Madam Speaker, I sit quietly while they speak and I would ask them to do the same.
The right to bargain collectively has been talked about in this House as well. That right is guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is also guaranteed in international conventions to which this country is a signatory. Therefore, those international conventions are binding upon this country.
The concept of bargaining collectively is about free collective bargaining. This is where it gets interesting and challenging for the government. Free collective bargaining involves negotiations between two private parties. It recognizes each party's right to sit down and negotiate a private collective agreement. A collective agreement is a contract. Collective bargaining is governed by Canadian contract law. The right of two parties to sit down in this country face to face and freely bargain a contract is something I would think the Conservatives would support.
The Conservatives claim to support private enterprise and the right of people to freely contract in this country. If the Conservatives believe that, then they have no choice but to allow a private enterprise which is a crown corporation, an arm's-length entity from the government, to sit down with another private entity, a trade union, and respect their right to bargain the terms and conditions of their relationship unmolested by government, without having the heavy hand of government imposing a settlement on them. I do not think the Conservatives would tolerate for one moment government intervening in two businesses that were bargaining a sales contract. If they truly believe in the freedom to contract, then what is good for the goose is good for the gander. They must be consistent, but the Conservatives are not and this legislation shows that very clearly.
The law clearly recognizes that government has no right to intervene in free collective bargaining except in two circumstances. One is essential services. One of the members over there, who I understand used to work for the police force, would understand that. I think it is why he erroneously thought there was no right to strike, because that is true for essential services. Legislatively, very often the right to strike is legally prohibited for a reason. We cannot have our police on strike. We cannot have our medical staff in emergency rooms, sometimes firefighters, paramedics on strike. Those sorts of groups often cannot strike.
The second exception to the right to strike is when a strike reaches a point that the health and safety of the public is threatened. That situation usually demands that a party wait until it has evidence. It can go before a labour relations board to establish that fact.
I would respectfully submit that neither of those situations is the case here.
I want to talk about the strike. From what I have heard from the members opposite, I think they fundamentally misconstrue and misunderstand the purpose and the nature of a strike or a lockout. Once again, not to belabour the point, we are not talking about a strike situation but about a lockout. However, what I am about to say would apply equally to both situations.
Collective bargaining is a process of negotiation. It involves a gradual increase of pressure. There are graduated measured processes taken that are calculated toward urging the parties toward agreement. These can involve things like taking a strike vote. The union will leave the bargaining table, canvass its members and come back to the table with a strike mandate and that will indicate to the employer how much support it has. It usually indicates to the employer that perhaps it has to change its position.
The employer can invoke a final offer process where it can present a final offer to the union and force a vote on that final offer. That also can force pressure on the union to change its position at the bargaining table. There can be work to rule where a union will not declare a strike but will work exactly according to the terms of the collective agreement as a precursor to taking strike action. There can be rotating strikes which are short of a full strike. Each one of these graduated steps is part of the acknowledged process of collective bargaining. Ultimately there is a strike or lockout.
The very purpose of a strike or lockout is to cause hardship. It is the ultimate weapon to exert maximum economic, political and social pressure on the other party. The government seems to think that only strikes that have no consequences for anybody ought to be allowed, that only strikes that do not cause hardship ought to be permitted.
The government would tolerate strikes only if they were ineffective. That misconstrues the very purpose of a strike. It denies workers whose labour actually has an impact on the community around them the right to strike. It leaves the right to strike to groups that have little economic power. There are a couple of examples that illustrate that very starkly in this country.
One example I do not think anybody would remember, except for my hon. colleagues from Alberta, is the strike in Edmonton during the 1980s. Workers at the woodworking plant, Zeidler, went on strike. That strike went on for eight years. Why? No government ordered them back to work. No government ordered the employer to get back to the table. No government sent it to binding arbitration or final offer selection to result in a collective agreement. Why? The Zeidler workers were a small marginalized group and did not have an impact on anybody else. In that case, the government let the workers suffer. Of course, many members on the opposite side would have been totally in favour of that.
Just last year at Vale Inco, workers in Canada were subjected to the actions of a billion dollar multinational corporation and they went on strike for a year. Did the government send them back to work? No. Why? Because the employer had billions of dollars and could easily go through that strike. A small community with hundreds families suffered intensely from that strike but that was okay.
