Mr. Speaker, I am very happy to rise today to speak to this particular piece of legislation on behalf of the party.
I would like to provide some perspective on a private member's bill that touches on a key component of the Canada Labour Code and one that would have a serious impact on federal labour relations in this country. Bill C-234 proposes to change the legislative provisions relating to whether federally regulated employers should be able to hire replacement workers during strikes or lockouts.
While most labour relations in Canada are regulated by the provinces, it must be underscored that part I of the Canada Labour Code governs labour relations in the federal private sector. It applies to some key industries in our economy, for example, sectors including international and interprovincial railway and road transportation, maritime and air transportation, as well as telecommunications and banking. Some crown corporations, such as Canada Post Corporation, are also covered under the code.
There is a lot of history behind this particular issue. For example, in 1995, the then minister of labour established a task force that did extensive public consultations on part I, which is the industrial relations part of the Canada Labour Code. Those consultations included labour, employer, and government stakeholders, as well as academics and others. The issue of replacement workers was part of those discussions.
Labour and employer stakeholders held then, and hold now, very different views on the issue. In fact, the task force report, entitled “Seeking a Balance”, noted, “No issue divides the submissions we received more than the issue of replacement workers.”
That report formed the basis of the comprehensive amendments to part I of the Canada Labour Code that came into force in 1999. It is important to note that the provision that exists now was recommended by the task force as a reasonable compromise between the competing views of employers and unions. That had been decided in 1999.
The provision of part I of the Canada Labour Code already limits the use of replacement workers in federal private sector industries. The code balances the union's right to strike with the employer's right to attempt to continue operating during a work stoppage. As the report recommends, “There should be no general prohibition on the use of replacement workers.” However, the report identified using replacement workers in an attempt to remove the union from the workplace as an unfair labour practice, and rightfully so. This is known as undermining the union representative capacity.
At the time of the task force report, the current provision in the code was considered to be an acceptable middle ground between the position of the federally regulated employers and the unions that represent employees. This provision is considered a compromise and a balance between union and employer interests.
While Bill C-234 may intend to improve labour relations, it has the potential to upset the carefully crafted balance of rights and responsibilities between unions and employers under the code.
It is not only the content of Bill C-234 with which I take issue, but I would also like to underline a flaw in how we have been asked to consider such an important change for federally regulated employees and employers.
Consideration of such a measure should take into account the perspectives of all stakeholders who are regulated by the Canada Labour Code as this requires the views of those who stand to be affected by it. To be clear, a private member's bill does not allow for the proper consultations, and it does not provide sufficient opportunity for all stakeholders to express their views.
In the past, both labour and employer organizations have been highly critical of changes being made to federal labour relations legislation through the use of private members' bills without prior consultation with the stakeholders. Members will no doubt remember that the government recently took bold steps to correct inequities introduced in Bill C- 377 and Bill C-525, which upset the balance of rights and responsibilities between federally regulated employers and unions.
Trade unions play a fundamental role in the relations between employers and employees. Unions work to ensure that their members receive fair wages and good working conditions in fair, healthy, and safe work environments. These bills put unions at a disadvantage and we believe they must be repealed.
Just like the current Bill C-234, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were private members' bills that were not subject to rigorous consultations. This is not the right way to approach such matters. We should not be looking at amending part I of the Canada Labour Code on a piecemeal basis. We believe in an open and transparent approach to labour relations, one that promotes stability and fairness.
Major changes to labour relations legislation have always been preceded by consultation between government, unions, and employers. I referred previously to the 1995 task force, which included an extensive consultative process, which was followed by ministerial consultations on the recommendations included in the task force report. However, this has not happened in the case of Bill C-234, and any changes on such a divisive issue would certainly need consultations with all stakeholders.
We cannot support Bill C-234 because it does not match our standards of openness and transparency in labour relations in this country. As I pointed out before, the code ensures balance between a union's right to strike and that of an employer to attempt to continue operating during a work stoppage. It is part of the balance between rights and responsibilities of employers and unions under the code.
Good labour relations are key elements of an economic system and indeed to the prosperity of this country. We have a long tradition in this country of labour legislation and policy designed to promote the common well-being by encouraging free collective bargaining and constructive dispute settlement. We believe in the strength of co-operation to develop good relations between employers and workers. If legislative changes are to be considered for part I of the code, let us do it the right way, through real and meaningful consultation and engagement with unions, employers, and stakeholders.
I know that in the member's comments reference was made to support from United Steelworkers. Let me read into the record the statement made by Ken Neumann when he was testifying before committee on Bill C-525. Mr. Neumann is the national director of United Steelworkers. He said, speaking about the past Conservative government:
We've seen this government operate in this way before - introducing major changes to the hallmarks of our democratic society through backdoor private member's bills. The Canadian Labour Congress rightly asks why tamper with a system that's working? The federal system is respected and supported, as a result of a consultative process that's been followed for decades for amending the Labour Code.
That comes from Ken Neumann from United Steelworkers. That is his opinion.
We have long recognized this in this country. Again, I would like to underline the fact that in the last four years we have seen it even more so. Labour legislation in this country has to be referred to a tripartite system, one that is consultative and is built through consensus. That is what we are committed to, to ensure that our labour laws are fair and balanced and that they represent the needs of employers and the rights and best interest of employees. That is what we are committed to and that is what we intend to deliver as a government.