Mr. Speaker, today, Friday, November 23, is Black Friday, an English term used in the retail sector to encourage people to do their shopping and buy gifts for the holidays. Many huge banners announce incredible deals. People are increasingly being encouraged to shop online and to have their packages, goods and toys purchased for the holidays delivered to their homes by Canada Post, among others. It is a busy day for Canada Post workers.
Today, with the motion we have been debating since yesterday and the bill that will be passed by invoking closure, the Liberal government is giving a new meaning to the term Black Friday. Today is no sunny day, especially for our postal workers.
Today, the government is forcing the passage of a special act against Canada Post workers. It is using closure to force its passage. This is the same government that spends its time boasting about its progressive trade agreements that supposedly protect the right to collective bargaining.
The government turns around, introduces special legislation, sets aside the rules and takes away any bargaining power from workers. It is the undisputed expert in deceit. It says one thing while doing the exact opposite. This is true for the fight against climate change, for the fight against tax havens, for the defence of our farmers, for Quebec's demands, and this is again the case today with respect to workers' rights. However, we are not fooled by this deceit. The government is poised to deny postal workers' right to strike before they have even used it.
Make no mistake: the current rotating strikes are not a general strike and are only a pressure tactic before resorting to a general strike.
The right to strike is a right enshrined in labour law. This right has been recognized by the Supreme Court. In the case involving B.C. Health Services, the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional nature of the right to collective bargaining by stating that section 2(d) prevented the state from substantially interfering with a union's opportunity to participate in collective bargaining in order to have a say in defining working conditions.
In Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, the Supreme Court even gave the right to strike constitutional benediction “because of its crucial role in a meaningful process of collective bargaining.” Justice Abella stated, “The right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right. It seems to me to be the time to give this conclusion constitutional benediction.” She said that it is an indispensable component of collective bargaining. That is not insignificant. With its time-allocated special legislation, the government is flat out disregarding the whole collective bargaining process. This is why we are hearing comparisons to Black Friday.
According to Pierre Trudel, a law professor at the Université de Montréal, the right to strike is the “irreducible minimum”. I want to quote from his reaction to the Supreme Court ruling:
The ability to engage in the collective withdrawal of services in the process of the negotiation of a collective agreement is therefore, and has historically been, the “irreducible minimum” of the freedom to associate in Canadian labour relations. The freedom of association guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms would have little effect if it did not protect employees' right to strike.
Canada has a court, a charter and a constitution that its government is not even able to obey. What contempt for the fundamental rights of our workers. What a terrible day today is for their rights.
Mr. Trudel also writes, “The Court added that the international human rights instruments to which Canada is a party also require the protection of the right to strike as part of a meaningful process of collective bargaining.”
It would seem that the federal government is quick to renege on its own international commitments when it is in its interest to do so. What is the value of federal commitments? This is how we can estimate their true value.
First, the highest court in the land recognizes the importance of the workers' right to strike. In addition, Canada is a party to the International Labour Organization conventions that also recognize the fundamental nature of this right. Second, the Liberal government is suppressing this right by a special act to be passed under a gag order at the same time as it declares itself to be on the side of the workers and defines itself as progressive. Clearly, a perfect match of words and deeds. Progressive, my foot.
In an article in the McGill Law Journal, legal scholars Renée-Claude Drouin and Gilles Trudeau consider the institutional and constitutional dimensions of special back-to-work legislation. They tell us that, since 1990, Ottawa has passed no fewer than 14 special back-to-work acts, if we include this one today. That is an average of one special act targeting our workers every two years. This the fourth one for postal workers. That means that those workers will see their working conditions imposed on them one out of every two times, or half the time. What contempt on the part of the government.
In Ottawa, special legislation that takes away workers' rights has become the norm rather than the exception. Drouin and Trudeau, who both teach law at the Université de Montréal, wrote that “this situation is pernicious because it essentially denies certain categories of workers the right to strike and can also turn what should be an exceptional situation into a permanent solution”. This is what we are seeing today.
We all know that the balance of power between workers and management depends on the right to take this measure of last resort. When the balance of power is sound, each party makes concessions and together they agree to negotiated working conditions. Strikes and lockouts are lose-lose situations, and when the pressure is on, the balance of power forces both parties to come to the table, negotiate and make a deal that involves compromise on both sides. The threat of special legislation upsets the balance of power and sends management the message that it no longer needs to negotiate in good faith. That ruins the union-management negotiation process. That is what we are seeing today.
Since management knew that the government was going to do this, why would it bother negotiating seriously and doing the thing where both sides relax certain conditions in order to reach a compromise? Why would it do that, knowing the government was going to play the card that would give it a leg up? Of course, rotating strikes and a possible general strike right before the holidays have a serious impact on economic activity, especially on orders placed online at Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Best Buy. No one is denying that. Economic impact can never be an argument for infringing on the right to strike or declaring something an essential service and taking away the right to strike.
On that topic, the Committee on Freedom of Association, the wing of the International Labour Organization that interprets the conventions pertaining to freedoms, has stated:
By linking restrictions on strike action to interference with trade and commerce, a broad range of legitimate strike action could be impeded. While the economic impact of industrial action and its effect on trade and commerce may be regrettable, such consequences in and of themselves do not render a service “essential”, and thus the right to strike should be maintained.
