House of Commons Hansard #61 of the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was colombia.


Government Orders

1:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

In my opinion the nays have it.

And five or more members having risen:

Pursuant to Standing Order 45, the recorded division stands deferred until Monday, June 14, at the ordinary hour of daily adjournment.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

June 11th, 2010 / 1:40 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

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.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Jim Maloway Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the member for introducing this legislation. As the member knows, this legislation has been in force in Quebec since René Lévesque's day, in 1977. I notice that it has survived many changes in government, as well. When the Liberals become government, they do not repeal it, as was the case in Ontario when Mike Harris came in, and the current government of Jean Charest has not repealed it either. Obviously it must have some beneficial effects in Quebec.

Could the member give us some statistics as to why and how this legislation has survived so long in the province of Quebec?

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the statistics I just gave speak for themselves. There are two and half times fewer days of work stoppages because of lock-outs or strikes at companies under provincial jurisdiction than at companies under federal jurisdiction. This means that disputes are shorter and therefore less likely to become acrimonious.

As the saying goes, what is left lying around gets dirty. That is definitely the case with labour relations in companies under federal jurisdiction. Disputes go on far too long and they become dirty because people hold grudges for decades. When the time comes to try to save a company together, people would often rather see it close and the owner lose everything because he did not manage to find the right balance in labour relations.

Labour relations need to be protected by legislation, as they are in Quebec, where there is a true right to strike and essential services are maintained. That is a fairer and more balanced way to deal with labour relations.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.

Pitt Meadows—Maple Ridge—Mission


Randy Kamp Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans

Mr. Speaker, the member would probably agree that the goal of any legislation like this, or the goal of workplace relations, should be to reduce the incidence or duration of strikes. I know that he has talked about some within the Quebec jurisdiction. However, I would like to ask him if, at the federal level, he has any evidence that legislation like this would actually produce either of those results, a reduction in either the incidence or duration of workplace stoppages.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

1:55 p.m.


Mario Laframboise Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, QC

Mr. Speaker, the federal government's habit of imposing things through legislation is a terrible way to proceed. So it is rather difficult. In the case of a labour conflict, transportation, whether it is air, maritime or ground, is considered an essential service, and legislation is imposed. I can understand that the Conservative members want to pass a law to show that they are big and strong, and to impose working conditions. What often happens is that employers rely on that and do not negotiate with their employees.

They tell themselves that the federal government will pass legislation and will impose working conditions, and that that is how they will resolve their conflicts. But that is not the solution. I urge the Conservative member to look at his own statistics. Currently, businesses under federal jurisdiction receive fewer job applications from the younger generation because they do not respect the living conditions that this new generation is looking for.

By always giving the employer the upper hand and by ramming working conditions down people's throats, the Conservatives will run a lot of companies out of business, since they will not be able to recruit employees. That is the case with the ground and air transportation sectors. I know what I am talking about; the member should talk to some airplane pilots. There are no new employees coming in, because the working conditions are imposed; nothing is negotiated. The new generation does not want to work in those sectors. We can choose to think like the regressive Conservatives, who are 40 years behind, or to be visionaries like the Bloc Québécois, which is 30 years ahead.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

2 p.m.


Bruce Stanton Simcoe North, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is a great privilege to join members today in this debate regarding the provisions of Bill C-386. This proposed legislation calls for significant changes to key sections of the Canada Labour Code. If passed, it would prohibit federal employees from hiring replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or in a lock-out situation.

This initiative, tabled by my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, is the most recent in a long line of attempts to use this kind of legislation as a means of rewriting the rules on what can happen during a work stoppage. As members know, this House has debated similar bills and motions on this very issue countless times. Indeed, I have come to understand that there have been 14 such proposals just since the year 2000, and not one of these bills has been supported by Parliament. What we should be learning from the experience is that this is not in fact the right way to address labour relations and it is not an effective way of preventing work stoppages.

Our government's position on Bill C-386 is very clear. Workers, unions and businesses all deserve more than this piecemeal approach as would be prescribed by this bill. Instead we need to stick with an approach that leads to a positive result for everyone, each of the workplace parties. It is an approach based on the prevention of work stoppages, first of all, but also in terms of consultation and compromise between the parties.

The drafters and supporters of this bill in any of its earlier manifestations are fond of citing Quebec as an example of a jurisdiction that has successfully enacted a legislative ban on the use of replacement workers, but they are less likely to mention that Quebec's efforts were enacted more than 30 years ago. It is important to keep in mind the context here. The economic and labour issues faced by the province of Quebec in the 1970s are absolutely not the same as the ones faced by the Government of Canada today. It is an entirely different scenario.

Even in the spirit of labour relations today, it is very different from what we saw and certainly what the province of Quebec saw in the 1970s. Consider, for example, the success rate that we have achieved at the federal level. Over 97% of labour disputes were resolved last year without strikes or lockouts. Even in the rare cases that do result in a work stoppage, federal employers tend not to use external replacement workers.

