Mr. Speaker, yesterday the people of Quebec celebrated their national holiday. I would have liked to be with my family and the people of my constituency of Brossard—La Prairie to celebrate the day, which is so important for our Quebec nation. It is unfortunate that the Conservative government did not want to suspend the proceedings of the House to enable us to celebrate our national holiday. But I am proud to be here in Ottawa with my NDP colleagues from the Quebec and Canada caucus to defend the fundamental principles of social justice, more particularly workers’ rights.
When I arrived in Parliament yesterday, I crossed paths with a group of Canada Post employees. Those people are proud workers who want to go back to work, to deliver the mail to everyone waiting for letters and cheques and to enable small businesses to do business. They know that Canada Post belongs to all Canadians and that its mandate is to guarantee postal service to all Canadians. They are in a tough situation, trying to assert their bargaining rights, to support their families, to pay their bills, to work in a safe environment and to retire in dignity.
One of my high school friends, Quentin, chose to become a letter carrier. My friend has two adorable children. He is a good father who has chosen an occupation in which he works very hard, often on schedules not always easy to reconcile with family activities. When I see him, he is very proud to talk about his work.
Today I oppose the government's measures, which I feel are unfair to Canada Post employees, and I am doing that for people like Quentin and the Canada Post people I met yesterday. They are good people who simply want to do their jobs.
I am rising today because I oppose the bill as introduced by the government. The purpose of this bill is to impose an employment contract on Canada Post employees rather than let the union and management negotiate a collective agreement. The parties should have the right to bargain in good faith without the government imposing a unilateral settlement on them. That is a fundamental principle of law.
What I find even more unfair is that the bill includes a wage settlement that is not only less than what the workers were seeking, but, even worse, less than the wage settlement offered by Canada Post management. I still cannot understand this injustice.
The problem with this bill is that, if the government imposes his vision on Canada Post, what will prevent it from doing so in other cases? I believe, and I dare hope, that it is not this government's intention to interfere in all employment contracts.
We hope to improve this bill. We have offered to work with the government to find a solution to the deadlock in which we find ourselves today. As our leader has repeatedly said, we are reaching out to the government to assist in finding a fair and equitable solution. We remain optimistic that the dispute can be resolved, but there has to be good faith. The government must stop interfering. It is important that the fundamental right to bargain with the employer in good faith be respected.
As you know, Tommy Douglas was the first leader of the NDP. He was the father of Canada's health insurance system and, in a CBC competition, was named the “Greatest Canadian of All Time”.
At the NDP's 50th anniversary celebration, I learned to what extent the NDP has always been there to defend the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable individuals, whether it be those who did not have access to a physician, seniors who had been abandoned or workers who were being exploited in inhuman conditions.
When I decided to go into politics, I did it, among other reasons, because I wanted to advocate social justice. I sensed that I too could help the most vulnerable individuals. Today the government wants to use its power to impose a labour settlement on Canada Post employees, which would prevent the parties from reaching a solution negotiated in good faith. Having decided to act in that manner, the government has clearly indicated its intention to favour the employer, which now finds itself in a distinctly stronger position.
Unlike the government, I believe it is not good to interfere in the business of the bargaining parties, particularly when those parties negotiate fundamentally important issues such as pensions.
Some Canada Post employees have worked all their lives in conditions that were not always easy, making sacrifices that many of us would not be prepared to make, thinking that one day they would be able to enjoy a well-earned retirement. Today they are facing the uncertain thought that they may lose what they have worked for. I consider it normal for workers to use the means afforded them by law to assert their rights.
Allow me to restate the facts, although I believe that, after a number of days and hours of debate, they are already known. On June 3, postal workers began rotating strikes. Seven days later, on June 10, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers offered to end the strike if the corporation agreed to ensure that the current contract remained in effect during the negotiations, but Canada Post refused to do so. Four days later, on June 14, the Minister of Labour announced that it was unnecessary to introduce back-to-work legislation since the labour action consisted solely of rotating strikes. Cheques were being delivered and people were nevertheless receiving their mail. The next day, on June 15, Canada Post decided to lock out all its employees and to shut down mail delivery service. On June 20, barely 5 days later, the Conservative government introduced a bill to impose a contract on Canada Post employees including a wage settlement below the level offered by management. In recent days, the government has been interfering by asserting that legislating Canada Post employees back to work is necessary for the economy.
I agree it is important for all Canadians to receive their mail as soon as possible. Seniors have to receive their pension cheques and small businesses have to send out their invoices. However, the Conservative government is going about this the wrong way. The government is using a heavy hand, legislating unilaterally and favouring Canada Post, even though postal workers have offered to go back to work during the bargaining process.
It is important to bear in mind that this is not a labour strike, but rather a lockout imposed by Canada Post and supported by the government. The government lacks leadership in conflict resolution and is contributing to a negative climate and confrontation. The workers have a right to bargain in good faith with their employer. That is a fundamental right. Canada Post can continue delivering the mail while bargaining with its workers.
Canada Post is not in trouble. The crown corporation posted a profit of $281 million in 2009. Canada Post has been profitable for the past 15 years and its president and CEO earns more than $600,000 a year, making him the most highly paid president and CEO of all the federal crown corporations.
However, it is not too late to reach an agreement, provided the parties are given the chance. We are lucky to have one of the best postal services in the world. Our duty is to ensure that the rights of the people who operate this essential service are respected. We must work together, stop government interference, comply with the fundamental principles of law and let the parties bargain in good faith. This is a matter of justice for all workers and for the youth of tomorrow.