Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join in the debate on Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers). As the labour critic for my party, I will not be supporting this bill, and in my remarks I will lay out some of my concerns.
Under the current Canada Labour Code there is no general ban on the use of replacement workers. This bill proposes to amend the code so there would be a ban. As my colleague from across the aisle has just noted, the House has considered this type of bill, and motions as well, a number of times over the past decade and they have all failed to pass.
The Canada Labour Code was last revamped in 1999 as a result of recommendations in the Sims report. Most of the issues were agreed on by the stakeholders who had been consulted in the course of the study by the Sims task force.
The controversial measure around replacement workers was not fully agreed on by the stakeholders at that time. However, the task force did recommend that there be no general prohibition on the use of replacement workers after consulting and giving due consideration to the issue. I will quote a recommendation in the task force report:
Replacement workers can be necessary to sustain the economic viability of an enterprise in the face of a harsh economic climate and unacceptable union demands. It is important in a system of free collective bargaining that employers maintain that option, unrestrained by any blanket prohibition. If this option is removed, employers will begin to structure themselves to reduce their reliance on their permanent workforces for fear of vulnerability, to the detriment of both workers and employers alike.
The Liberal government of the day accepted the recommendations of the Sims task force, and the blanket provisions that some of the stakeholders were looking for on the use of replacement workers were not included in the Canada Labour Code at that time.
The business sector believes that since the changes to the code were made, there has been little controversy over the use of replacement workers in the federal sector, but other stakeholders would disagree with that comment.
Where are we today? There are arguments on both sides of this issue. Some would argue that it is an unfair labour practice for employers to use replacement workers in an attempt to undermine a union's representational capacity, for example, to attempt to break a union.
I think all members of the House would agree that unions serve an important function in their representation of workers in collective bargaining with respect to benefits and health and safety conditions.
On the other side of the argument, some have argued that while a union has the absolute right to strike, an employer also has the right to continue to operate and customers have the right to service. This is a very polarized argument.
It is clear that some provinces have been successful with respect to both sides of this issue. Some of my colleagues have talked about the ban on replacement workers in Quebec. There is also a ban on replacement workers in British Columbia, and that was put in place by an NDP government in the 1990s. When the B.C. Liberal government took office in 2001 it was widely expected that it would amend the labour code in British Columbia to remove the ban on replacement workers, but it chose not to do that.
As a proud British Columbian and as a former member of the government of that day, I would note that British Columbia went from having the slowest growing economy in Canada in 2000 to having the fastest growing economy a few years later, still with the ban on replacement workers in place.
There is no evidence that one way is right and another way is wrong. In fact, several provinces with NDP governments have maintained the aspect of their labour codes that allows replacement workers. In a way, this is not even an ideological divide.
The example of Quebec shows that the number of days lost to work stoppage is not substantially higher than the average number lost under the Canada Labour Code. In terms of a severe impact from having a ban versus not having a ban, I would contend that we do not see that.
What is at the core of my argument that we should not be supporting this private member's bill? The key to the situation really is fair and free collective bargaining that is balanced between employers and unions. I would assert that this balance cannot be maintained and improved through a selective private member's bill that picks one side of a historically polarized issue in the absence of a clear crisis that demands immediate action.
I would further assert that we face some serious challenges in the future, we being Canadians, in the broader context within which we need to look at labour relations and our approach to labour relations. Is the historic polarity between organizations representing labour and those representing the private sector on this issue the framework within which we want to make decisions for the future?
Do we want to maintain that polarity and weigh in on one side or another, or do we want to find a place away from that dichotomy, a place where employers and employees work together with the co-operation and co-ordination of their representatives to address larger external threats to the quality of life and the well-being of Canadians? That is exactly what I believe needs to happen.
What are some of the serious challenges? As I have said, I do not believe that this is useful legislation to help achieve the objective of improving people's lives. Some of the challenges include the re-entry into major deficit into which the Conservative government has placed Canada. There is the mounting debt we are facing.
At the same time, we have the demographic of an aging population such that there will be relatively fewer people in the workforce a generation from now. Perhaps two in ten Canadians will be in the workforce. There will be far more people aged 65 and over than there are today, along with the related costs for health care and other services. That is the challenge facing Canada that we cannot ignore, though the government seems to be doing that.
Some would assert that four in ten Canadians are challenged in their ability to be successful in their jobs because of illiteracy. We need to increase Canadian productivity and better match people with jobs, because we are faced with a million Canadians who are out of work and a million jobs for which there are not skilled people.
In the future, when there are fewer people of working age, we will need higher productivity. To be competitive, we need to be working together to face the challenges of the major economies of the Asia-Pacific and their success and growth.
We need a new economy that is based on green jobs. As we change the way we use energy, we increase our efficiency. We need to be thinking about all those kinds of technological innovations that underpin the transformation of our economy.
Does this legislation address any of those problems and help to solve them? I would say that it does not. We need employees and employers working together. We need governments working with employees and employers, finding the successes, building on them, and then addressing the huge challenges we face in the future.