Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I rise to put a few words on the record about what we believe are very important issues that all Canadians no doubt are concerned about.
I appreciate the question that the member opposite posed, but only in the sense that we within the Liberal Party have always advocated how important it is for us to look at the larger picture. In fact, members will recall that the leader of the Liberal Party, last fall, talked abut the importance of jobs and how we need to put more focus on creating jobs. We talked about the importance of our railway lines just last week. I had the opportunity to talk about railway safety and the important role railways play across our country from coast to coast to coast in providing good quality jobs and the leadership that is required from management and so forth to ensure not only that those jobs are going to be there but that the company as a whole is going to be able to survive, to build and to ultimately provide opportunities for all Canadians.
When we talk about our railway system, we look at the benefits, whether it is the potash, the wheat, the coal, the imports or the exports of manufacturing products all over our country from international to national. We all recognize and appreciate the critical and vital role our railway workers play, and have played, in building us to the nation we are today. There is no doubt that a vast number of Canadians are watching with interest, in terms of what is happening with this potential strike situation and how the government is dealing with the issue at hand. Having said that, the workers themselves have a great number of concerns, as does the management group.
What I would like to talk about is this particular government's and this Minister of Labour's approach in dealing with labour issues. This is not the first time the government has brought in labour legislation, in essence forcing people to go back to work, and it has been at a great cost.
A number of years ago, I used to be a critic for labour in the province of Manitoba. One of the things I recognized is that there has to be a balance between labour and management and the dialogue that occurs there. I would argue that a minister of labour not only has a responsibility to talk about at least a free balanced collective bargaining process but also an obligation to ensure, as much as possible, that it is in fact being adhered to.
In one of her statements, she made reference to the fact that she believes she is providing balance. I take great exception to that. Many members of this chamber take great exception to the minister saying she believes in a balanced, fair collective bargaining process because, as I pointed out in my question, the government, especially since it has achieved its majority, has made it very clear that it does not support balance when it comes to a collective bargaining process. That has been more to the detriment of the worker than the corporations.
What I would like to do is to highlight a couple of those issues that clearly demonstrate that the government does have a very strong bias that is anti-worker.
Members will recall that not too long ago, we actually had back-to-work legislation for Canada Post workers. Members will recall that they actually had negotiated some salary increases—and that would have been in January 2011, I believe—where some consensus and concessions were given in which there were going to be some increases to salaries.
Well, the Conservatives brought in back-to-work legislation a few months later that actually rolled back those salaries to which union and management had agreed. The government was more than eager to support and show its bias toward Canada Post in bringing in that back-to-work legislation.
The government has brought in back-to-work legislation twice in relation to Air Canada. I have stood up on numerous occasions in this House to tell the government that it needed to hold Air Canada to account for being in violation of the Air Canada Public Participation Act. Thousands of jobs were lost and the government allowed Air Canada to just walk away from it. There was no accountability for those jobs being cut and lost. The Conservatives said it was third party because it was Aveos.
Let us look at what the legislation that was passed inside this House said. Those jobs were supposed to be there in Winnipeg, and I represent a good portion of that city, Mississauga and Montreal. What did the government do? It sided with Air Canada Corporation and chose not to apply any pressure on that company when it came to making it fulfill a legal requirement that was passed in the House of Commons years ago.
What did the government do when there was a threat of a strike not once but twice? Even before the moves toward getting into a strike situation, the government threatened back-to-work legislation. True to form, it brought in back-to-work legislation. This is why I believe that the government has no real credibility.
The minister can stand inside this chamber and say she believes in a fair bargaining process, but I would suggest that actions speak louder than words. In this case, we will find the government does not support fair and balanced labour negotiations between unions and management.
People need to be concerned about that because we are talking about going forward with future negotiations that might be taking place in other sectors as well. We have a minister who is very biased, who works against unions and has not demonstrated an interest in hearing what unions have to say.
On Friday and Saturday this past week, I was walking with some CP Rail workers along some lines on McPhillips, Jarvis and two different spots on Keewatin. I had the opportunity to meet with workers who have made a career out of being engineers and conductors and others. These are individuals who are very proud to be working for CP Rail. Yes, they have some general concerns regarding the ownership issue in terms of Canadian content on boards and how that might be shifting over to other jurisdictions, particularly to individuals coming in from the U.S. to take control, or management issues. There are some very serious concerns regarding that.
While we were walking the line, the types of issues they were talking about were best said in a document they provided to me. I indicated that I would likely get the opportunity to address the House. I figure it is good for me to raise these issues because I feel very comfortable in knowing that the government and this particular Minister of Labour are definitely listening to what CP Rail is saying. However, I am not convinced that she is listening to what the workers have to say. Again, I believe there needs to be balance.
