Mr. Speaker, Bill C-65 to prevent harassment and violence in the workplace was introduced for first reading on November 7, 2017.
This is an extremely important piece of legislation, and we see this as a step in the right direction with respect to these crucial issues. As the new labour critic for the NDP, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-65 to address harassment and violence in the workplace.
This bill was developed in response to the many highly publicized cases of sexual assault that have occurred around the world. In the present context and in the wake of the global #MeToo and Time's Up movements, now more than ever, Canada must be a champion and a leader in ensuring that our workplaces are safe and free from harassment and violence.
Canada already has some of the best legislation in the world against sexual violence. Still, comprehensive legislation is needed to further enhance protections for workers against physical, sexual, and psychological violence in the workplace.
Psychological harassment deserves special attention. According to the International Labour Organization, psychological harassment is an increasingly common form of workplace violence. Universities and unions such as Teamsters have also spoken out against it.
Just three months ago in my riding in the Saguenay, a scandal broke at the Centre de formation professionnelle de Jonquière. Six instructors and former instructors spoke to the media about how the work environment at that teaching institution had been intolerable for over a decade. Cases of harassment and exclusion are no longer rare; they are becoming more and more common.
We know this is due to profound changes in how we organize work, in working conditions, and in management styles in recent decades. The rules governing a labour market that is now more demanding in terms of flexibility and productivity make workers more vulnerable and, in recent years, have helped enable cases of psychological harassment.
Unfortunately, Machiavelli's famous maxim “divide and conquer” seems to be the order of the day in a context where professional burnout and workplace stress and hardship have been normalized. Asking for respect and dignity at work is not a luxury, it is a fundamental right.
In addition to psychological harassment, workplace violence and harassment also merit our attention. According to the president of the Canadian Labour Congress, workplace violence and harassment, whether psychological, physical, or sexual, have become an epidemic and the impact on the daily lives and mental health of workers across the country is quite clear.
An Abacus Data survey released in November shows that close to half of Canadian women say they have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. One in ten Canadians report that this type of harassment is quite common at their workplace and nearly half of them say they have been harassed by a person in a position of authority. Not surprisingly, low-income workers in precarious jobs, as well as racialized and queer women are more likely to be harassed at work.
Still today, those who engage in workplace harassment rarely suffer the consequences of their behaviour. For example, the director of the women's department at Unifor, Lisa Kelly, recently indicated that all too often those who point out problems and seek help continue to suffer reprisals.
That is unacceptable. Sexual, physical, psychological, or emotional harassment or violence in the workplace must not be tolerated. Our leader, Jagmeet Singh, took the same firm stand on this issue a few weeks ago when he announced his zero tolerance policy for such behaviour.
The NDP wants all working men and women in Canada to feel safe and protected from sexual, physical, and psychological violence or harassment in their workplace. That is why we support the global initiative to enhance protections against harassment and violence in the workplace. That is also why we are working with women's rights and social justice organizations to ensure that the policies that are put in place have a real impact and make the safety of all workers a priority.
Bill C-65 seeks to establish an investigative process that would allow workers and employers to better address allegations of bullying, harassment, and sexual harassment. The bill sets out two similar approaches for parliamentary and government workplaces. Once passed, this bill will apply to all federally regulated workplaces, including the banking, telecommunications, and transport sectors, which account for nearly 8% of the Canadian workforce. Whereas the Canada Labour Code currently provides for separate frameworks for dealing with workplace violence and sexual harassment, Bill C-65 would merge those labour standards. Bill C-65 would also implement strict rules to protect the privacy of victims of harassment or violence. These rules would also apply to parliamentarians, their employees, and other staff on Parliament Hill.
The NDP has always fought for better protections for workers. That is why we strongly support expanding legal provisions to reduce workplace violence and harassment, which should not be tolerated under any circumstances. Although we agree with the intent of Bill C-65, we feel it has some flaws and does not go far enough. It would require many amendments to achieve the desired results and offer the kind of protection that Canadian workers expect.
We still do not know exactly how this bill will improve the process for reporting harassment, how it will minimize harm, how it will interact with the Canadian Human Rights Commission, or how it will protect the anonymity of victims of workplace harassment or violence.
It is also unclear how the implementation of Bill C-65 will be properly funded. That is why some of the bill's provisions should be studied further.
First of all, even though this bill claims to tackle harassment and violence, those terms are not defined anywhere in Bill C-65, the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, or the Budget Implementation Act, 2017, No. 1. Only sexual harassment is defined in the Canada Labour Code.
