moved that Bill C-234, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to begin the debate on the bill to amend the Canada Labour Code.
This enactment amends the Canada Labour Code to make it an offence for employers to hire replacement workers to perform the duties of employees who are on strike or locked out.
In other words, the bill seeks to prohibit replacement workers, commonly known as scabs, at the federal level. Passing this bill would send a clear message to workers across the country that they have the right to bargain collectively as equals.
The NDP thinks it is important to promote workers' rights. I am introducing this long-overdue bill in my role as the deputy labour critic and on behalf of the progressive opposition.
In Canada, over 12,000 businesses and 820,000 workers are governed by the Canada Labour Code. We have been putting this measure forward for the past 10 years.
However, workers were clearly not a priority for the previous government. We were therefore not surprised that it rejected this measure. Today, we sincerely hope that the Liberal government will be open to this measure.
This bill will amend and modernize the Canada Labour Code in order to prohibit employers from hiring strikebreakers to do the work of employees in the event of a strike or lockout.
In other words, we want to put in place, at the federal level, the same types of provisions that already exist in some provinces, such as Quebec and British Columbia.
We also included a “Québecor clause” in the changes to the Canada Labour Code. Members will recall the events that occurred in Quebec during a Journal de Québec lockout, when the company took advantage of a loophole in the regrettable Quebec law on strikebreakers and continued to print the paper during the lockout.
The Court of Appeal sided with Québecor and ruled that the Quebec law did not prohibit telework. It is important to modernize the Canada Labour Code in order to prevent the use of replacement workers through telework.
We also added the use of other establishments to do the work of the bargaining unit that is on strike or locked out.
In my riding, Jonquière, I have seen a number of labour disputes. In a given year, there are labour conflicts right across Canada, but in my former capacity, I saw some in the riding of Jonquière.
It is tough to see workers who want to negotiate with their employer, because it is truly difficult. Renewing a collective agreement can create tension on both sides.
However, when the legal provisions ensure that we negotiate as equals, that establishes a balance of power. This ensures that both the employer and the workers can negotiate in good fath, and that is critically important.
Many stakeholders are calling for and supporting this bill.
Mark Hancock, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, said:
CUPE welcomes this legislation, which would give employers more incentive to sit down and negotiate with workers and could lead to fewer and shorter strikes and lockouts.
In recent years, since we are seeing fewer strikes and more lockouts, it has become more common, during the course of negotiations, for employers to no longer want to negotiate while the employees are locked out. This legislation would help prompt employers to negotiate, because they can no longer hire other workers while the employees are locked out. It is therefore extremely important to negotiating as equals.
Another union president, Mike Palecek, president of CUPW, joined us at our press conference to support the bill. During the presentation, he pointed out the importance of promoting free collective bargaining and the fact that using replacement workers undermines labour relations.
Ken Neumann, the national director of the United Steelworkers, issued a press release on February 25 that states, “The Steelworkers union welcomes these changes to the Canada Labour Code. If passed, this law will stop the unfairness of employers using replacement workers during strikes and lockouts. Thanks to the NDP for once again introducing this bill that will benefit workers and employers and contribute to our nation’s productivity”.
It is important to know that this change to the Canada Labour Code, regarding both teleworking and preventing the use of replacement workers inside as well as outside the facility, is important to bargaining. This does not poison the debate, but can at least help to ensure negotiations occur on an equal footing.
I always enjoy giving a little reminder to anyone who still does not see the reason for the union movement. I want to point out a few things.
It is thanks to unions and the labour movement that we now have a minimum wage, paid overtime, occupational safety standards, parental and maternity leave, paid vacation, and protection from discrimination and sexual harassment.
Unions work hard every day to stand up for those hard-fought rights and to continue winning new rights for all workers.
Our unions are social unions that focus not only on the benefits that can be gained from collective bargaining, but also on the victories that can be achieved in the interest of society as a whole. For example, they fight to put an end to child labour or to ensure that an employee injured at work gets compensation through workers' compensation. They fight for public pensions and social programs that help people contribute to work, such as health care and child care services.
Although workers have made progress in the past few decades, a great deal of injustice remains. That is why starting with a small step and changing and updating the Canada Labour Code is important to me and the NDP.
We voted on a pay equity motion moved here in the House by the NDP not so long ago.
I thank all parties here in the House for supporting that motion, but I am disappointed that we are still fighting for pay equity in 2016.
At this time of economic slowdown, I think it is worth mentioning that the World Bank has found that a high rate of unionization leads to greater income equality, lower unemployment and inflation, higher productivity, and a quicker response to economic downturns.
Speaking of equality, or rather inequality, I believe it is important to point out that there is a major problem in our society when the wealthiest 1% now possess more wealth than the rest of the world put together and the wealthiest 62 people on earth own as much as the poorest 3.6 billion people.
The Panama papers also reveal a strategy for massive tax avoidance.
In the end, it is not up to workers to pay the government back for all the money taken by major corporations, money that belonged to Canadians.
If I were asked whether we could better protect workers' right to negotiate their collective agreement and working conditions in a fair manner and as equals, I believe that the answer would be “yes”.
Not only can we protect workers' rights, but we can look to those who belong to the 1% to pay what is owed to the government in taxes. Protecting the right to negotiate is one aspect of the notion that we can build a fairer and more equal society. That is good for the economy, workers, and their families.
In my riding, one labour conflict went on for three years. During that time, families wound up homeless and broken. There were many separations, and we saw people who were completely lost and did not know where to turn. No one wants those kinds of conflicts. That is why we have to amend the Canada Labour Code so that we have a fair and equitable negotiation process.
The labour code can be improved based on the standards set in Quebec and British Columbia. We can ensure that people who are put out on the streets because of a lockout or strike during a period of negotiations will not have to worry. They will know that if the employer locks them out, no one will be hired to do the work in their place, often for lower wages.
The NDP knows that it is essential that both parties are respected when negotiations are taking place. The company and the workers must both be respected. We want to ensure that the parties meet as equals during negotiations.
It is simply unfair for employers to hire replacement workers to undermine workers' ability to exercise their rights, since the company continues to produce and make money. That is unfair to the workers who have been locked out.
We believe that the bargaining rights of workers who are on strike or have been locked out should not be undermined. That is really important. I hope that members of the House will understand the importance of modernizing the Canada Labour Code. It is 2016. We can and must do something for both companies and workers.
The option to use telework if more than one establishment is on strike or lockout does not allow for negotiation between equals. I hope that my colleagues here in the House will understand that it is vitally important to amend the Canada Labour Code.
I hope that my colleagues will support this bill, since over the past 14 years, some of them have introduced similar bills to amend the Canada Labour Code. I hope that the bill will make it to second reading, that we will examine it in committee, and that we will be able to modernize the Canada Labour Code.