Mr. Speaker, it is a great honour to rise as a seconder of this private member's bill, Bill C-234.
In the debate about a previous government bill, Bill C-4, government members often spoke about restoring balance to Canadian workplaces. We in the NDP were happy to support that legislation, because Bill C-4 did restore balance to certification and decertification. However, we need to be concerned not only about the right to join a union, but also about the right to bargain collectively.
An essential component of balance in collective bargaining is that in the rarer cases where this process breaks down, both sides bear a cost. Employers do without labour while employees must do without their wages. That puts pressure on both sides to keep negotiating to try to find a solution.
The use of replacement workers, or scabs, destroys that balance by allowing the employer to continue functioning as though there is no labour dispute. We have had far too many cases in Canada of employers demanding severe concessions, locking out workers or provoking a strike and then using scabs rather than negotiating in good faith. One problem with replacement workers is that they can be used to prolong labour disputes.
Another problem with replacement workers is that they increase the likelihood of violence. The process of moving scabs across a picket line into the workplace inevitably puts the employer's security forces in confrontation with the picketers. That is a recipe for bad things. However, even where replacement workers are not actually used, the implicit threat of scabs gives management an unfair advantage in bargaining.
There is a very simple solution to all of these problems: to prohibit replacement workers during legal strikes and lockouts. This is not a new or theoretical solution. Two provinces already have anti-scab legislation and the longevity of anti-scab legislation in those jurisdictions is a testament to its success and to its workability. Quebec has had anti-scab legislation for nearly 40 years. British Columbia has had anti-scab legislation for nearly a quarter century. In both of these provinces, anti-scab legislation was introduced by social democratic governments, but importantly, it has been continued by subsequent right-wing governments. At the provincial level, parties of both the left and the right have accepted anti-scab legislation.
What about at the federal level? What did we hear from the Liberal Party? The member for Cape Breton—Canso tried to tell us that the existing provisions in the Canada Labour Code, which do not actually prohibit replacement workers, constituted some kind of appropriate balance. However, I have already explained why the real balance involves pressure on both sides during a strike or lockout. The real way to achieve balance is not to have replacement workers in the equation at all.
The sense in which the member for Cape Breton—Canso considers this a balance is that we have two sides, unions and employers. Unions obviously would like to have anti-scab legislation and employers would not want to have it. He does not think we can make a change without consensus.
That is kind of a disingenuous argument, because the current situation confers a huge advantage to employers, so of course employers will never voluntarily agree to give that up. It is for parliamentarians to make a balanced assessment, and that is exactly what this private member's bill proposes.
We have also heard the argument from the member for Cape Breton—Canso that this is the wrong process, that we do not want to look at one little element of the Canada Labour Code, that we need to do a big tripartite review of the whole thing. Well I say, bring it on. There has not been a review of the Canada Labour Code since 2006.
The member for Cape Breton—Canso kept saying that we could not do this without a big review of the Canada Labour Code. Let us have that review of the Canada Labour Code. I think that would be very much welcomed on this side of the House. That is not really a good argument not to adopt this legislation. Let us go ahead with the review.
I think the main argument, though, from the member for Cape Breton—Canso is this notion that it is somehow inappropriate to put forward this proposal as a private member's bill. Leave it to the Liberal Party to turn a question of principle into a question of process.
The grain of truth in this argument is the idea that the previous Conservative government did abuse private members' bills to make changes to labour legislation without the same sort of scrutiny that would have been applied to government legislation. That is a criticism that one can make of a government; and if the present government wanted to put forward legislation to implement a ban on replacement workers, obviously, we in the NDP would support that legislation. The reason we are putting it forward as a private member's bill is that the Liberal government has not put it forward on the order paper. It missed the opportunity to do so in Bill C-4. The only way we have to put forward legislation is through private members' bills.
We heard the statement from the member for Cape Breton—Canso that this is introducing a change by the back door. It is not the back door. It is the only door to which the NDP has access. Therefore, yes, from a process point of view, one could criticize a government for sneaking things through with a private member's bill. One cannot criticize the third party for introducing legislation through a private member's bill, because that is the only way it can happen.
What did we hear from the Conservative Party in this debate?
The member for Louis-Saint-Laurent, first, suggested that anti-scab legislation was inappropriate in the federal sector because the federal sector includes these strategic industries, these kinds of essential services.
The way to protect essential services is not to allow replacement workers. If there are specialized people off the job in telecommunications and that is causing a national emergency, the solution is not to bring in scabs. The solution is, hopefully, to negotiate some sort of essential service protocol with the union. If that is not possible, there is the possibility of back-to-work legislation under the Canada Labour Code.
The member for Louis-Saint-Laurent said, well, we don't want to spend all our time in Parliament passing back-to-work legislation, which is kind of a funny statement because the Conservatives were content to spend all kinds of time doing that in the last Parliament when they were in power. Every major strike or lockout in the federal sector during the previous Conservative government attracted back-to-work legislation from that party. Therefore, I do believe that comment is a little out of context.
One of the concerns that the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent raised was that anti-scab legislation could force employers to settle labour disputes quickly.
I would suggest that is a feature, not a bug, of this private member's bill, that we actually want to bring these disputes to a quick resolution. One of the problems with replacement workers is that they drag things out, and one of the benefits of this legislation is that it would speed things up.
We also heard an argument from the member for Louis-Saint-Laurent that there were more labour disputes in Quebec versus Ontario and that this is all the fault of anti-scab legislation.
I would suggest there is a whole bunch of other differences between Quebec and Ontario, including the higher rate of unionization in Quebec. I think the better comparison is what happened within Quebec when anti-scab legislation was passed, because actually it was passed in response to an extremely high level of very disruptive labour disputes in that province, and the introduction of anti-scab legislation led to a great reduction in the number of strikes and the amount of picket-line violence in Quebec. Therefore, I actually see this as a good model for the federal sector.
In conclusion, I urge members to support this private member's bill, which they are free to do because it is a private member's bill. They do not have to vote on party lines. This legislation would strengthen the right to strike while, at the same time, producing fewer, shorter, and less violent labour disputes.