Mr. Speaker, before beginning my speech, I would like to thank people. Since this morning, we have been receiving dozens of emails supporting us and telling us we need to rise in the House to defend the rights of workers. I am proud to be here with all my colleagues taking turns to defend those rights. I would like to wish all my constituents, those from Beauharnois—Salaberry in particular, an excellent national holiday of Quebec.
The Conservative government is acting in bad faith by wanting to impose an unacceptable labour contract on Canada Post employees and opting for an authoritarian response to the labour dispute, as it did with Air Canada.
Yesterday, I met with a union representative who came to Ottawa to tell me that workers need us and they cannot wait to go back to work and for the lockout to end so that they can continue to work and deliver the mail.
A few days ago, intensive discussions were held to try to find a solution to the dispute, but management shut the door and called a lockout. I know that I have repeated this several times, but what we have here is a lockout and not a strike. And yet, all the employees did was use a reasonable way to draw attention to their demands, a rotating strike that did not have much of an impact on basic services. It affected only one municipality at a time for a 24-hour period. Now, as we speak here today, all negotiations have been broken off. Clearly, it is in the employer’s interest to take a hard line now that the government is on its side.
After all these hours of discussion, I can’t believe that the Conservative government has not had second thoughts about its decision and asked Canada Post to lift its lockout. Postal employees continued to provide services during negotiations and all Canadians were receiving their mail. What bothers me most is that the government would have people believe that the problem stems from the employees, when what they are claiming is a legitimate and basic right, the right to properly bargain for a collective agreement that is fair and just.
Furthermore, this same government is making incoherent statements to which I strongly object. Instead of sticking to the facts, the Conservatives are twisting them and trying to scare people, as evidenced by the fact that they keep repeating that we are in a crisis and that they feel they have to intervene. What a deceiving and misleading attitude! Their disgusting intervention, rather than improving conditions for employees, is harmful to the bargaining process. It is harmful because the government, through the use of its special disrespectful act, is making a wage offer that is below what was put forward by management. Shame on them!
Why would Canada Post return to the bargaining table when the government is getting involved in the dispute in favour of management? There would be no advantage for them to do so. This inappropriate intervention by the government is prolonging the dispute, effectively holding Canadians hostage. Clearly, those who are no longer receiving their mail or their pay cheque are increasingly unhappy, and rightly so. But the employees are also no longer receiving any pay cheque.
It is therefore important to remember that it is the insidious strategy of the Conservatives that has plunged us into this difficult situation. Employees are waiting to return to work. Why would the government not encourage Canada Post, which had profits of $281 million last year, to reinvest in working conditions that would be beneficial to its employees?
Is it not obvious that a healthy working environment in which workers are treated well and acknowledged for their valuable contribution, whether in terms of personal relations between management and employees, or in terms of fair and equitable working conditions, would promote increased employee efficiency and productivity? The more people feel happy and proud to go to work, the more they do their work conscientiously. While this strikes me as elementary logic, management and the government apparently disagree.
And yet, Canada Post workers put body and soul into ensuring that their fellow citizens receive their mail. Some suffer physically from having to walk in storms, lift parcels and repeat the same movements each day. They don’t complain because they love what they do, are well paid and look forward to a happy retirement. Is this something that is now in the past?
Will the government set a precedent? It is important to realize that the key issue here is the health and safety of workers. Letter carriers and postal employees are among those workers who are most seriously affected by occupational injuries. Canada Post loses four days of work per person per year because of injury or illness. Employees spend more time standing in front of machines and this increases the risk of a back injury. Letter carriers must walk 12 to 15 kilometres per day with considerable weight on their shoulders. Not only that, but the new lettermail sorting machines require them to carry more envelopes in their arms and hands, thereby increasing the risk of injury.
By forcefully imposing a labour contract that is disparaging to employees, how does the government hope to restore a positive and productive work climate? Relations between management and employees will be very tense and the morale of workers will be at its lowest ebb. And yet, the Conservative government boasts that it is promoting the economy, creating quality jobs and fighting poverty. These are nothing but empty words. My last school principal told me to be careful of those who talk a lot, and to concentrate instead on people’s actions.
I realize that the government is making cost reductions an objective at the expense of its own employees. Because just in case they have not realized it yet, Canada Post employees are also citizens of Canada, from coast to coast, and they contribute to the country’s economy. On every post office is written “A Mari usque ad Mare ”. They are full Canadian citizens. There are 48,000 of them, not to mention their families.
Perhaps the government’s goal is precisely to sow division among people in order to reign more effectively. By imposing its back-to-work legislation, which causes a decline in working conditions, young people, the next generation, will no longer be interested in this kind of work, the workload will become too heavy and the other employees will become inefficient. And once that happens, the Conservatives will be able to suggest privatization. Is this really the beginning of the end for public services?
We therefore would do well to allow the two parties to settle this dispute. Our public postal service is one of the most cost-effective in the world. In 2009, Canada Post generated millions of dollars in profits and stamps are not very expensive here compared to other countries. For example, a stamp in Canada costs 59¢, compared to 78¢ in Germany and 88¢ in Austria. It is true however that the industry is currently facing many challenges. The emergence of new technologies such as the digitization of communications, is transforming postal services.
Traditional postal services have probably reached their peak. However, the post office is not likely to disappear. It will always remain important, particularly in rural areas. Workers understand the need to modernize services and the importance of looking towards changes for the future. The collective agreement between Canada Post and the union already allows it to adjust levels of workers, and Canada Post Corporation has reduced hours of work to a level that is proportionately higher than the decline in mail volume.
Other countries have managed to meet the challenge of modernizing postal services while keeping them universal. How? They provide services that focus on new public needs that are more lucrative and then using the profits to finance basic services in all regions. Some people seem to believe that no one sends letters anymore and that postal service is doomed to disappear. That is false. The volume of lettermail is 10% higher than it was in 1997.
Despite the many challenges facing our postal service, it is important not to forget that most Canadians support maintaining universal services and are against privatization, as was pointed out by a postal service consultative committee. Canadians want quality, universal and affordable service for all urban and rural communities. Furthermore, the postal service is important for small and medium-sized businesses.
What is happening now is extremely important for all Canadians. The special bill to force through a regulation that attacks the most basic rights of workers is a Conservative government strategy to use force to settle a dispute, and it risks creating a dangerous precedent.
What kind of society do we really want? Do we want a fairer and more democratic society, one in which disputes are settled by means of negotiations, or a country that attacks the rights of workers and forces them to return to work without being consulted? I stand proudly beside my colleagues…