Madam Speaker, as all of my colleagues have said today, we are sitting in the House of Commons on Quebec's national holiday. I apologize to my constituents. This shows that the Conservatives care more about opposing the rights of workers than they do about respecting the national holiday of a nation of Canada. The Conservatives were the ones to accept the validity of the Quebec nation and now they are putting their anti-labour ideology ahead of respect for Quebeckers.
On June 3, 2011, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers began a series of rotating strikes that demonstrated the workers' willingness to exert pressure, while still remaining in good faith and keeping the mail service running. The union offered to end the strikes if Canada Post would agree to reinstate the old contract during negotiations. But Canada Post refused.
On June 15, Canada Post, with the Conservative government's approval, decided to lock out its employees, force them into a work stoppage and shut down the mail service in order to allow the government to intervene.
As my hon. colleague from Marc-Aurèle-Fortin was saying earlier, the government certainly must have approved the lockout. This allowed it to then introduce back-to-work legislation. Locking out the employees this way does not seem very fair to me in a collective bargaining situation. It shows the government's tendency to set restrictive parameters that prevent the parties from talking. Canada has laws to protect workers, but the Conservative Party seems to be telling the workers that it is going to take away their right to negotiate a collective agreement, impose conditions inferior to what Canada Post was offering and force arbitration. Will the arbitrator be neutral? We do not know. Will the arbitrator follow the government's lead and side with the employer?
Mail service continues to be essential to Canadians’ lives and to our economy. In my riding, Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine and Dorval, people are angry because of this lockout, because their business depends on that service. But my constituents still realize that the dispute is much broader. They also realize that this is not a strike, it is a lockout. And they know that the dispute goes beyond what is happening at Canada Post; it is an unbelievable precedent.
The government is not just moving toward privatization, as several of my colleagues have pointed out. It wants to impose a climate of fear, to make workers who want to negotiate proper working conditions wary. The workers at Canada Post have been the victims of a huge machine that wants to violate the rights of workers everywhere in Canada. Before long, Canada will be doing what the state of Wisconsin did as recently as March 2011, when it passed a bill limiting the rights of public service unions and stripping government employees’ unions of nearly all their collective bargaining rights, with the exception of bargaining about wages. That is repression.
The letter carriers I have talked to in my riding say it is not even wages that upset them in this case. As my colleagues have pointed out, the pension plan is in danger, the “orphan clauses” are unacceptable, and management is imposing frustrating conditions in which employees are going to have to work. What upsets my constituents the most are the terms that affect occupational health and safety. I spoke with Michel St-Pierre, a letter carrier who has lived in my riding for several years. The postal workers are asking their employer for good working conditions in terms of safety, among other things.
At present, a letter carrier has to carry two bags, one on each side of the body, plus circulars. We all get millions of circulars in our mailboxes every day. So we can imagine the weight they have to carry. With the new special bill, they are being required to carry a third bag. Canada Post wants to force them to carry a bag in front that completely blocks their view of the ground. Well, that is intelligent. It is going to save money by making workers carry more bags, but workers’ compensation is going to have to pay out a lot of money because workers will be injured and file complaints. In a case involving backache, it is very difficult to prove to the compensation board that it is attributable to the job. Canada Post is going to lose a lot of money because of those injuries.
And that is not all. The union stood by its position that every postal worker must have access to the same pension plan and be entitled to the same benefits. Should we agree to Canada Post’s proposal to eliminate the option of early retirement for future employees, it will only be a matter of time before an attempt is made to tighten the eligibility criteria for early retirement for current employees. We remain optimistic about resolving the dispute, but there must be a show of goodwill on both sides.
The government has to stop interfering in the negotiations. Locking out employees and then forcing them back to work is certainly not a fair way of negotiating. I now have trouble believing that the two parties will be able to negotiate a fair contract.
For there to be a fair contract, the Conservatives need to put an end to their interventionist style of government and prevent a precedent from being set, which will be the case if this legislation passes.
It is true that the multinational courier companies regularly lobby to have Canada Post deregulated. These companies want the government to open up the letter mail market to competition so that they can increase their profits and market share.
Finally, some right-wing media outlets and economic institutes have called for the privatization and deregulation of Canada Post. However, almost everybody is opposed to this.
In 2008, the federal government commissioned a review of Canada Post Corporation and the report was published in 2009. This report is very clear. It appears that the public is no way favours the privatization or deregulation of Canada Post.
Furthermore, every major federal political party is officially opposed to privatizing the postal service, and most parties also reject deregulation.
I would also like to add that another one of my constituents contacted me this morning. She is a letter carrier and has been working for a very long time. She is currently having difficulty carrying all this weight. She told me that the new bags that are going to be imposed will mean that she will be required to carry more than 30 kilograms.
That is not all because, with that 30 kilograms, letter carriers currently have four hours to prepare their mail and four hours to deliver it. Now Canada Post wants to impose six continuous hours of delivery, six hours of walking the streets with three bags, plus flyers, to deliver the mail.
On top of that, with the new special legislation, they would be prohibited from collecting overtime. If my constituent finds it too heavy, if she has difficulty walking, if she has stairs to climb, if there is black ice in the winter and she has difficulty and takes half an hour longer, she cannot claim a half-hour of overtime. I think that is truly ridiculous.
We are asking the government to change this special legislation and let workers get back on the job so that small businesses can have their mail service. We need to let the parties discuss the collective agreement together so that these workers can determine what they need and they can ask for what they need for workplace health and safety, for the orphan clauses and for pensions and wages.