As much as I am very interested in hearing, and my door is always open to what CP management would have to say, I would like to share with the minister some very specific comments that I believe individuals who have been walking the line want this minister and the Prime Minister to be aware of. These are the types of concerns they are talking about at the table. I am going to go through about six points.
The first point is that CP wants to reduce future pension income for active employees. The amounts vary by income but are they up to 40%. Without a doubt, at all three locations where I walked, that was the biggest concern raised. The workers are very much concerned about their future when it comes to retirement. They want to know that they will have a good, viable pension after they have had the opportunity to put in their 30-plus years, or whatever number of years it might be. That is not so different from what many other Canadians want to have, pensions. The union has been asking for that.
The next point is that CP wants to devalue past pensionable service of unionized employees.
The next point is that CP wants to reduce retirement health care benefits and eliminate benefits at age 65, a reduction of over $20,000 per member.
The next point is that CP refuses to address the fatigue management proposals, or adequate time off to recover from the effects of fatigue or problems related to earned days off.
Another point is that CP refuses to address pooled regulation language affecting earning ability and stability.
Another point is that CP refuses to address its own sharp practice regarding seniority freeze to temporary managers and insists its own DB pension benefits must continue to escalate and they must receive more.
Those were some of the points that had been provided to me as I walked along the line.
There is one point that I will quickly make reference to, but I understand there has been some significant leeway on this. The CP demands represent excessive concessions to work rules, such as 12 hours without rest, working double subdivisions, raising the 3,800 monthly mileage maximum, extending road switcher limits to 50 miles and no wage increases for 2012.
I believe much of the last point has been in good healthy discussions, and we hope that will in fact continue.
Those are the types of concerns of which we believe the Minister of Labour needs to be made aware. She has not really demonstrated that she has listened to what the workers have had to say. We know, and feel comfortable in saying, that the minister is prepared to advocate on behalf of CP Rail.
We are concerned with regard to the whole issue of balance. That is the reason why I thought it might be appropriate to read into the record some of the concerns individuals who walk the line have and suggest that the government be more sensitive to those needs.
I want to highlight a couple of other things before I go onto the whole process issue. One is in regard to how very important the role that CP Rail, along with CN, plays in our economy. We recognize that and acknowledge it.
Being a prairie member of Parliament, I know full well, whether it is Saskatchewan and potash, or the three Prairie provinces and wheat, or coal or other mineral distribution, how critically important the role of CP Rail is in getting that distribution out throughout the world. We recognize that.
I made reference to the fact earlier that we had many imports that came into our country, through Vancouver and other ports. They are very dependent on having CP Rail there for them to transport those goods. We acknowledge that. We recognize the important role that CP plays in our economy. However, that does not give the government the right to walk all over union workers.
The minister made reference to the previous Liberal government. If the members look into it, they will find that there was much greater leniency in what the Jean Chrétien government did back then. Let us not try to kid anyone. I believe political parties of all stripes, whether at the provincial or federal level, have seen the merit of having to bring in some form of legislation to ensure people go back to work or companies are re-established so the broader interests of the community are served. I do not believe the government has provided that opportunity to CP Rail and the CP union. Both knew full well that the government would bring in this type of legislation, even though we have not seen the legislation.
The government is so predictable on that point. The government has not provided that balance of fairness, which takes away from the free bargaining process. I encourage the government to revisit its commitment to that process because it is definitely lacking, and that is putting it as politely as I can.
As I pointed out, we do not actually have the legislation before us, but we have a resolution about how that legislation will be dealt with. I mentioned this in the form of a question earlier. One of the biggest concerns the Liberal Party has is that the minister has suggested that after it has completed second reading, it go into a committee of the whole and that there be a one-hour time limit put on that committee. We do not know how many clauses will be in the bill. We do not know what the actual content of the bill will be. All we know is that it will have something to do with back to work for the CP workers. We do not know anything more than that. The point is that the Conservatives are saying that the legislation, once brought in sometime this week and then forced through second reading, will go into a committee of the whole.
The problem with committee of the whole is we will have a very limited ability to garner experts outside of other members of Parliament to contribute to a very important debate. If this bill were to go to any other committee outside of committee of the whole, where we could call upon witnesses to come before the committee, we believe that would be far healthier for the system. Even though the legislation is somewhat premature at best, at least having it go into a committee, we could have CP management and union representation present to express the concerns they have with regard to the legislation and to maybe talk about the importance of having fair, balanced labour relations in our country. This would be of great benefit to all Canadians.
The government says that this is about every Canadian. I suggest that going into a committee outside of committee of the whole would ensure that those Canadians, whom the government says it wants to protect, would have more direct input as to what would take place with the legislation.