moved that Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to introduce Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). I would like to summarize it. Parliamentarians in this House are familiar with this bill as this is not the first time it has been introduced. We continue to hope that the Liberal and Conservative members will understand its importance.
On the one hand, the bill would prohibit employers governed by the Canada Labour Code from hiring replacement workers to carry out the duties of striking or locked out employees; on the other hand, it would require employers to maintain essential services. It also sets out fines for violations.
The best way to acknowledge the outstanding contribution of those who are building today's society is to truly respect their rights, starting with eliminating the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout.
Therefore, it is imperative that workers governed by federal legislation have the same rights as those governed by Quebec's labour laws, including the true right to strike. By employees under federal jurisdiction we mean those working in telecommunications, the media, the Internet, banking, ports, marine transportation, bridges, and air and rail transportation.
The Canada Labour Code must be amended and brought into line with the Quebec Labour Code. Anti-scab legislation would ensure that workers governed by federal legislation enjoy balanced bargaining power. That is the objective of Bill C-386.
Unlike in Quebec, which has prohibited replacement workers since 1977, there is currently nothing in the Canada Labour Code that clearly and specifically prohibits the use of replacement workers.
Subsection 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition relating to replacement workers, but only where an employer uses replacement workers for the purpose of undermining a trade union's representational capacity.
However, a firm prohibition is essential for civilized bargaining to take place during a labour dispute and to promote industrial peace, and is also the cornerstone for establishing an equitable balance of power between employers and employees.
I will give some examples. Quebec workers in industries that are governed by the Canada Labour Code make up about 8% of the Quebec labour force.
According to Quebec's labour department, Quebec workers whose employer is federally regulated are almost always overrepresented in the number of days of work lost because of disputes.
While they account for just under 8% of Quebec's labour force, they experienced 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and 22.6% of the person-days lost in 2003. In fact, a peak was reached in 2002. While 7.3% of Quebec workers were employed in federally regulated organizations, they accounted for 48% of days of work lost because of labour disputes.
In a nutshell, there were, on average, two and a half times more person-days lost in the last decade in labour disputes in Quebec involving workers governed by the Canada Labour Code than those workers represent in demographic weight.
This means that the disputes last longer and are therefore more violent. Such disputes are happening right now in Quebec, just as they have occurred over the past ten years. Consider the dispute at Sécur, or the Vidéotron dispute that lasted over six months and involved acts of sabotage. There was also the dispute at the Cargill grain elevator in Baie-Comeau that ended in 2003 after a three-year lockout imposed by the employer.
Let us not forget Radio Nord and the television networks: TVA, TQS in Abitibi and CBC. We saw this with the Journal de Québec and we are seeing it now with the Journal de Montréal.
From the beginning, the Conservative government has indicated its opposition by hiding behind doom and gloom scenarios because it lacks any real arguments, when the situation is clear in the details I just provided. In the statistics on days of work lost to labour disputes alone, we see that workers under the Canada Labour Code are without work two and a half times longer than workers governed by Quebec labour laws, which prohibit the use of replacement workers.
This is not the first time this type of bill has come before the House. The last time, we introduced Bill C-257, which passed at second reading. At report stage, the Liberals decided to reverse course, saying that the bill did not include measures on essential services. That is why the bill before us today includes the protection of essential services. We are prepared to do our part.
I will try to explain something. We are at a turning point in employer-employee relations. A number of major companies are located in my riding: Bell Helicopter, Bombardier, and Pratt & Whitney to name a few.
I am interested in labour relations. I recently attended a seminar on the sociology of work. The Conservatives, and even the Liberals, are not aware of the change taking place in our society. The new generations do not look at work the same way we do. I am part of the baby boom generation. Those who came before me are part of what sociologists call the veteran generation. After me come generations X and Y. Baby boomers like me, and the veterans who came before me—my father—have lived to work, while generations X and Y work to live. It is completely different. Who is right? Did we take our work too seriously? Perhaps we were afraid to lose our jobs because there were so many of us. Now, the young generations no longer have this mindset about work. They think more about their family. They think more and more about balancing work and family. I would add that employers who do not understand that will simply not survive. In other words, they will not be able to find employees to work for them.
I realize that the Conservatives and Liberals will always be regressive when it comes to replacement worker legislation. However, it is not helpful if we allow employers to use scabs or replacement workers to avoid resolving a conflict. We will see more and more businesses under federal jurisdiction having a hard time finding employees. We already see that in the interprovincial ground transportation sector. Employers have a very hard time recruiting employees, and the average age is very high. It is not very well known, but there is currently a shortage of airplane pilots. The new generation does not like the schedules and working conditions in the airline industry. That is a reality we will have to face. Banks are also having a hard time recruiting employees. You need only visit a branch to see how many retirees have been brought back on contract, because the banks could not fill their positions. The new generations want work environments that encourage personal development.
If we allow a business to use replacement workers during a conflict, and if there are lockouts, and jobs are lost in an economic sector for two, three or four years—that is not uncommon—there will be no new employees coming into businesses of that kind.
That is what is in store for companies under federal jurisdiction. It would be nice to keep managing as though people were all still veterans and baby boomers, but companies need to be careful because generations X and Y see work in a whole new way.
Here in the House of Commons, we have to be visionaries. It is time to make companies, particularly those in sectors under federal jurisdiction, understand that they cannot use replacement workers to avoid conflict resolution. The time has also come to add essential services. Businesses in certain sectors provide services to all communities. Those services should therefore be considered essential and even mandatory in some cases.
The Bloc Québécois has always been against forcing people to stay on the job and always will be, but it is important to negotiate essential services and maintain certain services. When disputes arise, it is important for employees to have the right to strike so they can make the employer understand that things are not working. That is the best way to move labour relations forward.
Over the past few months and the past year, a forestry company in my riding, the Fraser company in Thurso, placed itself under the protection of the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act because it did not have a recovery plan and had decided to sell the company.
I have been a member of the House since 2000. In my own way, I advised the president of the company union, who is a childhood friend. Every time he negotiated an agreement—there have been four since 2000—he asked me what I thought of the situation. I always advised him to the extent of my knowledge, but I am not clairvoyant.
I looked at what was happening at the Conference Board and at Statistics Canada in terms of employers' offers. I talked to him about it, and it was all very nice. Often, after the negotiations, I found that much of the advice I had given him had found its way into the final agreements.
This past year was a terrible one for the employees. Just prior to June of last year, they found out that their company was closing.
My friend called me again to tell me that it seemed to be over and to ask what I thought. I told him that “it ain't over 'til it's over.” Good old Piton Ruel of the Montreal Canadiens used to say that. The same can be said of an exercise that decides the fate of an industry.
The only advice I gave him was to approach the employer about renegotiating working conditions, in case the company were to start up again.
It is not easy for employees and an employer to talk together. It is easier when you know you will keep your job, but when you have already lost your job and no one knows if the company will survive, that makes it hard.
Believe it or not, they negotiated new terms for working conditions in the three or four months following the closure, even though the company was not in production mode. It was difficult. Salaries were reduced by 20% and retirement eligibility was moved from age 55 to 65, but it meant that the company was able to start up again. The company's buyer had no say in the working conditions that had been negotiated by the employer's representatives and the employees while the company was closed. That meant that the company could start up again.
If this company had been under federal jurisdiction and a lock-out had been imposed, these employees would have been laid off for three or four years and the union and employer would never have been able to start negotiations. The tension would have been so bad that they would have wanted the company to close because of the lay-offs.
Once again, I am asking my colleagues to vote in favour of this bill, which is a new way of looking at labour relations.