Madam Speaker, it is truly a pleasure to speak to this bill because I have the impression that as a new MP I will be able to continue the work I did previously for a long time as a union representative. Although I was not with the union from the beginning, I will say that unions have always helped improve working conditions, whether it is wages, health and safety standards, or the work week.
What we all too often forget is that this does not just benefit unions. All the concessions earned by union struggles are subsequently passed on to all workers. As the former union president representing the teachers of my institution, I am proud to rise in the House to continue standing up for workers' fundamental right to free bargaining.
For many years, the NDP and the labour movement have been asking the federal government to prohibit the use of strikebreakers during strikes and lockouts.
Resolutions by our federal party also called for the review of the Canada Labour Code in order to ensure healthy labour relations and to give workers the opportunity to freely negotiate their collective agreements.
The bill's primary objective is to prevent employers under federal jurisdiction, of course, from recruiting replacement workers, thereby strengthening the negotiating position of unionized workers when negotiating with management.
To give the bill some teeth and encourage employers to respect it, our proposal involves a fine of up to $10,000 if an employer hires replacement workers during a strike. As they say, money talks.
Before Quebec adopted its anti-scab legislation in 1977, the history of labour relations in la belle province was marked by some very dark episodes in which physical altercations broke out between unionized workers and replacement workers.
I am sure many will remember the dramatic events that took place in Quebec after a strike was called at United Aircraft. The labour-management negotiations were essentially about the Rand formula, under which non-unionized workers had to pay union dues because they enjoyed the same benefits as unionized workers.
The employer rejected the Rand formula and hired scabs to thwart the union's bargaining power. The tale took a dramatic turn when management assaulted striking workers and the unionized workers then targeted strikebreakers. Violence only begets more violence.
The employer called in the Sûreté du Québec to end the striking workers' occupation of the plant. The workers were savagely beaten by police, and many were arrested.
Another incident took place at the Robin Hood mill, where the company's security guards opened fire on eight workers. Why? Because they were picketing outside the mill demanding the right to a decent standard of living.
These tragic events occurred before Quebec passed its anti-scab legislation. Violent social conflicts led to greater awareness among Quebec political decision makers. On the one hand, unionized workers extracted only meagre benefits from their job action because the use of scabs pressured them to go back to work. On the other hand, businesses slowed down and became inefficient because toxic labour relations overshadowed production.
The Quebec Labour Code was modernized for all of these reasons. For 39 years now, Quebec has armed—if members will forgive the expression—its labour code, rather than workers or employers, with anti-scab measures and this policy has had many positive effects.
Many studies show that, since Quebec adopted anti-scab measures, labour disputes have been shorter because employers are encouraged to quickly find a solution to the problem. What is more, shorter labour disputes generally result in less potential for violence.
Anti-scab legislation has another objective besides maintaining industrial peace. In that regard, I would like to quote former Quebec premier Bernard Landry, who said: “In order for the right to strike to be effective, it must penalize the company”.
A slowdown in a company's activities forces management to negotiate a solution to the labour dispute.
Keep in mind that our collective labour relations rest on three pillars. The first is freedom of association and union recognition. The second is the obligation to bargain in good faith. Finally, the third is the ability to use economic pressures to encourage the conclusion of a collective agreement.
It is that last pillar that is at play in the bill introduced by my colleague. Striking is a fundamental right, and the Canada Labour Code must not seek to minimize the impact of this democratic right. In the absence of federal legislation on the matter, a labour dispute drags on and is more likely to result in the employees returning to work without any improvement in their working conditions. Society as a whole ends up losing in these wars of attrition because labour rights take a hit and so does the companies' economic performance.
In order to ensure balanced labour relations, the legislation must ensure that only the two parties involved negotiate an agreement. As soon as a third party is introduced, striking becomes ineffective and often results in a a weakening of workers rights.
Recourse in current anti-scab legislation does not provide adequate protection for workers' rights and their unions. Hiring scabs has become a legitimate practice for some employers, and the burden of proof lies with the unions. The union has to prove that the employer intends to undermine the union's representational capacity. That is ridiculous.
Many stakeholders have condemned the malicious intent of that recourse. On that, I would like to quote Claudette Carbonneau, past president of the CSN:
It also puts an unfair burden on the union, which has to establish that the employer intended to undermine the union's representational capacity, as if the consequences alone of that practice were not enough.
The recourse in the legislation purports to protect workers, but it is a sham.
Canada ratified the International Labour Organization's Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention. All of the international organizations to which Canada belongs protect the right to strike and dispel the myth that a business is less competitive if it fully respects its workers' rights.
Under our international obligations, the Canada Labour Code must be updated, because Canada must set an example for the developing countries that it is supposed to be supporting in their quest for democracy.
This government can show real leadership by making its own labour relations more democratic. What is more, Canada voted in favour of the 17 sustainable development goals for 2030. Number eight clearly stipulates the need to defend the rights of workers and the right to decent work for all.
As a past critic in this area, I would remind the members that the sustainable development goals for 2030 do not apply only to developing countries, but to all 193 signatory countries. The sustainable development goals are universal in scope, which is a fundamental reason why our federal labour code needs to be updated.
In closing, now, in the 21st century, it is high time that we updated the Canada Labour Code by prohibiting replacement workers and any strategy whose aim is to circumvent the law, such as teleworking.
The Liberal government began its term by reversing Conservative legislation that undermined the legitimate work of unions. In addition to getting rid of those Conservative initiatives, this government must also show leadership when it comes to protecting the rights of workers.