Mr. Speaker, with your kind permission, I would like to use these few moments to paraphrase a famous poem by Boris Vian. It goes like this:
Men whose names are great
I am writing you a letter
That you will read perhaps
If the Tories remove the locks.
I found it appropriate under the circumstances. In fact, since yesterday, a number of hon. members, from my party and from the government, have been able to read emails and messages that people have sent them. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a message from a lady in Montreal who works for Canada Post. I have to say that I was also able to discuss Bill C-6 yesterday and to express my views on the matter. After introducing herself, she writes that she has been a Canada Post employee for about 30 years and wants to thank us for the support that we have been giving them in the House as we debate Bill C-6. She explains that this is her last contract and that she will be retiring soon. She indicates that our comments have been very accurate and precise; she tells us to keep up the good work, and then she thanks me.
I would like to use this email to draw the attention of hon. members to the fact that this lady, who has devoted 30 years of her life to delivering mail to our fellow Canadians, will soon be able to retire knowing how much her retirement pension will be. That will not be the case with new Canada Post employees if the bill before us is eventually passed and imposed on them by an arbitrator. Its clauses contain a significant disparity in treatment. New Canada Post employees will have to work five years longer before they can retire. And since they are in danger of having a defined contribution plan, not only will they know that they will have to retire later, when they are older, but they will also not know exactly how much money they will receive when they do retire.
This is an extremely important aspect of the current debate. I am pleased that the hon. member for Gatineau raised the question a few minutes ago. It really does create a two-tier system. It creates a conflict between generations, where some employees have certain rights and enjoy certain working conditions while new employees, the younger ones, have inferior working conditions.
I have been talking about the pension plan, but it is equally true for wages. New employees will start at a salary that is 18% lower than Canada Post workers currently get. This is completely unacceptable. The NDP is going to fight day and night, as we are doing now, because we do not accept these iniquities and inequities. It is not true that young workers will be paying for the poor decisions of the Conservative government.
Why is it unfair and inequitable to have a two-tier system within the same corporation? Because we do not have a two-tier system when it comes to rent, mortgages, cars or groceries. These things cost just as much for young workers, who are often in a situation in which they wish to buy a house, start their lives and start a family. They thought they had found a good job, but they are going to be left with inferior working conditions, and that is not fair.
Before the session began, I had the opportunity to meet the president of Force Jeunesse in Montreal. For those who do not know, Force Jeunesse is an umbrella organization for several youth organizations, including junior chambers of commerce, junior unions, community groups and student groups. One of their key concerns for the upcoming year is in fact orphan clauses.
He told me that young people are afraid. They see what is happening with Canada Post, what this Conservative government is going to allow, and they are wondering if this is what young people have to look forward to in the coming years. Are young people entering the work force going to be systematically held down? Is that the Conservative government's vision for the future? Is that the kind of society we want?
We in the NDP say no. We must allow these young people to enter the work force, to have good working conditions, to qualify for a mortgage in order to buy a house and face the future with confidence, because they know they have good working conditions and insurance coverage, and a good pension plan for when they need it after giving 25, 30 or 35 years to a company or to the public service.
In this debate, it is also important to remember that attacks on unionized workers are attacks on the middle class.
I want to go back a little bit. We can easily argue that the middle class is a creation of the union movement.
When industrialization began in England first and then in other western countries, continental Europe mainly, peasants left the countryside in droves and moved to the city. There were large factories producing the first manufactured products under extremely difficult working conditions: six or seven days of work a week, 10, 12, 14 hours of work a day, child workers, completely appalling health and safety conditions, pitiful wages. All these people could hope for was to survive and that their children would live in the same terrible conditions.
What happened over the course of decades and centuries? These workers got organized. They created trade associations, trade guilds. They fought to make gains and change their working and living conditions. Then as these fights were fought by women's groups, community groups and especially unions that changed the work organization and signed collective agreements, workers obtained salary increases and created things that did not exist before: health and safety committees, paid leave, sick leave, the fact that a child must not work in a mine or a factory. All of this meant that the average quality of life and working conditions improved.
When we look at what constitutes the middle class these days, we see that much of the middle class is made up of small-business owners, entrepreneurs, restaurant owners, convenience store owners, florists, hair stylists, and so on. They form a good portion of the middle class, but another big part of the middle class is made up of unionized workers with good working conditions. People who work in mines have good working conditions. It is a tough job, but they have good working conditions, because they are unionized. People who were lucky enough to work in forestry in the past—there are fewer and fewer unionized workers in that industry—and in the oil industry were unionized.
Everyone who works in the public service, the teachers who teach our children, are also unionized workers. Nurses in hospitals are also unionized. When the Conservative government attacks unions, the fundamental right to associate and collective bargaining rights, it is attacking all of these workers.
An attack against the union movement is an attack against the middle class. We are here to defend families, workers and the middle class. That is important to us. That is our priority and we will not abandon it.
For the past two days, government members have been asking us why we do not want to get the mail running, why we want to prevent SMEs from doing business. They have been asking us why we refuse to get the economy rolling and let things get back to normal.
As far as I know, not one NDP member wanted a lockout at Canada Post. The lockout was imposed by the employer and the Conservative government is doing absolutely nothing to get the postal service running again. It has an obligation. It cannot say it has no role to play in this. That is impossible. Canada Post is a crown corporation; it is a public corporation. Ultimately, the government is responsible for it.
If the government truly cares about charitable organizations or entrepreneurs who need to send invoices and other things by mail, they should immediately put an end to the lockout. That could be done by making a phone call. What is even worse is that the wages that are not being paid to the 48,000 Canada Post workers will increase Canada Post's profits and, as a result, the CEO of Canada Post will receive a larger bonus.
Canada Post's union has been completely blocked in the bargaining process. It is so biased that the crown corporation does not need to bargain because it knows that special legislation could force employees to return to work. What is more, it is the one that locked the employees out. There is no free bargaining. This system puts workers and their families at a complete disadvantage. We are calling on the government to take responsibility and to put an end to the lockout as quickly as possible.