Canada signed that, but it is not adhering to it. The language is hard to understand when read aloud. It is rather technical legal language, but the message is clear. Even though strikes have an economic impact, that right must be maintained. That is an international convention.
Passing back-to-work legislation is bad enough, but this is about passing back-to-work legislation before a strike has even been declared. Let me reiterate that postal workers are not on strike yet. The rotating strikes are being used as a pressure tactic before a general strike is declared, just like any other pressure tactic. Taking a measure like this at this stage of the negotiations is simply regressive and shows contempt for the workers and their rights. I am absolutely disgusted by this attitude.
This is the attitude of a government that considers itself easygoing and progressive. Time after time, we have heard the minister say that it is 2018, or 2017, or 2016, implying that it is time to be easygoing and progressive. Yeah, right. It is certainly not 2018 when it comes to workers' fundamental rights. It feels more like 100 years ago.
Legal experts Drouin and Trudeau also refer to the Supreme Court ruling in R.W.D.S.U., Local 558 v. Pepsi-Cola Canada Beverages (West) Ltd. to point out that our society has chosen to accept the negative economic consequences of labour disputes in order to maintain social cohesion. Yes, there are negative economic consequences, but there is a more important objective, and that is to maintain social cohesion. We do not want to go back to the way labour disputes were handled 100 or 200 years ago. Everyone would lose.
Let me quote the Supreme Court:
Labour disputes may touch important sectors of the economy, affecting towns, regions, and sometimes the entire country. The cost to the parties and the public may be significant. Nevertheless, our society has come to see it as justified by the higher goal of achieving resolution of employer-employee disputes and the maintenance of economic and social peace. The legally limited use of economic pressure and the infliction of economic harm in a labour dispute has come to be accepted as a legitimate price to pay to encourage the parties to resolve their differences in a way that both can live with.
That is the opposite of what this government is adopting under a gag order today. Today, this government is choosing to sacrifice the higher goal of economic and social peace in favour of economic gains before Christmas for the delivery of Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Best Buy packages. Regardless of what the court says, people still want their stockings stuffed, and for that, the government is stripping away the rights of workers. Well done, Liberals. That is what statesmanship is all about.
Since this is a government matter and since Canada Post is a Crown corporation, I would point out that we have a direct conflict of interest here. Today, the state as legislator is trampling on workers' rights to tip the scales in favour of the state as employer. This is simply unacceptable. What a conflict of interest.
Canada Post is profitable. In 2017, the Canada Post Group of Companies recorded profits of $144 million. That is 80% more than the previous year. The Canada Post Group of Companies includes Canada Post, Purolator, the SCI Group and Innovapost. Canada Post alone recorded pre-tax profits of $74 million. It is not going bankrupt.
In this context, it is perfectly legitimate for Canada Post employees to want to catch up and improve their working conditions. I would like to point out that, over the past 30 years, half the time, working conditions have been imposed rather than negotiated. Today’s bill deprives workers of their right to negotiate in four collective agreements.
In our opinion, their demand for improved working conditions is perfectly legitimate. They are asking for job security in a context in which one-third of workers hold part-time or temporary positions. They should be given permanent positions. They are asking for the elimination of mandatory overtime and that something be done about the work overload. Management has only to hire more people to meet the increased demand for package delivery. The number of packages is growing and, instead of hiring more employees, Canada Post is imposing mandatory overtime. That is ridiculous.
They are also asking for better health and safety conditions. The number of work accidents has increased by 43% in the past two years and is directly related to the increase in the number of packages delivered.
The union points out that, today, the rate of disabling injuries among letter carriers is 5.4 times higher than in other sectors under federal jurisdiction. It is high time to correct the situation. It seems to me that a freely negotiated collective agreement would do just that, but no; the state as legislator is tipping the scales in favour of the state as employer.
They are also asking for equal working conditions for letter carriers in rural or suburban areas and those in urban areas. This is another important issue, which is related to pay equity. Female letter carriers account for two thirds of the first group, but they earn about 25% less than letter carriers in urban areas, 70% of whom are men. That is another good example of the type of pay equity promoted by our great progressive government. It is nice to see them practising what they preach. I am ashamed for the Liberals.
The Bloc québécois supports postal workers in their demands. The Bloc québécois supports their basic right to the free negotiation of their working conditions. Here, we have always been, and will always be, on the side of workers. We do not merely try to get their votes and then betray them, like the Liberals do.
The Bloc québécois is against the adoption of this special law that eliminates workers’ right to a negotiated agreement under gag order before they have even started their legal strike. Labour laws are the legal framework in which the different parties can legally and legitimately exert pressure. Failure to respect workers’ rights violates a fundamental institution that ensures social and economic peace. That is what is at issue today.
The government’s decision to enact the law under a gag order in order to improve its position in the relationship of power once again undermines the very foundations of our society. It is a situation that we wholeheartedly deplore. What a way to do business, and what disdain for Canadians. I am ashamed to be in the House today and to see a government act this way.
Black Friday will no longer conjure up images of savings in big box stores and toys in the mail; it will be a day of shame for this government that violates workers’ basic rights.
Shame on them.