Mr. Speaker, today we are being asked to approve a motion that would expedite the passage of back-to-work legislation that was introduced only yesterday.
How can this House vote on a process to end the debate that has not even started yet, a debate on a bill that we have not even been able to discuss in our caucus? I suppose coming from the Conservatives, a party where independent political thinking is rarely apparent and never encouraged, that should not be surprising. The Prime Minister muzzles his MPs in his own caucus and tells them what they can say, when and where.
In our caucus, though, we actually believe in the vital role that Parliament plays in the legislative process. We take seriously our role in the deliberative process of the House of Commons which manifests itself in the debate of bills and motions.
All too often with the Conservative government, legislation contains poison pills that are not apparent from a cursory review. I do not need to remind members in this House about the purported economic recovery bill from the last Parliament that included sections gutting pay equity, killing the court challenges program and other provisions that had nothing to do with helping us get out of the current recession.
Asking us to vote on something before it has been adequately debated is simply not on, and for good reason. Here is what a former member of Parliament had to say on the subject:
--if closure can be resorted to in order to implement these rule changes, and can be used so as to alter fundamentally the very nature and role of the House of Commons, then we are in a very sorry state indeed in so far as democracy and freedom are concerned.
Who said that? It was none other than former Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield. Mr. Stanfield was right. It is contempt of our rights as members of Parliament. It is contempt of Parliament as a democratic and representative institution. It is contempt of Canadian labour laws. It is contempt of Canada's signature on UN and ILO conventions. It is contempt of workers' rights in our country.
What is at issue here is the impending legislation that seeks to impose an end to a dispute between Canada Post and the 54,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. It is a bill that diminishes and constrains hard fought for workers' rights, a bill that the NDP certainly has no intention of supporting.
The right to bargain collectively is recognized through international human rights conventions that Canada is a signatory to, yet once again we find ourselves in a position where the Conservatives are violating Canada's ILO obligations and using unnecessary legislation to end a labour dispute.
The government had a choice. As the owner of Canada Post, it had the option of instructing management to resume postal service to the public, get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a lasting resolution to this dispute. That is what it should have done.
Instead, the government chose to introduce back-to-work legislation to show utter disrespect for workers' rights. This is exactly what the employer, Canada Post was waiting for.
Instead of negotiating in good faith, Canada Post Corporation will be provided with a government appointed arbitrator who has clear instructions to side with the employer and roll back rates and benefits that postal workers have struggled to achieve for decades.
Let us have a look at how this unfolded. On June 2, in an effort to persuade Canada Post to abandon its demand for significant concessions and instead negotiate fair solutions, the union began limited, rotating strikes at various locations throughout the country.
Aware of the effects of the service disruption on the public, the union chose action that would minimize the inconvenience to Canadians.
On June 6, the union agreed to suspend all strike activity and continue to negotiate, but Canada Post rejected that offer. Indeed, on the morning of June 14, the Minister of Labour said that there was no need for back-to-work legislation because the strike was rotating and mail was still moving.
That evening, Canada Post took the draconian step of locking out all workers and shutting down postal services entirely.
The very next day, the Minister of Labour announced that she would give Canada Post the legislation that it had been waiting for. For the workers of Canada Post, this is a profound violation of their right to strike and their right to free collective bargaining, a process that works fully 95% of the time, ending disputes without any type of work disruption.
When the government interferes in that process, it undermines the democratic rights of workers. It is a heavy-handed way of forcing a resolution to a dispute that could have been resolved at the bargaining table. It takes away the level playing field and instead tips the scale squarely in favour of the employer.
I have to say that in this dispute it was particularly insulting to the workers and to all Canadians, frankly, when the Minister of Labour decided to speak out and inform the employer that all it had to do was stop the movement of mail and she would introduce a back-to-work bill.
Canada Post heard that message loud and clear, and immediately locked out the members of CUPW.
New Democrats will not support this draconian measure and we certainly do not support the underhanded partisan conduct of the minister.
What we do support is a strong national and public postal system, a postal system that has made $1.7 billion in the last 15 years and paid $1.2 billion in dividends and income tax to the federal government and a postal system that is, by any measure, socially and financially sound. That is right, Canada Post is very profitable and by keeping Canada Post profitable, the postal workers actually save the public money.
While it is true that multinational courier companies regularly lobby the government to deregulate Canada Post and open up the letter market to competition, the truth is Canadians do not support it. The 2008 strategic review of Canada Post reported that there appeared to be little or no public support for the privatization or deregulation of Canada Post. Our NDP caucus stands united with Canadians in opposing any move to deregulate and privatize our national postal service.
