Mr. Speaker, sadly, I am not pleased to rise in the House today to once again debate this type of bill, this bludgeoning, this hammering of workers' fundamental rights.
I am rising because that is our job and that is our role. That is what the NDP is here for, why people have placed their trust in us. We are able to rise here and do the job of defending those who organize, who want improved working conditions, who want to defend their health and safety. They know full well that we are the only party they can trust. When they see the Liberals emulating the Conservatives' strategy, people know very well who they can turn to. They know who will fight for them until the end, who will be there and who will defend the fundamental rights and working conditions of our constituents, our provinces, our towns and our regions.
That was a brief introduction because I want to bring everyone back to seven and a half years ago. In May 2011, for the first time in history, the NDP formed the official opposition. That was a great day for our party. I, along with a number of my colleagues here, was part of that election, that class, that orange wave. We were thrown into battle very quickly. The NDP had just won an historic victory by becoming the official opposition, but the Conservatives had just won a majority in the House.
That meant that, for us, as people on the left, as progressives, the season of great battles had just begun. This was a battle for public services, science, a respectable image of Canada on the world stage, the environment, the country's minorities, Statistics Canada. It was a battle on all fronts. We were there. We worked hard, with passion and devotion, and I think people remember that.
The first major battle we fought was on behalf of Canada Post workers. Members will recall that we were in a ridiculous situation where the government had imposed special back-to-work legislation when there was a lockout. A Crown corporation had stopped mail delivery, and it was the government that forced people back to work by imposing a collective agreement on 45,000 postal workers.
We did not let them get away with it. We showed them what the NDP and progressives are made of. We made an unprecedented move to slow down the passage of this special legislation and to give negotiations a chance to improve the well-being of postal workers.
I clearly recall that our leader back then, Jack Layton, gave a speech in the House that lasted more than an hour at the start of this long battle, which went on for four days. Jack Layton gave a great speech about workers and a more just and fair society where people can assert their rights to improve their living conditions. I invite those who have never read or heard this speech to look for it. It is on the Internet. It is extremely inspiring, especially coming from a man who was seriously ill at the time.
Then, for four days, NDP MPs talked non-stop; we were all greenhorns then, including my colleague from Beloeil—Chambly, who is smiling as he recalls it. We maintained our presence in the House, day and night, for four days, when the vast majority of the NDP was made up of new MPs. We had been elected about three weeks earlier, but the cause was important, and we wanted to get the message across and show exactly where we stood as progressives and New Democrats. We did not hesitate. We went for it as the NDP team.
We gave postal workers and their union a chance to return to the bargaining table to try to reach an agreement. In fact, negotiations were ongoing while we were doing our job as parliamentarians in the House.
I have a little anecdote I like to tell that refers to a French expression. Since we had started this battle on a Thursday and proceedings had continued without interruption or adjournment from Friday to Sunday at noon, the clerks' table indicated that it was still officially Thursday. The day had never changed over, and so, francophones and francophiles alike will understand how amused I was at the thought of having gotten through history's first ever week of four Thursdays.
However, that is not what was important. Rather, it was to defend fundamental principles. Today, seven and a half years later, it is back to the future. I feel like I took the mad scientist's car in Back to the Future and am seeing the exact same movie. If it is not Back to the Future, it is Groundhog Day. It is the same thing.
The Liberals are doing exactly the same thing Stephen Harper's Conservatives did. I find it staggering that they are capable of looking us, and the postal workers, straight in the eye today and telling us that they are not like the Conservatives and that it is fine this time around because the Liberals are doing it. However, we are not in the same situation at all. The situation is much less serious.
Now I want to talk about the reality on the ground and the working conditions of the 45,000 or 50,000 people who deliver mail and parcels all across the country. I want to talk about the working conditions of these people. They make an average of $40,000 to $60,000 a year. They provide excellent service, and they are not part of the privileged class. They are people with demanding jobs, who are definitely part of what we would consider the middle class. The words “middle class” should ring a bell for the Liberal government.
These people have been suffering for years because their collective agreement is inadequate and unsuitable. I am talking specifically about their very heavy work schedules. Their working conditions have changed, and they are being forced to work much longer hours, late into the evening. In Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie and other neighbourhoods in Montreal, we have outside staircases. In the winter, it is dark after 5 p.m. Mail carriers have to climb those outside stairs, in the snow and ice, using a little headlight to try to see if the steps are safe or if there is too much ice and snow. That causes life-changing work accidents.
Here are some statistics that I find very illuminating: in the past two years alone, the number of work accidents reported by Canada Post employees has increased by 43%. Are they right to demand better? Yes, and we understand. It is normal for them to demand better. That is how we have organized our society, in order to improve our quality of life and make sure that we work in safe environments.
In 2017, 25% of Canada Post employees reported a workplace accident. That is one in four workers, which is a record. It is the most dangerous federally regulated sector in terms of worker health and safety. Is it not logical that these exasperated, injured, frustrated workers are resorting to pressure tactics? Of course it is. We would all do the same. We would not accept those working conditions.
I remember demonstrating with Canada Post workers in 2012 or 2013 and seeing former employees come to demonstrate with their former colleagues. I met one of them and asked how he was doing. He replied that he had changed jobs. When I asked why, he told me he had had enough. He said he was never home and never saw his wife and kids. His work-life balance was atrocious.
That mail carrier decided to become a taxi driver, because it was too hard for him to keep doing his job. It was too demanding for his personal and family life. That is the reality on the front lines.
