have at the bargaining table, and that is the right to withhold their labour.
When workers are so unilaterally stripped of their power, they become desperate. There is a scene in the film Billy Elliot where replacement miners in northern England are bused to work, while the striking workers pelt them with eggs and hurl insults at them. It is a stark visual of what is true in Canada as well. The largest single source of injuries on a picket line is scab labour.
By contrast, anti-scab legislation promotes civilized negotiations during labour disputes, during strikes or lockouts, and reduces picket line violence and the social and psychological problems caused by the extraordinary stress of labour disputes. Banning replacement workers would diminish the resentment that employees feel upon returning to work and would foster a just balance and greater transparency in the negotiations between employers and employees.
That is not simply idle speculation. We know for a fact that anti-scab legislation does indeed have that desired effect. It was well-documented in Canadian jurisdictions that have had anti-scab legislation at the provincial level for some considerable time. Specifically, I am referring to Quebec and British Columbia.
Quebec was the first province to enact the ban on replacement workers in 1977. In the year prior to the ban, the average number of working days lost through labour disputes was 39.4. In 1979, after the act was passed, the average was 32.8 days. In 2001 it was 27.4 days.
Looking at aggregate numbers, the picture is even more impressive. In 1976, the year prior to the adoption of anti-scab laws in Quebec, 6.4 million worker days were lost to strikes. In 1977 the number of days lost dropped to 1.2 million.
Another interesting set of statistics makes an equally powerful case for anti-scab legislation. In all cases, they demonstrate that banning replacement workers helps to reduce the number of work days lost to labour disputes.
First, the average work time lost from 1992 to 2002 is 15.9 days for workers who come under the Quebec Labour Code and 31.1 days for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. That represents a difference of 95.6% in days of work lost. Those lost days represent a lot of money for both companies and Canadian workers.
Second, and again looking at 2002 statistics, despite the fact that workers under federal jurisdiction made up only 6.6% of the labour force in Quebec, they accounted for a whopping 48% of the days lost as a result of labour disputes.
Third, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees from 1999 to 2002, was 121.3 for workers covered by the Quebec Labour Code compared to 266.3 for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. That is a huge difference: 145 more days of work lost. Again, this can largely be attributed to the use of scabs.
Quebec is not the only province where anti-scab legislation is in effect. British Columbia passed a similar law in 1993, which had the effect of reducing strike days to levels comparable to those in Quebec. It also resulted in a 50% drop in the ratio of time lost.
Ontario, too, adopted anti-scab legislation, albeit all too briefly. The NDP government enacted it in 1992 and Mike Harris repealed it immediately upon taking office. Nonetheless, even in that brief period, precipitous declines in work stoppages were evident in Ontario as well.
Clearly, the introduction of anti-scab legislation did not lead to the creation of strike-happy unions run by unreasonable and irrational negotiators. One of the biggest fears of employer organizations has always been that a ban on replacement workers would render unions more militant and difficult at the bargaining table. However, there is little evidence to suggest that any relationship exists between jurisdictions using anti-scab legislation and increased wage demands or settlements. Unions are not interested in negotiating an employer out of business. Economic conditions, rather than the presence of anti-scab laws, are what continue to dictate the tone and content of negotiated agreements.
Where does that leave us? Anti-scab legislation diminishes picket line violence, fosters a fairer balance in the negotiations between employers and employees, reduces the legal proceedings that arise during strikes and lockouts, and mitigates the bitterness felt by employees when they return to work. All of these are benefits to both the workers and the businesses involved in labour disputes. Clearly, it is a win-win.
Why then is the Canadian business community so adamant in its opposition to a ban on replacement workers? It is fundamentally about power and who wields it. That is why the existence of anti-scab laws not only matters to workers and bosses, but also to anyone concerned about the growth of corporate power and its consequences for democracy.
The Conservatives have made their agenda clear. At every step they support their corporate friends at the expense of hard-working Canadians. As recently as their last budget, they chose to give $6 billion in additional corporate tax cuts to their business friends in the most profitable corporations, while at the same time robbing the employment insurance fund of its $57 billion surplus. They know which side they are on.
However, there are more of us than there are of them, both in the House and right across this country. Labour rights and democratic rights are basic human rights, and yet they were not won without a struggle. Without resorting to hyperbole, it is true that people literally gave their lives to secure these rights for those of us who follow.
Now the responsibility falls to us to defend those rights. Each and every one of us in the House has a choice to make. We have to ask ourselves what kind of Canada do we want to leave for our children and our grandchildren? We have to ask ourselves, which side are we on?
So far, each time similar legislation has been before the House, New Democrats and the Bloc supported it unanimously and each time, as would be expected, the Conservatives opposed banning scabs. We all know which side we are on.
So, the spotlight will shine once again on the Liberal members in the House. On all previous occasions that the ban of replacement workers was debated on the floor of the House, the Liberals said all the right things. But when push came to shove and they had to stand up and be counted, they voted against the legislation in sufficient numbers to ensure its defeat.
Although I make no claims of clairvoyance, I am absolutely certain that under the current Liberal leadership the same will happen again. They will once again allow Bay Street to determine how they will vote and I fear this bill, too, will be defeated.
Canadians deserve better. They deserve a Parliament that is working to represent their interests when public policy decisions are made, and there is nothing more fundamental to those interests than the protection of their basic human rights.
I hope all members in this House will reflect upon this bill in that light and then maybe, just maybe, we will--