In the present case, the withdrawal of services, I would argue, was being done in a tempered and managed manner by the union, but when it started to exert some pressure, the government panicked. It said that the workers had to go back to work right away as they were causing pressure. Talk about a one-sided application of the strike and lockout weapon.
When unions have gone on strike, or when they have pressured the employers, what have they done it for? I could do much more research, but I have a short list of some things unions have fought for over the last century and obtained for Canadian people: minimum wages; paid vacations; minimum periods of time off between shifts, including the weekend; paid statutory holidays; parental leave; occupational health and safety committees and safety standards; pensions; health and welfare plans, including dental, eye care and prescription plans.
These are the things unions go on strike for. Very often it is small groups of people who sacrifice their own financial interests for the betterment of groups as a whole. All Canadian families have benefited from these brave men and women, and they are going to benefit from the brave actions of the CUPW workers today as well.
When we talk about interference in the collective bargaining process, the government would be aghast at anybody interfering with the contractual relations between two private actors, but it is quick to jump in and do it when a union is involved. Let us look at the government's interference.
Not only did the government jump in and interfere, it started contracting for one of the parties. The government has put in this legislation lower wages than management was prepared to pay. How can that be justified? A private contract is being written by the state. Holy mackerel, they are a bunch of socialists over on that side. I have not heard one single justification for that from the members opposite.
I also want to talk about our colleagues in the Liberal Party because, of course, their position changes depending on the week, month, year or decade. I will be careful. I will just tell the truth.
In 1997 the Liberal Party brought in the same kind of legislation that is currently before the House. It ordered CUPW workers back to work and imposed wages on them. It is quite interesting to hear Liberals talk about this legislation.
And that is not the only time. It is a shameful history, because in 1965 the Liberal government proposed legislation that would strip all government workers of the right to strike, period. I hesitate to bring that up, because given that this Conservative government has copied what the Liberals did in 1997, I certainly do not want it to copy what the Liberals did in 1965. I want to be careful there.
In 1993 the Liberals fired 10,000 part-time advertising mail workers, the largest single layoff in Canadian history, and they handed over unaddressed advertising mail to the private sector. I think Canadians should know that when they see the Liberals stand up and try to pretend that they are actually on the side of workers in this dispute.
I also want to talk a little bit about what is on the table and what is at risk by this legislation. We have a proposal by Canada Post to treat new hires completely differently. They want to have two tiers of workers, where new workers who are hired receive 18% less wages than the current employees, where they have to work five years longer before they are eligible for retirement, where they join a defined contribution plan instead of a defined benefit plan. Do honourable members know what a defined contribution plan is? It is not a pension, it is an RSP; that is what it is. There is no guarantee of any kind of pension amount when an individual retires, and the entire risk of the pension plan is on the workers, none on the employer. And there are reduced benefits on retirement as well.
I also want to talk about what is at stake in terms of pensions, which are of interest to all Canadians, because retirement security is very important. There is a two-tier plan here once again, and this is something workers are fighting for. They are fighting for their retirement security.
This government has bragged about its creation of jobs. It brags about the number of jobs it has created, about its fiscal performance. I note that it always compares it to July 2009, which is the trough of the recession, and then it compares how many jobs have been created from then. But it is the lack of quality jobs that is important, because what has been created in that time are part-time, temporary, and usually service sector jobs. We should ask Canadians, are there more, better, family-sustaining career jobs today than there were in 2006, when the government was elected? I would argue that is absolutely not the case.
The kinds of jobs that Canada Post is proposing here--lower wages, reduced pensions, longer working till retirement--are these the kinds of jobs the government is bragging about creating? What a legacy to offer the young generation, to offer poorer jobs on which they cannot raise their families.
I come from Vancouver, where the average price of a house in east Vancouver is $850,000, where a two-bedroom apartment rents for $1,200 a month, and where the median income in my riding is $43,000, total household income. And this government wants to create more jobs to have reduced standards? That is not the way to create a healthy economy.
The way to build a healthy economy in this country is to have strong, family-sustaining, middle-class jobs with dental plans, pensions, medical plans, and job protection, jobs on which an individual can raise a family and maybe take a vacation once a year and actually be able to buy some goods and services in the community and support the business sector that this government claims to support.
If we do not have a strong working and middle class in this country, we do not have a strong economy. I wish this government would start to understand that.