The numbers speak the truth. The approach we have in place now is working very well. The Government of Canada's approach to maintaining good labour relations is based on getting at the root of disputes. The accent is on preventing work stoppages from ever happening in the first place.

That is one of the key reasons that in 2008 we commissioned a study conducted by an industrial relations expert, Peter Annis, on the causes and effects of work stoppages in the federally regulated private sector. His report was tabled about a year ago. Among his findings, Mr. Annis found that there is no conclusive empirical evidence, none, to support the idea that banning replacement workers would lead to a decrease in the incidence of work stoppages or the number of person days not worked. His findings are supported by a number of other independent academic studies.

Instead, Mr. Annis maintained that what we really need to be doing is focusing on prevention mediation. We need to find ways for all sides to work together in a spirit of co-operation through the life of the collective agreement. I am sure all members would agree that this would be an entirely preferable arrangement.

It is not enough for both sides to address an issue once every three or four years, or each time a collective agreement finishes during collective bargaining. That is how people become disengaged from each other, and disputes become more difficult to resolve quickly and thoroughly. Things become much more difficult.

I would like to share something Mr. Annis said in regard to the subject at hand, because it is an important insight for us all to consider. He said that if one diminishes the adversarial nature of the relationship and gets the stakeholders into problem solving and they see the collective agreement not as a contract to be fought over and enforced tooth and nail, but rather as a living snapshot of the relationship that they have to work on throughout the whole period, it will bring down the number of work stoppages.

It is absolutely clear that this is the preferable approach and the one that the Government of Canada supports wholeheartedly.

Our government agrees with this assessment. When we can find ways to engage both sides on an ongoing basis, we will be able to get to the root causes of labour disputes. Parties will indeed be better equipped to work out their differences. When they both have a stake in maintaining positive relations, relationships that are adversarial will become, instead, constructive. Where there is a collaborative relationship, there is an incentive to avoid work stoppages.

Do the provisions in Bill C-386 seek to engage parties in a positive, constructive manner? Do they encourage the parties to build long-term relationships based on trust and mutual respect? I would say that the simple answer is no, they do not. If anything, they do the opposite.

We need to avoid driving the two sides apart with such divisive tactics. Instead, we need to focus on supporting innovative government policies that prevent conflict and enhance labour-management relationships in the long term.

Good labour relations are about sustaining a balance. We know that to be true. It is not about taking sides. It is about being fair and giving both sides an incentive to work together. That is what Canada achieved when it amended the Canada Labour Code in 1999. The code's current replacement worker provision is an approach that provides an important balance between the needs of workers and those of their employers. It was the outcome of hard work and hard-fought debates.

The amendments followed after a lengthy and extensive review process involving broad-based consultations with client groups. It may not be a perfect solution, but it is one that has struck a balance, one that has been achieved through dialogue, co-operation and compromise.

That is where I would say the focus of the House as it relates to Bill C-386 should remain. It should not remain on debating one legislative attempt after another, each seeking to ban replacement workers without consultation, without compromise and without balance.

It is for these reasons that I remain opposed to Bill C-386. I call on all members of the House to vote against these provisions becoming law.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

2:05 p.m.


Joyce Murray Vancouver Quadra, BC

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.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

2:15 p.m.


Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON

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--

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

Resuming debate, the hon. member for Shefford.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

2:25 p.m.


Robert Vincent Shefford, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to take part in this debate on Bill C-386 introduced by my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel who, on behalf of his political party, is trying for the umpteenth time to put an end to the use of replacement workers in Canada and Quebec.

While Quebec legislated on this a long time ago, workers governed by the Canada Labour Code working in Quebec are not covered by Quebec's Bill 45, passed during the first mandate of the late René Lévesque. This Conservative government is once again ignoring one of the main demands with respect to how the whole area of work relations is governed.

Why is anti-strikebreaking, or anti-scab, legislation necessary? For one thing, the Bloc Québécois would like all workers in Quebec, whether governed by the Quebec Labour Code or the Canada Labour Code, to have the same rights. The Conservative government's stubbornness is creating two distinct classes of workers in Quebec. The Bloc Québécois believes that the best way of recognizing the outstanding contribution of all these men and women who are helping build the Quebec society on a day-to-day basis is to show genuine respect for their rights, starting by banning the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts.

Anti-scab legislation would ensure that workers governed by federal legislation enjoy balanced bargaining power, and would keep tension on the picket lines to a minimum. That is the basic objective of Bill C-386, which would prohibit the hiring of replacement workers.

At this point, I would like to list what the Conservative government has done in response to the many expectations of the labour movement. It is a very short list. How much has the Conservative government given to help the unemployed, the tens of thousands of workers who have lost their job in the forestry sector? Peanuts, compared to the billions of dollars it has showered on Ontario to help auto workers. What has the Conservative government done to eliminate the two-week waiting period for people who become unemployed? Nothing.

Workers who lose their jobs go through stress and anxiety. Their income is cut off at the source. Meanwhile, they are expected to wait patiently for a Service Canada official to examine their file, and often they have to endure processing delays, not to mention the 1-800 telephone line, which is insane. In addition to waiting for an answer, the poor jobless people have to put up with this irresponsible treatment.