Our postal service is profitable and productive. Unlike many companies, Canada Post has increased its productivity in the last two years. This productivity has, in turn, allowed Canada Post to keep postal rates low. Our 59¢ stamp is one of the biggest bargains in the entire industrialized world. People in Japan pay almost $1 Canadian to send a domestic letter. In Austria it is equivalent to 88¢. In Germany it is 78¢. While offering a much more affordable postal system, Canada Post is at the same time making profits and paying substantial dividends and income tax into public coffers.
Canada Post insists that it needs big changes in order to deal with a 17% decline in volume of mail. However, letter volume has only declined 7.2% between 2006 and 2009. Some of that 7.2% decline was due to the economic recession. Figures for 2010 have not yet been released, but volumes are likely to rebound somewhat as Internet purchasing becomes more commonplace. Although volume has marginally decreased, it is hardly the 17% figure that Canada Post is trying to sell us.
I will talk a bit about what is at stake in this dispute, not just for the workers at Canada Post but, indeed, for all Canadian workers. As we know all too well, an injury to one is an injury to all. This is a dispute between the CUPW and Canada Post, but there is a bigger fight going on here. When unions take a risk and stand to be counted on an issue of national importance, all Canadians benefit. It has been 30 years since the brave members of CUPW went on strike for 42 days to take a stand for paid maternity leave, and won. This was a major victory for all workers as the government and other employers were forced to provide the same leave for their employees, not too far down the road.
Today, these honourable union members are taking a stand for future generations. They are fighting against the corporate impulse to race to the bottom. They are standing up for fair wages and working conditions. Canada Post is determined to set a starting wage for new employees at a rate 18% less than that of current employees. For young workers who are just starting out in the working world, many of whom have a college or university education, the message is, “You don't deserve the same salary as your co-workers”. Whatever happened to the principle of decent pay for decent work? The income inequality sought by Canada Post is a slap in the face.
What about sick leave? Canada Post wants to eliminate sick leave for all employees and impose an unfair short-term disability plan. Under this plan, workers would have to apply to a private insurance company if they were sick or injured for more than one week. They want to eliminate short-term sick days and instead force workers to use personal days when they are ill. The existing sick leave plan, where sick days are earned, has been in place and working well since 1968. Almost half a century later, Canada Post suddenly decides the plan needs to be eliminated.
Postal workers are standing up for safe working conditions. Technological change, the modernization of Canada Post and five years of cutting jobs and not filling vacancies has consequences. In the last session of Parliament, I spoke about a woman letter carrier from my riding in Hamilton Mountain who suffered heat exhaustion because of extra hours on the job. Instead of allowing other employees to work regular hours, Canada Post forced its employees to work overtime. Postal workers are being seriously hurt and this practice must come to an end.
Then there are pension issues. Canada Post wants to turn back the clock on employee pensions by increasing the age at which employees can retire without penalty and capping pension indexing at 75% the rate of inflation for all newly hired employees.
In 1981 CUPW stood up for all working Canadians and fought for social benefits, in that case, maternity leave, which Canadians now consider a basic right. The women and men of CUPW are again fighting for the rights of all Canadians working to retire with dignity and respect.
Canadians are worried about their retirement security. Pension plans and retirement savings have been hit hard by this recession. The government has made it clear it has no interest in meaningfully improving the Canada pension plan. Now it is siding with employers in their determination to gut workplace pensions as well.
Pensions are deferred wages. They belong to the employees. Workers often sacrifice wage improvements and other benefits to secure a pension plan that will provide for a dignified and secure retirement.
One-quarter of a million seniors in the country currently live in poverty. It is unconscionable, it is indefensible and it is largely because CPP is inadequate and those seniors did not have a union on their side, fighting for a decent pension.
As the boomers hit their retirement years, fair and adequate pensions are increasingly an issue that matters to all of us. Unless we, as parliamentarians, are happy to preside over the creation of an even more appallingly poor generation of seniors, pensions must be protected and improved.
The attack on pensions by Canada Post and by far too many other private and public sector employers is shortsighted and fiscally and socially irresponsible.
I applaud the women and men of CUPW who are taking a stand by protecting not just their own pensions but the pensions of those workers who will follow. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is determined to protect pension provisions for those workers who cannot yet conceive of the day they will need it. Just as they did when Canada Post denied the maternity leave decades ago, they are fighting for fair working conditions and benefits for all workers of all ages.