A long list of steps and processes to combat certain inappropriate behaviours is being put forward. However, there is no definition of this behaviour anywhere, which does not bode well for the government's objective of creating a model policy to deal with sexual harassment.
If the government really wants to eradicate violence and harassment, why would it rely on the regulatory process to produce these definitions instead of introducing a clear bill?
What hope does the government have of eliminating harassment and violence from the workplace if it does not clearly define the behaviour to be eliminated?
By not providing an explicit definition, the government is asking us to blindly vote for an important and yet extremely vague bill that could be subsequently amended without consultation. That is not what we want. These terms must be clearly defined for both the employer and the employees to ensure that these measures can be be implemented effectively.
Sure, definitions in bills narrow the interpretations of a particular word or anticipate potential interpretations. Sure, if we add definitions, this means that other potential or future circumstances may not be included in the bill. However, though it may be wise, in some circumstances, not to provide too many definitions, in this case, it is not legally binding if we leave the definitions of harassment and violence up to to the regulations. These definitions would ultimately be set through jurisprudence or, in some cases, by tribunals responsible for workplaces under the Canada Labour Code.
I want to bring up a second major problem. In the past, the federal government has missed—and yes, I said “missed”—opportunities to ensure that victims of physical, sexual, or psychological violence have access to leave after the incident.
Why does the government not create a 10-day paid leave for victims of workplace harassment? The government should take this opportunity to integrate a 10-day paid leave into the bill, as suggested by the majority of organizations working to end gender-based violence.
Also, will there be the necessary personnel and training to go along with the legislation?
Ten days of paid leave is not very much. Anyone who is the victim of psychological harassment, violence, or sexual harassment is affected for life. The bill should include leave for victims in order to help them in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
I would also like to add that if workplace inspectors are called upon in the process, we need to ensure that enough inspectors are available and that they receive the specialized training needed to enforce the new measures. Since they would have to lead investigations, it is important that these individuals be properly trained and capable of leading them. Since many of these cases involve prejudice, people who are not properly trained could negatively affect the investigation and cause long-term harmful effects for the victims.
Details are also needed regarding the availability and source of new funding in order to ensure that workplaces have the resources they need to provide the necessary support and investigate all allegations of sexual harassment.
Without that, the bill's effectiveness could be seriously undermined. Declaring new rights without providing resources to enforce them does absolutely nothing to enhance the protection of workers and ensure safe workplaces. The government therefore still needs to tell us how much money will be allocated to implementing these measures, especially since they will be combined with an extensive awareness campaign to challenge misconceptions and stereotypes.
Harassment and violence in the workplace must never be tolerated, but when it does occur, the process must be transparent for all parties and recourse must be clear. The legislation must give everyone involved the right to be informed of the status of their complaint. In addition, the individuals involved must be given sufficient representation, as noted by the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
The current bill does not elaborate on any of that, which leaves us with some questions. What real recourse does Bill C-65 offer to victims of harassment or assault? Will workers have the right to access information about their complaint? As the national vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada said in November, in the context of allegations of sexual harassment in Hollywood and around the world, it is disappointing to see a bill on sexual harassment and violence which fails to provide a remedy for victims.
It is also not clear to us how the government plans to implement strict privacy rules while also allowing federally regulated workplaces, including Parliament, to rely on qualified persons from the same work environment to help resolve the situation. It seems obvious that the privacy of the complainant cannot be guaranteed if the so-called qualified person selected to play the role of mediator can be a colleague.
The final concern I want to raise is about how this legislation will affect the role of the Canadian Human Rights Commission with respect to the solutions it provides and the resolution of complaints that are not covered under the Canada Labour Code but are dealt with by the commission or in collective agreements. How will Bill C-65 interact with the Canadian Human Rights Act or existing collective agreement provisions such as those relating to third-party arbitration? Bill C-65 would have more teeth if it guaranteed all workers in this country the same level of protection.
I have much more to say about Bill C-65, but I see that I am running out of time. Considering everything members said at second reading, I would like to conclude by saying that, despite the many recent global initiatives encouraging people to come forward about sexual harassment, some women and men still find it difficult to speak up. The words seem to get stuck in their throats, something prevents them from reporting what they have buried so deeply inside themselves. Words, deeds, emotions, held captive. Why do so many hold back? Lack of faith in our legal system and confusion about how various types of harassment are defined have a lot to do with it. If this bill is to succeed at curbing these behaviours, it is crucial, as I said, tjat we define them.
It is up to the government to answer all of these questions quickly and find real solutions so that all Canadians can finally get the safe work environment they deserve and are entitled to.