I will now take a moment to talk about female rural mail carriers. They come under the protection of another union, but they are fighting alongside their colleagues who are members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Seventy-five per cent of these women earn less than urban mail carriers. That is a serious problem. It is a problem of fairness and justice, but the Liberals are ignoring it once again. Worse still, these women are not even paid for the overtime they do. After a certain point in the day, if they have not delivered everything they have to deliver, they work for free. That is the reality.
I think those women are right to stand up, to use pressure tactics and to say that this is wrong, that this is not a respectful work environment and that they deserve better.
These workers are currently exercising a constitutional right. Also, they have decided to do so gradually. They are not on an indefinite general strike. These are rotating strikes that affect one municipality or a few municipalities for a day or two. Then the strike moves elsewhere in the country.
They did not decide to play hard ball. No, they decided to increase the pressure gradually, and it has not created any major disruptions at this time for our economy, for our SMEs or for the general public.
Let us be clear. Although we are being led to believe that there is a crisis, it is an artificial crisis, designed and manufactured out of whole cloth in an attempt to get legislation passed that would otherwise make no sense and have no purpose.
Plenty of people are receiving their letters and parcels. Online shoppers are receiving their orders.
Does it sometimes take longer than before? Yes, it does.
Is this a national or economic crisis? It is neither. It is an excuse that has been used to ram a collective agreement that does not respect workers' rights down those workers' throats. That is the problem.
Anyone who knows anything about labour relations knows that the threat of special back-to-work legislation tips the balance at the negotiating table. That is what the Liberals have done. They have taken away workers' power to put pressure on the employer. As soon as the Liberal Party suggested that it might introduce special legislation, then management could just sit back and wait for the situation to deteriorate enough to require special legislation, leaving the union without any bargaining power.
After that, good luck improving health and safety, improving work schedules and getting pay equity. It is nice to see that included in the Liberal government's bill, but it will never happen.
The Liberals are living in an alternate universe if they think that Canada Post will suddenly give the workers everything they are asking for just because their bill says so. It has not done it in the past decade or two. It is not going to start now. That is not how things work.
In 2011-12, the Liberals were the second opposition party, which is what the NDP is now. The Liberals got themselves all worked up saying that the Conservative government's actions were totally unreasonable. Once again, they are doing exactly what the Conservatives did. Today they are showing their true colours. They are attacking a basic right, the right to free collective bargaining. I think that bears repeating, because the Liberals should be ashamed of what they are doing. They are attacking 45,000 people, they are attacking a public service, and they are attacking middle-class people and families. Those people have a constitutional right, upheld by the courts, to do what they are doing right now, and they are doing it in an extremely respectful and peaceful manner. Moreover, not only are their rotating pressure tactics minimally disruptive, but important cheques, such as old age pension, welfare and employment insurance benefits, are still being delivered on time.
Postal workers are so respectful of their fellow citizens in need that during the lockout in 2011, they volunteered their time to deliver those cheques. Those are the people we are talking about. They have guts, and their communities appreciate them. They are respectful, and the one thing they want is for Canada Post and the federal government to respect them. Right now, they feel betrayed by the Liberal government, which made them promises but is now stabbing them in the back. That is what is going to happen.
On the subject of the process, the most important thing is to talk about these people, their families, workers' rights and free collective bargaining. That is the issue. However, I cannot remain silent about the knife that the Liberal government has just plunged into our back with its motion, which goes further than ever before to limit our ability to act as parliamentarians. Even Stephen Harper did not dare to go so far in gagging members of this House. It is absolutely incredible.
This is an unjustified attack on a fundamental right. Discussion and debate have been limited to three hours. At third reading, opposition members will not even be allowed to ask questions, even though we have been elected to this place to represent our constituents. The Liberals have put us under a super gag order.
I am not complaining for myself or for us as parliamentarians; that is not the key issue. However, this demonstrates the Liberal government's lack of sensitivity on this issue.
In 2011, the Liberal member for Scarborough—Guildwood even said that we were confronted by a government that was taking hard right measures. In 2011, the back-to-work legislation for Canada Post employees was seen by the Liberal Party as a hard right measure. Today, the Liberals are doing the same thing, but since they are the ones doing it, it is fine. This must be progressive back-to-work legislation. This must be a progressive attack on workers. Since they are Liberals, it is easy, they just have to slap the word “progressive” on it to make it pass. No, this is absolutely unacceptable.
The NDP will speak out against this as forcefully as we can, because the right to free collective bargaining is vital in our society. Why? Like many of my colleagues, I firmly believe that it is because of the labour movement and free collective bargaining that we have people who earn $50,000 a year and have a pension, insurance, sick leave and weekends. The middle class was created in large part by the labour movement. It is because people stood up and fought for their health and safety, their retirement and their work schedule that we have a more prosperous, fair and equitable society. The Liberals should know that.
The Liberal government should know that by attacking free collective bargaining, it is attacking the middle class. It is driving down working conditions and setting a bad example. The situation could deteriorate further because of what the Liberals are doing. Canada Post is an employer that sometimes makes decisions that are extremely harmful to the physical and mental health of its employees. Now, the Liberal government has just thrown all its weight behind Canada Post management, to the detriment of workers.
I will give an example that a member from Manitoba gave during a debate, which I found astounding. At the beginning of the rotating strikes and pressure tactics, Canada Post suspended the payment of short-term disability benefits and extended parental leave benefits to members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. This led to physical and psychological distress. Employees are being punished for exercising a right, for defending themselves, for standing up for themselves to improve their living conditions. These employees will come to see the NDP as their ally in the House. They cannot trust the Conservatives, and now they see that they cannot trust the Liberal government either.