That a message be sent to the Senate to acquaint Their Honours that, with respect to Bill C-4, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act, this House disagrees with the amendments made by the Senate.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join this important debate and to talk about Bill C-4, and most important, I am here to ask the members of this House to oppose the amendments introduced by the Senate to Bill C-4.
The previous government's bills, Bill C-525 and Bill C-377, were intentionally designed to weaken unions and to break down the labour movement in Canada. In particular, Bill C-525 has made it more difficult for Canadian workers to unionize and gives a significant advantage to the employer. By rejecting the Senate amendments, we can restore healthy labour relations between government, employers, and unions.
Our government believes that a healthy labour relationship leads to a thriving middle class and a strong economy. In 2015, Canadians were clear in their message that they wanted a government that values fairness, transparency, and collaboration, and they were clear that they wanted a government that puts the well-being of Canadians first.
The commitments we made to Canadians included working hard to restore trust in public institutions, including Parliament, by working with greater openness and transparency, by promoting more open and free votes, and by reforming and strengthening committees.
During the campaign, we also talked about the need to grow the middle class to ensure stable lives and income for Canadians, and we talked about the history and value of organized labour in ensuring those goals.
We committed to restoring a fair and balanced approach to labour relations, and Bill C-4 is an integral piece of doing just that.
We must restore balanced labour relations between employees and employers, and to do that, we need to support Bill C-4.
Our government respects and values unions and their workers, and we know that employers do too. Both employers and unions play critical roles in ensuring that workers receive decent wages and are treated fairly in safe, healthy work environments.
It is our labour laws that help ensure that there is a balance between the rights of unions and the rights of employers. Bill C-4, in its original form, is emblematic of our values and guiding principles.
I would remind the House that, as originally introduced, Bill C-4 sought to restore fairness, balance, and stability to the federal labour relations system. The purpose of Bill C-4 was to repeal amendments made by Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
Bill C-4 proposes to return to the card check certification system that was in place before the introduction of Bill C-525 and also proposes removing the public financial reporting requirements for unions introduced in Bill C-377.
Bill C-4 was already debated, and I am pleased that it was adopted in the House of Commons in its original version. At third reading here in this House, 204 members voted in favour of Bill C-4, and that means that 72% of all the members who voted in this House were in favour of the bill.
It then went to the Senate, where honourable Senators debated it, discussed it, and amended it. In the Senate, the bill was adopted with amendments, which would affect the sections of Bill C-4 related to union certification and would ultimately lead to Bill C-525 remaining in effect, which, as I mentioned, would have detrimental effects on unions and their members.
Both of the bills addressed by Bill C-4 hinder positive employee and employer relationships, but Bill C-525 in particular has made it more difficult for Canadian workers to unionize. This is because Bill C-525 changed the union certification and decertification systems under three federal labour statutes.
The bill essentially made it harder for unions to be certified as collective bargaining agents and made it easier for bargaining agents to be decertified.
Prior to the amendments enacted through Bill C-525, federally regulated unions could use what was called a card check system for certification. If a union demonstrated that 50% plus 1% of workers had signed union cards, the union could be certified as the bargaining agent for those workers. A vote was only required if less than a majority, but enough to indicate a strong interest, signed: less than 35%, under the Canada Labour Code, for example. Bill C-525 changed that to require that unions show at least 40% membership support before holding a secret ballot vote and to require a vote even when more than 50% of workers signed union membership cards. It also made it easier for unions to be decertified by lowering the threshold to trigger a decertification vote to 40%, compared to majority support, which was previously required.
Unfortunately, we have seen examples of employers who will resort to any measure to deter their employees from unionizing. In effect, what Bill C-525 does is allow employers to know exactly when a union might be trying to organize in the workplace. The point is that as a result of Bill C-525, employers now have a powerful tool they did not have before to slow down or stop the union certification process. More generally, they have the ability to unfairly influence the collective bargaining process.
The card check system, whereby a union is certified by demonstrating majority support through signed union cards has been used successfully for many years in the federal jurisdiction and in several provinces. A number of unions, like Unifor and the Air Line Pilots Association, argue that it is fast, efficient, and much more likely to be free of employer interference than the mandatory secret ballot system brought in under Bill C-525.
Other interested parties, such as the Canadian Labour Congress, opposed the introduction of a mandatory vote system as set out in Bill C-525.
Bill C-525 made significant changes to a system that already worked. There was a democratic and fair system in place for employees to express their support for a union. As I mentioned, a card check system relies on majority support, a key democratic principle.
