moved that Bill C-62, an act to amend the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act and other acts, be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill C-62. The bill would restore fair public service labour laws that respect the collective bargaining process. It recognizes the important role of unions in protecting the rights of workers and in helping grow Canada's middle class.
Bill C-62 affirms the Canadian values of fairness and justice. It combines the government's previous bills C-5 and C-34. It makes no substantive changes to the earlier bills; it simply incorporates the adjustments necessary to combine proposals regarding sick leave, collective bargaining, and essential services for the federal public service into one piece of legislation. Merging these two bills into one is an efficient way to restore the equity and balance in our public service labour relations regime that existed before the legislative changes were introduced by the Harper Conservatives in 2013.
In part, Bill C-62 would repeal contentious sections of Bill C-59, which was a piece of legislation introduced, without consultation, through an omnibus budget bill by the previous government. Bill C-59 had given the government the authority to essentially ignore the public service labour relations act of the day and unilaterally modify the labour relations law that applies to and protects public servants. It would have allowed the government to unilaterally impose a new sick leave regime on public servants without negotiation or consultation.
On taking office, our government committed to not exercise the powers given to the government in Bill C-59, and now we are following through on our commitment by repealing the legislation itself.
Public servants and their representatives have made their position on the law very clear. They are upset and believe that the law violates their right to participate in a meaningful collective bargaining process.
We agree with the public service that this law brought in changes that were neither fair nor balanced. That is why we are acting to repeal them. Bill C-62 also repeals the most contentious changes made to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act in 2013. These include changes that allowed the employer to designate essential services unilaterally, to make conciliation with the right to strike the default process for resolving conflicts, and to impose new factors that arbitrators must consider when making a recommendation or award.
The amendments immediately created an antagonistic labour relations regime and made employer-bargaining agent relations worse. A number of unions even brought charter challenges related to these provisions. We have every reason to believe that such challenges would have been allowed by the courts.
In fact, in 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Saskatchewan's essential services legislation, which included very similar provisions to the 2013 federal legislation. However, the decision to repeal these regressive pieces of Conservative legislation is not just the legal thing to do. It is the right thing to do. We studied the situation closely. We met with public servants and the organizations who represent them. We recognized that the current situation was unsustainable and indefensible, both legally and morally. As a result, Bill C-62 reverses the changes to the act that gave the government the exclusive right to unilaterally determine which services are essential. Rather, the government will work with public sector bargaining agents to both identify and agree on essential service positions.
In addition, under the new legislation, bargaining agents will have the choice once again to determine which dispute resolution process they wish to use in the event of an impasse in bargaining. They will be able to select either arbitration or conciliation with the right to strike.
As well, public interest commissions and arbitration boards will be able to determine for themselves how much weight to give the many factors that come into play when making their decisions, factors like compensation that influence the terms and conditions of today's modern workforce.
This is how the system worked before the amendments of 2013. I look forward to getting back to a collaborative and fair approach once Bill C-62 receives royal assent.
Mr. Speaker, this bill will enable the government to keep an important promise it made to public service employees, their unions, and Canadians.
That was our promise to negotiate in good faith with bargaining agents to reach fair agreements that are fair and reasonable for federal employees and for Canadian taxpayers. The facts are clear in terms of the previous government's lack of commitment to bargaining in good faith.
When our government took office in 2015, all the collective bargaining agreements with public servants had expired. In fact, there were 27 collective bargaining agreements with 15 bargaining units. They had all expired under the previous government. Some of them had expired for almost four years. No public servants had collective bargaining agreements when we formed office. We made it clear that we would work with public servants. We would negotiate in good faith. After two years of hard work and good faith negotiations, we have achieved deals that now represent 91% of public servants. Thus, 91% of public servants now have collective bargaining agreements that were negotiated in good faith.
That success in concluding collective agreements was one achieved in partnership. From the public service we worked closely with people like Robyn Benson from PSAC and Debi Daviau from PIPSC. We worked together, not just on areas of economic increase but on other areas where we can improve the quality of the lives of public servants, and work with them to improve the outcomes for the Canadian public, the people we all serve, those of us on the elected level and the public service, the professional public service we have in Canada, which is one of the most effective anywhere in the world.
This act today, Bill C-62, continues our work toward restoring balanced labour laws that recognize the important role of our public service and the unions that represent them. In this system, the employer-employee relationship is more equal, with both parties within our approach having crucial roles in ensuring workers receive decent pay, are treated fairly, and work in safe, healthy work environments.
Restoring a culture of respect for and within the public service has been and is a priority of our government, a culture that encourages federal employees and the government to work together to fulfill our commitments to Canadians. Ultimately, we are all working together to improve the lives of citizens. The bottom line is that Bill C-62 will undo the measures that stacked the deck in favour of the employer and against the public servants and the bargaining agents representing them. It also highlights our ongoing commitment to support the Public Service of Canada.