I will continue with my list, because since I came to the House of Commons in 2004, my social priorities have always included the unemployed and older workers. This government is still refusing to support our proposal to increase the maximum EI benefit period for workers with a serious illness from 15 to 50 weeks. It is currently 15 weeks, as if someone's cancer could be treated in 15 weeks.

I could pull out the list of measures we have called for in recent years and the many bills we have introduced to help our workers. The list of no's from ministers and members is as long as our list of requests. By the way, the government voted against Bill C-429, which would have promoted the use of wood in the construction of federal buildings and would have helped workers in Quebec. But no, the government ignored our workers again. That was another trademark vote by the Conservatives.

I would like to remind hon. members once again of one of the most anti-worker statements ever heard here in the House. On December 3, 2009, the member for Souris—Moose Mountain said this:

I do not see anything in the bill's proposed provision that would help boost Canada's ability to create jobs and to be more competitive in today's economy. What I do see in the bill is a recipe for instability and uncertainty in Canadian labour relations.

What an explanation. According to him, having workers out on the street for months or years is what will stimulate employment, as will the uncertainty of the workers who do not have sufficient power to assert their legitimate rights. What is the government doing about the uncertainty experienced by the many families of strikers affected by these lasting disputes? Nothing, nothing and more nothing. It prefers to build lakes—that is a good one—for journalists and delegates at the G8. In their right-wing vocabulary, the Conservatives call this “stimulating the economy”. I call it keeping families in poverty.

Let us get back to the Conservative government's sad record.

Here is a clear example of that record. During the CN conflict, the Conservative government passed special legislation with respect to Canadian National. The latter had been training its managers and a large group of non-unionized employees for several months in order to maintain service. In the case of CN, they were maintaining over 60% of service. However, Canadian Pacific, which has two parallel lines across Canada—one used by CN and the other by CP—could have covered the other 40% that CN claimed it could not. They could also have resorted to trucking, as well as the short lines in the regions, to serve the Canadian public.

For the Montreal region, for example, AMT had signed an agreement for continuous passenger service and CN would have covered not just 100%, but 120% of the service provided to its clients.

Given all these responsibilities and possibilities, I wonder why the Conservatives thought there was a crisis and why was there a need for additional service? We have to allow negotiations between the parties to continue in good faith and force them to agree on a collective agreement, and not vote on a special law to force workers back to work.

I would also point out to my hon. colleagues that CN is a private corporation, which is why I do not understand why the government became involved in the dispute. Indeed, when it comes to private corporations, we believe that they are in a position to negotiate with workers themselves and capable of doing so, but they do not, nor do they have to. All they have to do is call up the government and say that they are going on strike and will not be able to provide the service. Since it is a transportation service, it is very important. What did the government do? It passed special legislation to force the workers back to work. They forget about negotiating; they make them work and everything goes back to what it was before, without any thought given to negotiating with the workers. I find that unreasonable on the government's part. It is always trying to denigrate workers. Yet our workers form the foundation of the Canadian and Quebec economy. And they are the first people the government tries to steal from.

We saw it again with the $57 billion that the government stole from workers. It is not enough to tax them or to take taxes off at the source, it always wants a little bit more. As for employers, their taxes have been cut. It is not employers that are producing what Canada needs to survive. It comes from the taxes paid by workers.

I could also talk about the theft from the employment insurance fund surplus. My mother always told me that when you take something that is not yours, it is stealing. When they dipped into the employment insurance fund that was not theirs, it was stealing. I will not contradict my mother here today. If she said it, it is because it is true. Nothing will change my mind.

Back when the Conservatives were in opposition, they constantly condemned the Liberals' practice of pillaging the employment insurance fund. Now, with Bill C-9, they are about to keep doing the same thing. How? By wiping the slate clean, as they say. The Conservatives are telling workers and employers, the people to whom that money belongs, that they should forget about recuperating the $57 billion that the government siphoned off over the years.

The Prime Minister himself once recognized that employment insurance fund money was misappropriated to pay down the deficit. He promised workers that he would repay the $57 billion that Ottawa diverted. Now he is breaking that promise.

The proposed new employment insurance measures are particularly sickening because the Conservatives are trying to hide them among the dozens of other initiatives in Bill C-9. Unfortunately, these kinds of anti-democratic manoeuvres have become par for the course with the Conservative government.

With the end of the parliamentary session just days away, on behalf of unionized workers subject to the Canada Labour Code, and on behalf of the Bloc Québécois, we urge the Conservative ministers and members to say yes to anti-scab legislation.

Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business

2:35 p.m.


The Deputy Speaker Andrew Scheer

The time provided for the consideration of private members' business has now expired, and the order is dropped to the bottom of the order of precedence on the order paper.

It being 2:39 p.m., the House stands adjourned until Monday next at 11 a.m. pursuant to Standing Order 24(1).

(The House adjourned at 2:39 p.m.)