Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today in support of Bill C-4.
I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the minister as well as the government on following through with one of their election promises.
New Democrats vigorously opposed the former Conservative government's attempt to restrict the rights of unions, and to change the rules governing labour relations under the guise of increased transparency. These bills were designed to weaken unions by forcing redundant and unreasonable financial reporting requirements on them and by making it more difficult for Canadians in federally regulated workplaces to join unions.
Allow me to recap the two bills that Bill C-4 would repeal.
Bill C-377 was an unnecessary and discriminatory law designed to impose onerous and absurdly detailed reporting requirements on unions. It was pushed through Parliament by the Conservatives despite widespread opposition from many groups, including constitutional and privacy experts, the provinces, Conservative and Liberal senators, Canada's Privacy Commissioner, the Canadian Bar Association, the NHL Players' Association, and the insurance and mutual fund industry, among others.
Bill C-525 was a private member's bill supported by the Conservatives. It was designed to make it harder for workers to unionize and easier for unions to be decertified. The labour law changes were made without any evidence of a problem with the previous system of union certification.
It is my hope that the bill before us will receive swift passage so that the restrictions and the risks brought by Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 will cease to exist.
I had the privilege of hearing from many stakeholders during the committee hearings, both unions and employers, on the bill, and I am pleased to have opportunity today to quote at length some of the testimony we heard last spring. Much of which we heard at the committee from expert witnesses describes the problems with these two pieces of legislation in a knowledgeable and straightforward way, and in plain language that makes it really easy to see why these bills should be repealed.
Tony Fanelli, representing the construction and contract maintenance industry employers, explained why he opposed these onerous disclosure and reporting requirements of Bill C-377. He said:
If all trust funds, all training funds, and virtually every fund that would be connected to a union are subject to public exposure, our competition would clearly understand over time how those monies go into training and how we do business. In the construction industry, training and development is a key component to the success of projects we build [and bid on]. The staff either make or break an employer. We saw this legislation would open the door for the non-union to come in, just as I mentioned.
On top of that are the reporting requirements, the reporting responsibilities, that would come out of this. When we did some of the preliminary audits on the cost of doing this, it was just prohibitive.
And these are a group of large employers.
It would happen not only with employers like us, the people I represent, the bigger employers in Canada, but across every employer association in every jurisdiction in this country. That's the reason we're opposed.
Mr. Fanelli also said:
If the Construction Labour Relations association of Alberta or the Industrial Contractors Association of Canada are held to be a labour trust and have to make the reports and returns required by Bill C-377, then both our confidentiality and our bargaining strategies are laid open.
This cannot be good for labour relations or good for either party in the labour relations continuum. I've been a labour relations practitioner in Canada for nearly 40 years. During that time there have never been any issues arising in respect of this subject. If this hasn't been an issue in the past, what is going to be gained by such significant public disclosure?
He went on to say:
We are also responsible for the privacy of our employees, and the legislation compels us to decide which law we breach: the Income Tax Act or the various provincial and federal privacy laws...it might be different if there were some wrong or right in this area, but there simply isn't. The unionized contractors in Canada see no obvious value in any part of Bill C-377, and therefore support the repeal of that legislation under the bill being considered today....
The Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities also had the opportunity to hear from some eminent labour relations experts and practitioners. Andrew Sims was the vice-chair of the 1996 task force to review the Canada Labour Code. He gave an enlightening presentation and had this to say about both bills, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525:
It's a fairly strong expression of views, but it is not simply my personal experience. It is founded on the last 30-year—and I think the most significant 30 years—review of the Canada code, and the people whose laws will be affected.
In my view, the two bills that are repealed by Bill C-4...both had the air of one side seeking political intervention for more ideological, economic, or relationship reasons, and they have corroded the view that legislative reform at the federal sector is based on the tripartite model.
To the oft cited but erroneous comparison of a secret ballot forum to form a union to an individual's vote during a democratic election, here is what another expert witness, Sara Slinn, associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, had to say about Bill C-525:
...there is a faulty political election analogy at work here. Mandatory vote supporters commonly rely on a political election analogy founded on the view that certification votes are analogous to political campaigns and elections. The attraction of this argument is understandable, appealing as it does to ideas of free speech and informed choice and workplace democracy, but it's a false analogy.
The nature of union representation is not analogous to government power or political representation, and as a result, the nature of decision-making in a union vote is not analogous to that in a political election. First, the nature of the decision is [totally] different. Certification doesn't transform the employment relationship. It simply introduces the union as the employee's agent for the limited purpose of bargaining and administering any collective agreement that the union may be able to negotiate. The employer's overriding economic authority over employees continues in any event.
Secondly, there is no non-representation outcome possible in the political context. In political elections citizens vote between two or more possible representatives. There is no option to be unrepresented, so...if union representation elections were to be analogous to political elections, then it would be a vote among different collective employer representatives with no option for non-representation. That's simply not the system that we have anywhere in Canada.
Professor Slinn also addressed the issue of card check versus secret ballot votes for union certification. She stated:
...in terms of cards being a reliable measure of employee support, it's often contended that votes more accurately indicate employees' desire for union representation than cards, suggesting that card-based certification fosters union misconduct to compel employees to sign cards. Although this is possible, there is no evidence, either in academic studies or in the case law from jurisdictions that use this procedure, that it is a significant or a widespread problem. Anecdote isn't evidence, and certainly it shouldn't be a compelling basis for legislative change in the face of a lot of academic research finding that mandatory vote systems have negative effects on labour relations and that employer interference in certification is indeed a significant and widespread problem.
