Mr. Speaker, I am going to try to take advantage of the few minutes I have to try to explain the concepts that some of my Conservative colleagues have obviously not understood, even after several hours of debate.
We are here today to vote on a bill forcing workers to abandon their right to bargain, forcing them to return to inadequate health and safety conditions at work, conditions that need to be improved, and forcing them to be quiet.
This back-to-work legislation means that workers are losing ground and that their rights are being rolled back. We have said this repeatedly in the House, but apparently the words have not made it to the other side of the chamber.
Because of this bill, workers will be deprived of the right to negotiate their working conditions, a right they acquired decades ago. Please note the word “negotiation”, a word the leader of the government needs to examine more closely.
We have to discuss and debate to arrive at an agreement that will satisfy both parties and be fair to both of them, because even if one of two parties has more power, for instance if it is in majority at the bargaining table, the spirit of democracy and justice should dictate that it listens to what the other side has to say, to learn from the experience that informs each of their statements. But this government clearly has nothing but contempt for the word “negotiation”.
For several months now postal workers have negotiated to obtain better working conditions. They made concessions and they agreed to listen to what their employer had to say. They were willing to accept the collective agreement that was in force. They were ready to live with it so that things could move forward.
They demonstrated more commitment to their work and dedication to their fellow citizens than their legal obligations required. And what did the government do in light of these concessions? What did the government do in return for their dedication to public service and the citizens of this country? It treated them with contempt, ignored them and gave them short shrift. And what is even worse, it is offering postal workers even less than what they had obtained in their negotiations with Canada Post. It is proposing a lower salary and poorer working conditions. Why impose worse conditions on the workers than those Canada Post had agreed to?
Let us come back to the reason Canada Post is giving for refusing the union's demands: the argument that agreeing to these demands would supposedly render the company financially non-viable.
Given how broadly Canada Post defines its financial viability, we can therefore assume that the provisions agreed to by management did not directly or indirectly jeopardize Canada's or Canada Post's finances.
And yet, the government decided to retract these provisions. Why? The answer is simple: for profit. This bill trades the security, health and quality of life of devoted workers and their families for profits larger than the $281 million Canada Post made last year. The government is trading the dignity of our workers for a few million dollars extra. Does the Prime Minister think that this is in the best interest of our country?
Has he perhaps forgotten that a country is not a bank? This country is not a pile of money; it is people who work and dedicate themselves to this country, people who have already made concessions.
Where are this government's concessions? Where is this government's dignity? I do not know. I do not see them in this bill. All I see here is a supreme insult to all the workers in this country who get up every morning to keep this country running, to make sure the mail gets delivered, to take care of the sick, to manufacture goods, to teach our children and to ensure that our society and economy do as well as possible. The truth is that the workers we are talking about have shown more concern and respect for Canadians than this government has.
But contempt is common on the other side of the House. Take, for example, the fact that this government was found in contempt of Parliament. We have not forgotten. The contempt this government has for postal workers who did everything they could to continue to provide service to the public even while they were on strike is unacceptable.
Who will be next? Who will be the next to be humiliated and sacrificed in the supposed best interest of the economy, an interest that we clearly do not define in the same way at all?
Who else will be silenced in the name of these supposed economic interests? Or, should I say, who else will be silenced in the name of this government's interests?
Here is one email I received:
It has been a long haul with Bill C-6, and it's with pride that I see men and women standing in defence of what is right, not only for postal workers but for all workers who don't have a voice.
I would prefer not to repeat yet again what this government has been denying for hours now, but we have no choice. It authorized a worker lockout. It prevented workers from doing their jobs, even though they were willing to continue doing work that no essential service legislation required them to do.
Then the government proposed legislation forcing employees back to work, to do a job they did not want to stop doing in the first place. Incidentally, the government took away some of their rights. The right to collective bargaining, the right to a safe working environment, the right to retire at a deserving age, the right to sick leave, the right to retirement benefits pensioners can live on and not just get by on, all of which are and should remain fundamental rights in this country.
Since this debate began yesterday, all of my NDP colleagues and I have been receiving constant emails of encouragement and appreciation. Emails asking us to fight, to continue standing up for the rights of those who live and work in this country.
Now it is my turn to take this opportunity to thank all those people for their support. They serve as constant reminders of why we are here, why we rise in this House one after another and why we are prepared to stay here as long as necessary.
We have repeatedly heard the Conservatives argue that Canadians gave them a clear mandate to justify their behaviour in this House. I think they are sadly mistaken. I see no clear message. Thirty-eight percent of Canadians voted for the Conservatives. But, as I see it, the clear message and the message that should be obvious to anyone who can add or subtract is that 62% of Canadians voted against the government.
Since the hon. members do not seem inclined to hear the voices of those Canadians, I will make their voices heard here. This morning, I got an email from a woman telling me how proud she was for voting NDP, how heartwarming it was to see all of us, here in the House, standing up for principles that she holds dear, such as the right to free collective bargaining, equal wages for equal work, decent pension plans, public services for all Canadians and fighting back against this unfair attack on the working class. She urged us to keep up the fight against this right-wing government, which, in her words, has shown nothing but contempt for the working class and ordinary people.
And there are others.
It says, “My family has watched the debates and we are all amazed and grateful that you will stand up for us, to not be bullied by Canada Post and the government into accepting an unfair contract. Thank you for standing up for who has a right under the law to free bargaining.”
Another says, “Keep on speaking out. Keep up the fight. Keep making clear how the crisis is one which has been manufactured by the Conservative government.”
Please listen carefully to these words. We have heard many Conservative members refer to a strike. Once again, there seems to be a misunderstanding here. As my colleagues have repeatedly pointed out, there was a rotating strike. It had a very moderate impact on mail delivery.
However, the lockout is having more than a moderate impact; it has paralyzed mail delivery. This lockout was not chosen by postal workers; it was a choice made by the executives at Canada Post, under the authority of the state, the authority of our government.
The constant use of the word “strike” rather than “lockout” by my government colleagues shows their obvious and dishonest intent to mislead citizens, to have the responsibility for this situation rest with the workers rather than the government.
The Conservatives have often talked about their concern for small business. All of us here in this House are concerned about small businesses that are being adversely affected by the absence of mail delivery.
My Conservative colleagues have been reading emails from small businesses demanding that mail service resume. But no one asked for this lockout at the outset, no one besides this government. Why not let them know once again who is really responsible for this situation, who supported the lockout, who is really adversely affecting small businesses, who is damaging our country's economy now? The answer is simple: it is the government.
Our hon. Prime Minister is doing harm to small businesses. Our hon. Prime Minister is doing harm to this country's economy. Our hon. Prime Minister is doing harm to this country with a pointless lockout he has the power to end and an unfair piece of legislation. He is not trying to find a solution that would resolve this matter, which would be to take the locks off the doors.