Mr. Speaker, today I rise to point out how totally unacceptable the approach taken by Canada Post is to New Democratic members, but also to a majority of my constituents. Speaking today on behalf of the legitimate battle being fought by Canada Post employees is a very important duty for me, because this will be an historic battle and will remain in our memory for numerous reasons. And I believe the outcome will have a decisive effect on our collective future.
First, it is essential to note that this battle is part of a long fight to preserve public services, which are too often under attack from present-day governments. We do not think that the Conservative members understand the importance to a country of strong public services.
Canada Post is in fact one of the best examples of successful Canadian public services. It is important to the Canadian public to have an excellent postal service that is accessible and affordable. Postal services are essential for all countries. This is particularly true in rural areas. Recently, in my riding, we have received letters from people who are worried about the closing of a post office in a village in the riding. People have good reason to be worried.
The post office is often the last remaining place in villages where federal public services can be accessed. As well, with our low population density and the great distances that must be travelled, how are services like these supposed to be profitable, at a reasonable cost, if a private company operates them? It is impossible. The reason we are able to provide excellent postal services to as far away as Îles de la Madeleine is because Canada Post provides them, as a crown corporation.
The extremely lucrative Quebec City-Windsor corridor means that affordable services can be provided for people in large regions like the Gaspé and Îles de la Madeleine. The role of a government that wants to support its people is precisely to preserve a crown corporation like Canada Post.
A government with vision would use the existing infrastructures, all those many post offices, to deliver more federal services to residents of rural ridings. They would be able to obtain forms and information about passports, income tax, employment insurance, and so on. Post offices could be used as a satellite antenna for all federal services.
But instead of that, instead of this vision for the future, Canada Post's managers want to deregulate and enter into business partnerships. They are privatizing the postal services by stealth.
For example, they refuse to extend post office opening hours, so that they are open for business past 5 o'clock, or over the weekend. Instead, Canada Post favours postal outlets in pharmacies. The employees of these businesses end up doing the same work as Canada Post clerks, but with a salary half that of their Canada Post counterparts, and with no working conditions to protect them.
The union estimates that this subcontracting has led to loss of approximately 6000 wicket clerk jobs with good working conditions, replaced by jobs that are not protected and have no job security. Is a crown corporation that acts this way, and promotes job insecurity, being socially responsible? Do these indirect employees of Canada Post deserve these conditions? Of course they do not.
Canada Post’s attitude, which indirectly favours privatization, is directly threatening services to the public. Private sector businesses will lobby harder and harder to privatize Canada Post's services. If the crown corporation continues to sell off its best assets, the other services may no longer be profitable, and then might disappear or become very costly.
The attitude being displayed by Canada Post management and by the government, which is in bed with the employer on this issue, is extremely obnoxious. Obnoxious, because it is an attack on public services, when in fact Canada Post is a profitable crown corporation. In 2009, Canada Post made $281 million in profits.
Thanks to the conscientious and devoted day-to-day work of its employees, Canada Post has been raking in profits for roughly 15 years. It is, therefore, a profitable government enterprise. How can the government justify diminishing the working conditions of the employees of a profitable government enterprise? There is no rational justification. There are only ideological explanations.
In fact, the current battle being waged by the employees of Canada Post, in addition to being a fight to preserve public services, is part of a backdrop of a very long history of union battles—battles fought to improve people’s working conditions, and by extension the living conditions of families and entire populations.
Canada would not be the country that it is today without the battles waged by workers. People in my region have been a part of this struggle for over 60 years. I would like to single out the epic struggle by the workers of Murdochville, which remains etched in our memories.
The battle Canada Post workers are waging will not only help clerks, mail carriers, and other Canada Post employees. This struggle will be an example for other public servants and for private sector employees. This is a battle to have the rights of workers recognized.
First and foremost, it is about the right to negotiate a collective agreement. Currently, we are faced with a public institution, the government, the caretaker of the law, and yet it does not follow this law. This government does not recognize the right to negotiate and is allowing a public employer to treat its employees in a most unfair manner by denying them the right to strike and to bargain.
How can the Conservative members, in all good conscience, vote for a bill that rides roughshod over fundamental rights recognized by thousands of public servants? I would like an answer to that. Are they not aware that these employees are their fellow citizens, that they to contribute to the public purse, and that they have family responsibilities? Why is this government refusing to share Canada Post’s profits with postal service employees?
Why does it accept that an increasing number of non-unionized subcontractors work in their facilities, including those who do maintenance work in post offices? Another example is the work usually done by mechanics who are qualified union members. That work is increasingly done in garages outside Canada Post facilities. These people should be unionized and covered by health and safety provisions.
In fact, the Conservative government is showing the public that it does not care about employees' working conditions. Conservative members are proposing to force postal employees to go back to work. They do not care about the plight of these men and women who work around the clock to provide this essential service to our community.
Indeed, Canada Post management wants to make the employees take many steps backward. First, it wants to impose clauses that create a double standard adversely affecting new employees, and that is totally unacceptable. It wants to raise the retirement age for these employees and reduce their annual leave. It also wants to lower their basic salary by 18% compared to that of their fellow workers. Why should new employees be treated so unfairly?
The employer is also jeopardizing workers' health and safety. That worries many people and it is highly objectionable. Workers' health is threatened through many restrictions relating to medical coverage.
Many postal employees are women and their working conditions are often not on par with those provided by provincial governments. For example, they are not eligible for preventive withdrawal when they are pregnant. That is the kind of reasonable demands that employees are making. These are not whims. It is only normal that these people would want to protect their salaries and their pensions. Their fight will help other workers, but if they back down, it will adversely affect other workers too.
Workers have the right to negotiate and to go on strike. They did negotiate in good faith for eight months. They delivered the mail to their fellow citizens, including pension cheques. Because they did not want to drastically affect services to the public, they opted for rotating strikes.
It is the employer who took drastic action and imposed a lockout. The employer and the government are taking Canadians hostage by depriving them of essential services. They trample the rights of workers in a profitable crown corporation. Conservative members show no respect for laws or for workers' health and safety. That attitude is shameful for Canada. This is why, as the member representing my constituents, I oppose this measure and I condemn this deplorable situation.