Bill C-525 is not problematic for just unions. It imposes some serious burdens on others as well. For example, there are real implications for the Canada Industrial Relations Board and the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board. These boards are responsible for the full cost and logistical responsibilities involved in holding representation votes. Under these changes, the CIRB would be required to hold a vote to certify a union not just in the roughly 20% of cases where less than a majority of workers have signed union cards but in all cases, which would mean a fivefold increase in the board's workload.
Next is bill C-377. While I should note that the Senate's amendments do not affect the repeal of Bill C-377, I want to remind members of this bill so we can remember why repealing both of these bills is important.
Bill C-377 tips the scales in favour of the employer during the collective bargaining process. It requires labour organizations and labour trusts to file detailed financial and other information with the Canada Revenue Agency. This information is then made publicly available on the CRA's website. For example, during the collective bargaining process, employers will be able to know how much money the union has in its strike fund, giving the employer a substantial advantage.
Both Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 were expressly designed to disempower and weaken unions, giving significant advantage to employers. That is why our government introduced Bill C-4. It was to restore fair and balanced labour relations in our country.
Unions play a critical role in protecting the rights of Canadians and in ensuring a strong middle class. The right to organize must be protected in Canada. This government respects unions and workers and knows the critical role they play in ensuring a strong economy and a healthy society. Labour laws should ensure that there is a balance between the rights of unions and the rights of employers. How is it that Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 were passed if they do not support such a balance?
These bills were introduced and passed by the previous government because it ignored the long-standing tradition of tripartite consultation in this country. The tripartite consultation process ensures that employers, unions, and governments work together on issues of labour relations law reform and has long contributed to a stable labour relationship across the country. These relationships were not respected by the previous government. The introduction of Bill C-377 and Bill C-525 demonstrated the disdain of the previous government for the strong value of the collective voice and effort the tripartite approach represents.
Our government believes that for policies to be fair and balanced, they must be developed through sincere consultation and engagement with all of our partners. A fair and workable labour management balance can only be reached when all parties—the government, unions, and employers—are part of the process. Our government is strongly committed to this approach.
Successful collective bargaining and fairness in the employer-employee relationship are the foundation of our economy. They provide stability and predictability in the labour force, two vital elements of a strong economy.
When labour law reform is required in the future, our government is firmly committed to ensuring that we ground policy development in evidence and collaboration through the tripartite relationship. This approach is critical to ensure that fair, balanced, evidence-based labour polices are developed through real consultation. They are essential for the prosperity of workers and employers, Canadian society, and the economy as a whole. They protect the rights of Canadian workers, and they help the middle class grow and prosper.
Let us be clear. Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 have diminished and weakened Canada's labour movement, and the way the bills were passed did not allow employers or unions to play their usual role in informing government's decisions.
Even though there were some differences of opinion about the merits of the changes imposed by Bill C-525, representatives on both sides of the bargaining table were highly critical of how the previous government brought in these changes.
It was not only our government that was concerned about Bill C-525 and Bill C-377. Many stakeholders also expressed their concerns. There are ample concerns about the content of these bills and the damage they do to the labour movement and the fair and balanced relationship between employers and their employees.
As I have reminded all members, it is just as important to address how these changes came to pass. Employers and unions were not given the chance to help inform the previous government's decisions. It is no surprise that when policies are developed without proper consultation, as was the case with both of these bills, they often end up causing more harm than good.
Labour reforms are important. They have wide-ranging implications for workers, for unions, for employers, and for our country, which is why we must give the process of labour law reform the time and respect it deserves, and our government will continue to do so.
Successful collective bargaining and fairness in the employer-employee relationship are the foundation of our economy. They provide stability and predictability in the labour force, two vital elements of a strong economy. They are the basis for good wages and safe working environments, what should be basic rights for all Canadians, and they are the basis for good labour policy that affects millions of working Canadians.
The rights of labour unions and the workers they represent are also the rights of Canadians. As elected officials, we have a responsibility to protect those rights. We need to make sure that labour policy works in the best interests of Canadians. Bill C-525 and Bill C-377 cause real harm and do not represent a positive contribution to labour relations in Canada.
We need to continue working to ensure that we uphold the tripartite consultation process between employers, unions, and governments. By working together on issues of labour relations law reform, we will continue to have strong and stable relations across the country. By opposing the Senate amendments, we can restore fair and balanced labour relations in our country, which contribute to a thriving middle class and a strong economy.
We believe that, to ensure fairness and balance, the House must oppose the proposed amendments.
I ask all members to oppose the amendments introduced to Bill C-4 in the Senate and to give labour relations the respect it deserves.