Fair wages, sick leave, a safe and healthy workplace and a secure pension are all fundamental worker rights. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is right to be defending these rights against attacks by their employer, and they have done so responsibly and with dignity.
Even though the law allows them to fully withdraw their labour after 72 hours' notice, they decided to have rotating strikes in an effort to minimize the impact on Canadians. They never stopped providing service to the public. People were still able to use the postal service, with the knowledge that their mail would arrive. Before Canada Post locked them out, only 51% of the population experienced a delay and there was never a full stoppage in mail service.
Is it not ironic that while the Minister of Labour was introducing legislation to order CUPW members back to work, members of the union were already on the streets working, volunteering their time to ensure the delivery of Canada pension plan, old age security and child benefits cheques, as well as provincial social assistance cheques in Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, ensuring that our most vulnerable Canadians were not impacted by their employer's decision to lock them out.
I know my time is running out. However, before I wrap up, I will like to read into the record a commentary that was written by James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees, a union which, at this time, is running a campaign entitled “All Together Now”, reminding us that we are all in this together. This is our future, our children's future and our grandchildren's future.
The commentary states:
Back in the day, post offices were the heart of communities. People would go there to receive mail from afar, settle bills and accounts and, most likely, catch up on the on-goings in the neighbourhood.
Our postal service has been a central part of our country since it was first introduced by the federal government in 1867. It has been a shining example of a valuable public service--one that is often overlooked and, certainly, underappreciated.
Designed to serve the common good, it connects Canadians to each other as well as the global community.
It’s affordable. No matter where you live in this vast landscape, the cost to mail a letter is the same for everyone. Do you really think the costs are the same from Iqaluet to Edmonton than from Ottawa to Kingston? But when we pool our resources, it works.
It’s accessible. Despite more recent service delivery cutbacks, every community has access to postal service. Mailboxes are the furniture of our city streets. Post offices can be found in every town.
And it’s accountable. Since the establishment of the postal service, it’s transformed into a crown corporation of the federal government. The CEO of Canada Post is appointed by the Minister responsible for Canada Post. As citizens, and voters, we have the ability to contribute to the vision and direction of this service.
For these reasons and many more, I am urging all Canadians to pay attention to what is happening in the current round of bargaining between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
It’s not just about wages and working conditions, although both are important, it’s about the future of this public service, one that benefits each of us, our families and our businesses.
There are some important choices being made during these negotiations. Canada Post has the choice to continue on its old path, with a singular focus on postal delivery as though the world and the way of doing business hasn’t changed dramatically over the last decade or more. Or it can look to the future, to see the opportunities and get back in the game.
To be able to compete in this recovering economic climate, we need to see that the leadership of Canada Post are up to the task. For sure, Canada Post needs to modernize. And, thankfully, it is looking to update its operations; years of under-investment in equipment and facilities require this to happen.
But what we are hearing about is the company’s strategy to use modernization as a Trojan horse to gut the workforce. Canada Post plans to invest $2 billion in new machines and work methods but eliminate 7000 jobs.
This doesn’t make any good sense. One of the best assets of a national public service is the investment in a well trained workforce. If we’re going to see any innovation, we’re going to need these people more than ever!
The real question now is whether or not Canada Post is up to the job to be the innovator the country needs. There is a massive opportunity for CEO Deepak Chopra to make a transformative shift in our postal system. Now is the perfect time for Canada Post to open itself to the future, to invest and expand.
All we have to do is take a look at what is happening around the globe to see how other countries are dealing with similar problems. They are expanding and reinvesting. Expansion of services will allow Canada Post to share the benefits of its modernization with the public by preserving and improving postal services and employment opportunities. Service expansion will help generate the much-needed revenue to keep enriching and enhancing products and the level of service for all Canadians.
Banking, expansion of parcel delivery, using current retail outlets to offer more services, as well as reinstating more door-to-door delivery so that every Canadian is provided with the same level of service are other well-founded and time-tested examples that Canada Post can adopt.
And these ideas are exactly what CUPW is proposing in negotiations. The union is not bargaining for the status quo. It is bargaining to create a solid and profitable corporation--a modern post, powered by the people--to serve the best interests of Canadians for decades to come--
It’s this kind of forward-thinking that, our postal system, and our country needs.
We need to support CUPW in its efforts and make sure Canada Post is listening.
I am proud to say that all members of the NDP caucus will be standing in solidarity with the workers of CUPW. I urge all members in the House to join us and stand up for the values and principles on which our country was built. It is a vision of Canada that is worth fighting for.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I move:
That this question be now put.