Mr. Speaker, throughout the past two decades there has been a steady attack on the rights of working people in Canada. Nowhere has this attack been more evident than on organized labour.
Having spent nearly a decade fighting the attack by the former Conservative government, the NDP welcomes the Liberal government's decision to repeal Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. Today, I am proud to stand in the House in support of Bill C-4, a bill that would restore unions' rights to represent their members and to ensure that labour relations are respected.
In the last Parliament, despite public warnings from Canada's Privacy Commissioner, constitutional experts, and the Canadian Bar Association that these bills were very likely to be found unconstitutional, Bill C-377 became law anyway. Bill C-377 placed onerous, redundant, privacy-violating reporting burdens on unions.
Unions were already required to make their financial information available to all their members. While pushed under the guise of transparency, this sweeping bill would have had far-reaching consequences.
For example, anyone who took on a temporary contract with a union and was paid more than $5,000 would see their name disclosed on this database. Likewise, any company engaging in work with a union, such as a small business providing snow removal services, would see their company and the contract details posted publicly, potentially undermining their ability to negotiate other contracts. Let me say that in Ottawa, it snows quite a lot.
By the way, this ideological attack on unions did not come without a price tag. The parliamentary budget officer estimated that the Canada Revenue Agency would need approximately $21 million to establish this electronic database over the first two years and approximately $2.1 million per year to keep the database up to date and to maintain after that. That means repealing Bill C-377 would save Canadian taxpayers and unions millions of dollars per year.
With the passage of Bill C-4, we now would have the opportunity to put that money to better use, to protect Canada's rights as well as access to government services.
Some of my constituents struggle daily to make ends meet, even with a full-time job, some of them with multiple jobs. Others would like to work, but cannot access the workforce for a variety of reasons including their inability to secure affordable, quality child care. The savings from this could fund a number of much needed programs such as social housing, services for seniors, and programs for the most vulnerable.
Like Bill C-377, Bill C-525 was designed to weaken unions in Canada. It was a bill that aimed to solve a problem that in my opinion, did not really exist.
Bill C-525 amended the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employee and Staff Relations Act, and the Public Service Labour Relations Act in order to make it more difficult to certify a union and much easier to decertify one.
Prior to this bill, in order to trigger a union certification vote within the workplace, between 35% and 50% of the employees would have to sign a card indicating that they wish to become members of the union. Bill C-525 would have seen this threshold raised to 40%. Let me make it very clear, prior to Bill C-525, if 35% of employees signed a card, it only triggered a workplace vote, it did not automatically certify a union.
In order to certify a union during the card signing process, more than 50% of employees would still need to have signed a card indicating that they wished to be a member of the union. Their rights were respected and the process was legitimate. For workplaces that were already unionized, Bill C-525 attempted to make decertification of a union easier.
Bill C-525 would lower the threshold required to trigger a decertification vote to 40%. With these measures, it is clear to me that the attempt here was to make it more difficult to trigger certification and for simply ideological reasons.
New Democrats have long supported Canadians' right to freedom of assembly, as protected under the charter, as well as defending the value of the labour movement to working Canadians. It is no coincidence that as unionized rates in Canada have fallen, good-paying, stable, full-time jobs have gone with them. Collective bargaining has played an important role throughout history in ensuring that workers' rights are protected, that workers work in a safe environment, and receive fair pay and benefits for the value they bring to the workforce.
As these stable, secure jobs have been eroded in the workplace, what remain in Canada now are precarious ones, temporary contracts, and part-time work, which often are without benefits and have lower pay. Those are becoming the norm in today's workplaces. Just last year it was found that 52%, or over half, of all workers in Toronto, a major city in Canada, are in these precarious employment situations. Across Canada, these precarious positions are also disproportionately held by visible minorities and new Canadians, adding another barrier to their moving up the socio-economic ladder and achieving financial security for themselves and their families.
For a growing number of precarious workers, making ends meet is becoming increasingly difficult as the cost of living continues to rise and their wages do not keep up. Statistics Canada found that the lowest-earning 20% of Canadian households are now spending over 51% of their take-home pay just to cover essentials. Housing costs alone are now taking up nearly one-third of 20% of Canadian households' paycheques.
The impact of precarious work goes beyond the chequebook. Workers in precarious jobs are nearly twice as likely to report worse mental health than those in secure positions. The impact on people not knowing when their next shift is, of being subject to last-minute scheduling, and not knowing if they will still have jobs next month can lead to acute stress, poor nutrition, and weight gain. Studies have also shown now that workers are becoming trapped in precarious situations instead of moving on to stable, permanent positions. It is increasingly evident that they are stuck, going from contract to contract.
Employment instability, lower wages, and the lack of benefits have far-reaching impacts on Canadians and the economy. Poverty among seniors hit a historic low of under 4% in 1995 and that figure has begun to reverse as workplace pension benefits are eroded and Canadians struggle to save for retirement.
In 2013, poverty rates among seniors increased slightly to 11%. Poverty among seniors disproportionately impacts women, who are now experiencing poverty at the unacceptable rate of 30%. However, do not take the NDP or labour's word for it. Unionization was a key driving force in the past in addressing these issues. Indeed, in a study released just last year, the International Monetary Fund signalled a significant shift in approach, acknowledging that the role unions have historically played in addressing income inequality in society around the globe has been understated.
Research bodies are now showing that declining unionization rates are a significant factor in increasing inequality, especially among developed nations, including Canada. The IMF has now stated that the declining presence of unions has not only weakened the earnings and earnings potential of low- and middle-income earners, but that this has directly led to the rapidly increasing income share of the very highest earners, in particular, corporate managers and shareholders. Unions in Canada play a key role in the financial security of working Canadians and this can no longer be denied.
The Liberal government's decision to repeal these ideological pieces of legislation that would further harm the Canadian labour movement and the financial security of working Canadians is a welcome first step, but there is more to be done. The NDP will continue to push the government to repeal division 20 of Bill C-59 on sick leave, to reinstate a federal minimum wage, and to enact anti-scab legislation and proactive pay equity legislation. New Democrats will push for the repeal of the former Bill C-4, instead of being satisfied with just the current promise to review it. This legislation is also likely to be found unconstitutional and was another example of ideologically driven legislation to undermine fair collective bargaining.
Canadians can be assured that the NDP will continue to fight for workplace rights and against growing income inequality in Canada. Reducing inequality and improving the financial security of everyday working Canadians needs to be a top priority for the government.