Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to rise to speak to this bill. I have heard both sides talk about different issues and go back and forth on a number of different things. I think what we all agree upon is a sense of fairness. I think members on both sides would agree that we want a sense of fairness. Let me try to use what happened years ago as an illustration of how we would like that fairness to happen.
In my previous life as a union elected official, I used to keep agreements. Some called me a union boss, but my members never called me that. They used to call me by my first name. I used to go to co-op classes in schools and do a bit of a history of how collective bargaining started and show them what collective bargaining books looked like.
One of the very first books I showed them was all of about 12 pages. That was it. I used to bring in the most recent agreements, which were about eight books that had all kinds of measures and clauses in them. The one that had 12 pages had a very unfair clause in it, and I think all of us would agree with the unfairness of the clause. Let me explain what it was about.
It was about the three classes of workers, which were men, women and boys. For those three classes there were three very different wage rates, regardless of what they did. Regardless of how severe or dangerous the job might have been, men made more, women made less, and boys made even less. This was at a time when companies could actually hire boys, which meant they were under the age of 16.
I met a man, who has fortunately retired and has a decent pension courtesy of what was then the United Auto Workers ans is now the CAW, who was a boy when he started working. He actually had that classification. He was the last boy ever hired in the GM plant in St. Catharines. He told me about what used to happen at the time.
There were three classifications of workers all making different wages regardless of the work they did. How were folks laid off when things got slow? I am sure people are wondering that. Men were the first to stay.
One would expect, because the wage classification was men, women and boys, they would have been laid off exactly the same way. They were not. Women were laid off first and employers kept the boys. The boys would then be made to do the jobs that the women used to do for the same wages they made doing what was termed a “boy's job”, which for the most part in those days was bringing water to the assembly line because there were no fountains. They used to bring water to the men working on the line.
I heard my colleagues on the other side talk about a sense of fairness. Is it okay that new workers start with less pay in the postal service because other workers do? The illustrations that they used were about workers who would eventually move to the top rate of pay.
They talked about teachers. It is true that new teachers do not start at the same rate of pay as senior teachers. That is absolutely true in most provinces of this country. That is not what Canada Post is talking about. It is not talking about a wage rate for new employees that is lower than that of those who are already there but that over time, with experience, they will eventually get to the same rate. It is talking about the wage rate being lower for the rest of a person's working life. A person would continue to work with someone who got hired the day before the new contract came into being.
Let us say two people of the same age, 22, get hired. One gets hired the day before this new agreement and the other gets hired the day after the new agreement. Those two workers work the same number of years, because they are the same age. One will work for 18% more, and the other will work for 18% less and the one who works for less will never catch up. That is the intent. Surely, that is as unfair as the three classifications of workers.
By the way, that was in the 1930s. It was a unionized workplace with a recognized collective agreement. It was around the Second World War, not that long ago. It seems like a long time ago, but there are members in the House who would have been alive albeit very young at the time this agreement was in place.
People understood that that was patently unfair and changed it over time. Surely we can see the unfairness of two workers, one hired the day before, one hired the day after a collective agreement, one working for more than the other and doing exactly the same job. Whether it be a letter carrier, a sorter, a clerk, whatever the job they happen to have within the postal service, the rest of their working days they would work for less than the other, doing exactly the same work.
Surely we see that is unfair. I think we all would see the unfairness in that. So why would we want to propagate that on those workers? If we want to have some sense of fairness we would want to actually have them all work for the same wage. I hope they would not ask me whether they should all just not take a reduction. If it is a profitable corporation, I do not see why wages should roll back.
I will give an example of what would happen. In my riding of Welland, we have lost major manufacturing like John Deere, Atlas Steel and Union Carbide. This has been going on since before the recession of two years ago. It has been going on for the last 15 years. What we see are workers, who used to make $28, $29, $30 an hour, now working for $12 and $14 trying to raise the same family, pay the same mortgage, pay the same debts for their cars and trying to get their kids into post-secondary education but having to live on less than half the wage. What we see in Welland is folks in poverty.
The rate of poverty in my riding has gone up exponentially over the last 15 years. Families are relocating. We have seen an erosion of the middle class because the good paying jobs have been replaced by those that pay less. We see defaults on property taxes going up. When I talk to the five mayors of the communities I represent they all say the same thing. They say that they have difficulty with folks who are getting into property tax arrears.
When those folks come into my constituency office, they ask if there is any way I can help them with that. All of us know there is not. We ask them how that happened to them and they tell us that they lost their job at the Deere where they were making $28 an hour. They tell us that they were lucky enough to get a new job but that they are only making $14.50 an hour. Many of them have kids at home and mortgages to pay. Some have tried to sell their house but it did not move because of the mortgage.
We are having some struggling times in Welland. Yes, there are some good things happening in Welland. For the folks who are listening, I want to say that Welland is a great place to invest. Things are happening in Welland but it will be a slower recovery because it has happened over a long period of time and we have literally lost thousands of manufacturing jobs. It will take time and it will have to take that change to get there.
Ultimately, when we talk about that fairness issue, if we continue to drive wages backward , as some of my colleagues talked about a little earlier, we indeed will have an erosion in the middle class.
My father, as a young man with a young family in the U.K., was a shipbuilder who came to this country at the request of the Canadian immigration board because he had the skills but he did not have any work. He brought myself, my two sisters and my brother to Collingwood to start work at the shipyards in St. Catharines. He came to this place because he wanted to be part of the middle class. He wanted an opportunity for his four kids. It turned out to be five kids because my brother was born here. Nonetheless, he gave us the opportunity to be part of that middle class. He got a post-secondary education.
I thank my late father and my mother, who is still alive today, for the opportunity because they say that this is truly the greatest country in the world. There is no question in my mind about that. What other country in this world would allow a young kid like me who was not born here, who came with a funny accent, although I now speak Canadian, to be here. I once told my mother I would lose that accent, so I did so and now I do not have that funny voice. Nonetheless, this is the greatest place in the world that allows me to be in my place and stand up for all of us who are out there.
A member on the other side said that small businesses were saying that the lockout must end. They are right, end the lockout. The people on that side have the power to do that. They have the key to turn in the lock to open the gates of the postal sorting stations, the padlocks on those super mailboxes, and allow the postal workers, who have voluntarily put their hands up and said that if the locks are taken off they will be back to work tomorrow.
The government has the power and we ask that it please exercise that power. We will be happy on this side if they exercise that power. We will not fight if the government decides to take that key, unlock the postal sorting stations, unlock the super mailboxes and unlock the postal workers who want to go back to work. If they are allowed to go back to work they will start delivering the mail on Monday.