As a society we must never roll back fundamental labour rights that unions have worked very hard to secure. Rather, we need to always ensure that workers can organize freely, bargain collectively in good faith, and work in safe environments.
Members may remember how in January 2016 the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour introduced legislation, Bill C-4, to repeal two other unfair labour law bills from the previous government, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525, and how we voted to support that legislation in the autumn of 2016. Those two bills by the former government introduced a number of contentious measures related to the financial disclosure process of unions and their certification.
Bill C-4, which received royal assent, reversed those provisions that would have made it harder for unions to be certified and easier for them to be decertified. It also amended the Income Tax Act to remove the onerous and redundant requirement that labour organizations and labour trusts provide specific information annually to the Minister of National Revenue. This included information on the non-labour activities, which would then have been made available to the public. We already had laws in place prior to that, which ensured unions are, in fact, financially transparent and accountable to members.
What is more, the contentious measures this legislation introduced were not formulated in accordance with the principles of respectful consultation. This includes, in terms of consultation, the traditional tripartite consultation process among the employer, unions, and governments normally used whenever we consider reforming labour relations. Therefore, the laws introduced by the previous government were deeply flawed and we, quite rightly, moved to repeal them.
My point is that the bill we are considering today is only the latest in a series of actions that demonstrate the government's commitment to bargaining in good faith with labour leaders and public service bargaining agents. This is of tremendous importance, not only to the welfare of our public service employees but to Canadian citizens, whom we all work to serve. Labour unions play an important role in protecting the rights of workers and in growing the middle class. We respect them and the people they represent.
It is public service employees who administer Canada's income support programs, such as the old age security benefit, for instance, that provides seniors with an important source of income. They are the RCMP and the public servants who helped thousands of asylum seekers who came to Canada earlier this year, as an example. They are the people who help fellow citizens displaced by wildfires. They are the public servants who serve Canadians day in, day out, and they come from all walks of life. They offer an incredible range of expertise and experience that the government draws on to ensure the delivery of services to people across Canada, and, in fact, around the globe.
We need our public service employees to be respected for the great work they do. More than that, we also want young people graduating from our colleges and universities to see the public service as not just a great place to build a career but a great place to build a country. I often speak to young people who are interested in entering the public service. Some of them, for instance, are involved in modern digital work and what I explain to them when they are looking at their options is that we cannot give them the stock options that they may receive with a tech start-up, but we can give them something bigger and that is an opportunity to paint on a larger canvas and improve the lives of Canadians. I would encourage all young people to consider spending at least part of their lives in public service, either within the professional public service or at the political level. The opportunity to improve the lives of our fellow citizens is a rare and important one.
To do that, we need to make some fundamental changes to the public service. We need the public service to be less hierarchical. We need to make it easier for people with ideas and ambition to come into the public service to make a difference, and potentially go back out after tackling some specific projects. There is a lot of work we need to do, but I continue to believe that the public service, either at the professional level within the Public Service of Canada or at the political level, remains one of the best ways one can actually improve the lives of our fellow citizens.
Throughout our history, our public service unions and, broadly, our labour unions have been a force of positive change. They have fought to secure the benefits that Canadian workers now take for granted, whether it is a minimum wage or a five-day workweek, parental leave or health and safety regulations. When labour relations are balanced and fair, Canadian workers benefit, but the country does as a whole as well. In fact, the economy does as a whole.
Unions and employers must be on an equal footing when it comes to negotiating wages and other important issues and benefits that come up in the modern workplace. In the federal public sector, federal employees won the right to collective bargaining in 1967. At the time, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson said in Parliament that this right is “rooted in the concept of equity and equality between the government as employer and organizations representing its employees”.
We are continuing to fight for this right today. The bill being considered today is strong proof of that principle and reflects that. It is strong proof of our commitment to restore a culture of respect for and within the public service. It is proof of the faith we have in Canadians and the positive and uniting values that hold our country together.
I am proud of the work we are doing as a government, and much of the work we are doing as a Parliament in the discussion of these issues, and also of the restoration of positive working relations with the labour unions, the labour movement, and the federal public service. I want to thank all hon. members of the House who have supported and continue to support our efforts to restore fairer public service labour laws.
As parliamentarians, our shared challenge is to continue to work in the spirit of respect and engagement. All of us can do this by supporting Bill C-62. It would go a long way toward recognizing the important role of our federal public service and the unions, the bargaining agents who represent them and protect their rights. It is the right way to show our support for our professional and exceptional public service employees and to recognize the important work they do every day on behalf of all of us in improving the lives of our citizens.