Another effect of Bill C-525 is the increased difficulty that employees would face when trying to form a union. Despite the Conservatives' denial, it is clear that mandatory voting procedures, as set out in Bill C-525, would allow more opportunity for employers to influence the outcomes of certification drives. I will quote Professor Slinn again, as follows:
In every case, in a vote-based procedure, the employer is notified by the labour board that a certification application has been made.... In most jurisdictions in Canada, in all but two, there is a deadline for that vote. It's between five and 10 working days. Under the Canada Labour Code, there is no deadline for that vote.
This provides ample time for employers to engage in anti-union campaigns.
She goes on to say:
...there's quite a bit of research on delay in the vote process. Representation votes, by requiring a vote in addition to submitting evidence, necessarily result in a longer certification procedure. It has been found that it significantly reduces the likelihood of certification where there's either no time limit—as is currently the case under the Canada Labour Code and other federal legislation....
These studies concluded that a combination of enforced statutory time limits and expedited hearings for unfair labour practices was necessary to satisfactorily offset these negative effects. Neither of these are currently available.
Professor Slinn noted that this delay would be a real concern under the current provisions and that passing Bill C-4 would help in part to address the issue.
In terms of employer interference, Professor Slinn noted that the vote-based procedure gives employers a substantial opportunity to seek to defeat the organizing attempt. There are numerous studies showing this is not only widespread but effective. A large percentage of managers surveyed in some of these studies admit to engaging in what they believe to be illegal, unfair labour practices to avoid union representation.
Survey evidence has also found in Canada that non-union employees expect employer retaliation and expect anti-union conduct by employers. Research at UBC has found that Canadian employers are no less anti-union in their attitudes toward unions than U.S. managers.
Professor Slinn found that Bill C-4 amendments reversing the Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 changes, particularly to the representation procedures, are a change that better protects employees' decision-making about collective representation.
Some of the aforementioned concerns about Bill C-525 were also echoed by Hassan Yussuff from the Canadian Labour Congress. He said:
If the board is uncertain about whether or not there is support for a union, the board itself can order a vote. Of course, on many occasions when there has been a vote, the board has found that employers have truly interfered with the workers' ability to choose the union....
Why would an employer care if the workers want to join the union? If it's their free democratic and constitutional right in this country, why would employers want to interfere in it other than the fact that if you do have a vote, it gives the employer time to use all kinds of tactics during the time the vote has been ordered? I could list some of the companies that clearly said they were going to close the facility, or cut people's salaries, or lay people off. Of course, ultimately it changed the workers' ability to truly exercise their free choice.
It was abundantly clear from the testimony of respected individuals and experts that Bill C-4 is a good first step. However, we are disappointed that some of the major actions were missing from the bill. The government has intimated that it plans to move forward with labour policy reform, which would include hearing from unions, employers, all other levels of government, and Canadians. While this is encouraging, it begs the question, why not immediately repeal the egregious labour law changes found in the previous government's omnibus Bill C-4? Why review bad legislation that is contentious and unconstitutional?
The previous government's omnibus Bill C-4 also decimated health and safety protections for public service workers. When will the government commit to restoring these important safeguards for the people who deliver our essential public services?
As negotiations with the public sector unions resume this fall, public service workers are looking for the respect they were promised during the election, and they are hoping that this government will make good on its promise to restore fair collective bargaining for the public service.
As part of the promised labour policy reform, will the government bring in legislation to update and modernize the Canada Labour Code? As we know, sections of the code that deal with workplace harassment, hours of work, overtime pay, and vacation entitlements are about 60 years out of date. It is time we modernized the code to reflect the reality of today's labour market.
The most recent review of the Canada Labour Code last happened in 2006, with the final report making several recommendations to help an increasing number of part-time and contractual employees.
In May 2015, a briefing note to the former minister of labour said that the rise in part-time, temporary, and self-employed workers along with the demand for knowledge-based jobs has changed the nature of work and the workplace. Will the government work with unions in ensuring that part-time, temporary, and self-employed workers have the right to the same workplace and labour protections as other Canadian workers?
Given the rise in precarious and involuntary part-time employment, Canadian workers are faced with a host of added challenges such as eligibility for EI benefits. It often results in a diminished ability to save. The erratic hours create challenges in pursuing an education, arranging child care, and qualifying for a mortgage. All these are contributing factors to the greater income inequality, and if the government is truly sincere about helping the middle class, then it must immediately address these issues.
I am sure my esteemed colleagues will agree that in every corner of this great country there is still much we can do to bring a better standard of living to Canadians. As the economy continues to struggle and the cost of living rises steadily while wages stagnate, Canadians are looking to the government to make life more affordable. Affordable child care, pay equity, decent accessible housing, and a living wage are all measures that would really help Canadians from all walks of life.
Will the government commit to reinstating a fair minimum wage for workers in the federally regulated sectors? Some provinces and municipalities are already acknowledging that a living wage will make a huge difference in making life more affordable. Will our government step up and lead the way?
Another sad fact is that a disproportionate number of workers who are affected are women and young people. We cannot afford not to act. It is way past time for the federal government to bring in stand-alone pay equity legislation. We have studied this issue and consulted, and the evidence is clear and undeniable. Two committee reports have called for action, yet we continue to wait.
Through a combination of policy and propaganda, the previous government started to dismantle the system of protections that were put in place by decades of advocacy by labour organizations, community groups, and unions. Their right-wing agenda has generated policies that hurt the environment, social services, and all workers especially persons of colour, indigenous peoples and communities, women, the poor, and other marginalized groups.
Now that we have a new government in place, one that has promised equality for women, fairness for indigenous people, and sunny ways for all, I do look forward to seeing the current government work closely with all members in the House as well as with unions and civil society to bring about better jobs and a more secure future for all Canadians.