Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to once again speak on this critical issue.
The workers of Canada Post have been locked out. That is right: they have been locked out. They are not on strike. They have been locked out.
This is not a strike. The workers are “locked out”, a term should give us all nightmares. I am sure we all remember very clearly that not so long ago the Prime Minister himself locked parliamentarians out of the House of Commons.
It was not the fault of Canadians that parliamentarians were locked out and it not the fault of Canadians that the workers at Canada Post are locked out. In our case, the government locked us out. Is it not a coincidence that it is the government once again that has put the padlocks on? Canadians are the ones who are affected when the government padlocks government doors.
Postal workers want to go back to work but they cannot. Why can they not go back to work? They are locked out. Heck, posties even tabled a proposal to keep the old contract in place in negotiations. Canada Post refused and shut down the mail service. Canada Post locked its workers out.
Five days later, to compensate Canada Post for locking out its workers, the Conservative government introduced legislation that imposes a contract with an extremely regressive wage settlement. Given the fact that it takes time to draft such legislation, one can only conclude that the government was prepared to wreak havoc on the workers. One can only conclude that Canada Post was aware of Bill C-6 and willingly chose not to negotiate in good faith.
That is a shame. Workers got locked out and now we are trying to force them back to work. They did not go on strike.
Let me refresh your memory on this regressive piece of legislation, Mr. Speaker.
This government has put forward a one-sided and irresponsible piece of legislation. With the bill, the government wants to impose an agreement in which wages are lower that those that Canada Post had offered. That is unacceptable.
Another important element of this debate is the move to defined contribution pensions. The phenomenon is blatantly one-sided. If defined contributions are absolutely as necessary as we hear, it would seem logical that management at Canada Post would be happy to lead by example and change its pension plan first.
Do not hold your breath, Mr. Speaker. These plans are far worse than defined benefit pensions. There is not a CEO in Canada who would trade a golden parachute for the gamble of the defined contribution pension.
For the benefit of those who are just taking in this debate, I will explain what a defined contribution pension is. With a defined benefit pension plan, an employee receives a set monthly amount at retirement. The amount received is based upon the participant's salary and length of employment. The retiree receives that amount plus cost of living increases every month for life.
These are the kinds of pensions most of us are familiar with. These are the kinds of pensions that allow seniors to live in dignity.
The great advantage of the defined benefit plan for an employee is that the employer bears the risk of market downturns and actuarial mistakes and is responsible for topping up deficiencies at the time of retirement. This allows individuals to retire knowing to the penny the kind of lifestyle they will be able to maintain.
Confident that they will be able to afford a reasonable retirement, these people can plan their lives accordingly. They will not have to worry if they want to put kids through college or university. They will not have to worry that they might not be able to afford to retire and have to save every cent they can to guard against that.
In contrast to traditional pensions, where the amount of the benefit is defined, there is the defined contribution plan. This plan is so named because it is the amount of the contribution that is defined. Employees contribute a portion of their salaries into a retirement account where it can be invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, et cetera. Some companies make a matching contribution up to a certain percentage. The account grows through contributions and investment earnings until retirement.
In a defined contribution plan, there are no guarantees about how much, if any, of your money will be left when you retire. The risks are placed squarely on the individual employees. We know what happened with the economic downturn that the Conservative government did not believe was coming.
These pensions can be profoundly different for employees who have very similar work histories. Here is an example. Imagine that a person retires at a time when markets are performing well. Due to good fortune and impeccable timing, that person's benefit will be higher as a result. If another person with exactly the same pension and roughly the same amount invested retires six months later but during a market downturn, that person may find benefits dramatically reduced by comparison.
It does not sound very fair. It is pension roulette, at best. We saw that in the recession. Many pensions around the world saw reductions in benefits of up to 40% in 2008. That is not good news for those retirees, to be sure.
I have had many calls from seniors who, holy crow, had to start selling their homes and moving into apartments. They did not even know if they could afford the rent. We have too many seniors living in poverty in Canada as it is. The trend to defined contribution pensions could well place even more seniors in poverty in the years to come.
Where is the commitment on the part of this government to actually do something about this phenomenon? From this side of the House, it does not appear to exist at all. This attitude is the antithesis of J. S. Woodsworth's famous line, “What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.”
Take a look at the horrible lockout that miners in Sudbury went through recently. They spent a year on the picket line fighting the introduction of defined contribution pensions for future hires. We should think about that. These hardrock miners understood that the shift in pensions would be such a gamble for future hires that they sacrificed a year of income, delayed retirements for a full year, and walked picket lines in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter.
My husband was one of those miners. They showed dedication and the courage of their convictions. Those miners fully understood the spirit of Mr. Woodsworth's quote.
That obviously is nothing the Conservative government can relate to in the least. This was about the future workers in the mines and the future workers in all other jobs. Again, “What we desire for ourselves, we wish for all.”
I cannot get it out of my head. It speaks of the disconnect the government has with everyday Canadians. If the government operated under that mantra, we would either be debating legislation to change the pensions for this place to defined contribution schemes or, at the very least, debating a more balanced piece of back-to-work legislation.
However, we are not, and it is nothing less than a national shame.
In closing, I will reiterate my objections to the way the government has so obviously taken sides in this dispute, the dangerous debate about the privatization of Canada Post that is a side effect of the lockout imposed on Canada Post employees, and the risky proposition of defined contribution pensions.
We need to stop this race to the bottom that has gone on for far too long in Canada. We need to see the value in an economy that is defined by its human capital; an economy that values good-paying jobs, instead of attacking them in order to validate the desire for cheap portable labour; an economy that is not all about sweetheart deals for the business elite and nothing but concessions from hard-working Canadians.
We have heard the government say that it wanted to have a stable government and that is why we went into an election. Let me tell members what a stable Conservative government means: unstable wages, unstable benefits, unstable pensions, unstable services, unstable employment, unstable economy and unstable life.
Shame on the Conservative government.