moved that Bill C-263, an act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers), be read the second time and referred to a committee.
Mr. Speaker, let me tell my colleagues from the Bloc Québécois and my other colleagues from the House that it is a pleasure for me to lead off the debate on the second reading of Bill C-263. I introduced this bill myself in this House on November 4. It provides for an anti-scab law.
Much could be said about this bill, but I will come straight to the point. First, the Canada Labour Code needs to be amended in order to harmonize it with the Quebec Labour Code. This would ban once and for all the use of scabs.
Every effort must be made to pass Bill C-263, which aims at banning the retrograde practice, for that is what it is, of using scabs during strikes and lockouts.
For the Bloc Québécois, this is not a new focus of interest. We have been fighting for years about this. We believe that all political parties in the House will be interested in this bill to make labour relations more civilized.
Anti-scab legislation is essential in negotiations where both parties to a dispute, that is to say management and the workers, have to abide by the bargaining power. That is what an anti-scab bill is all about.
Anti-scab legislation also promotes industrial peace. Businesses, big or small, benefit by it. It is, so to speak, the cornerstone of balanced bargaining power. This can never be over-emphasized: there has to be a balance of bargaining power between employers and employees; otherwise, things do not work too well.
Moreover, it would put an end, among other things, to the existence of two separate categories of workers in Quebec. On the one hand, there are those under Quebec's jurisdiction who have this right. We will remember that Quebec passed anti-scab legislation at the provincial level in 1977, under the René Lévesque government. On the other hand, there are those who are denied this right because they work in businesses under federal jurisdiction.
The beauty of this bill is that it benefits workers in Quebec as much as their counterparts in Canada. I call upon the honour of all the hon. members of this House to ensure that all workers in Quebec and Canada enjoy uniform protection across all the provinces and territories, where the Canada Labour Code is concerned.
I mentioned earlier that the Bloc Québécois' interest in this kind of legislation is not new. We have lost count of the attempts made in the past 15 years or so to have anti-scab legislation passed.
But time after time, over the years, MPs, unions, associations, lobby groups, that is to say many people, have had their hopes shattered because, in many cases, bills die on the Order Paper. We do not want this to happen again. We hope all the members of the House can agree on that.
Allow me to give a specific example. A petition signed by tens of thousands of citizens was laid before the House by my hon. colleague from Rivière-du-Nord, in support of the workers who are asking the government to pass the anti-scab bill.
Let us take a quick look at the situation in Quebec and in Canada. Right now, only Quebec and British Columbia have legislation prohibiting the use of scabs. In Quebec, anti-scab legislation was adopted in 1977 under the René Lévesque government. Everybody is still agreed today that undeniable progress was made regarding labour relations. It is mentioned in every labour relations study and in labour circles.
What I am now wondering as a member of this House is this: why does Canada not follow Quebec and British Columbia and become the North American leader in labour relations? The Bloc Québécois is offering the parties of this House a wonderful opportunity to regain leadership in labour relations.
For example, in New Brunswick, the union leaders have demanded for some time that anti-scab measures be included in their provincial labour code. The situation is the same in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where unions are trying to convince their governments to adopt anti-scab legislation.
Let us take a closer look at the Canada Labour Code. Under section 94, specifically subsection (2.1), there is a ban on replacement workers but only if the employer uses these replacement workers, or scabs as they are often called, in order to undermine a trade union's representational capacity.
I believe that this provision is very weak. In such a case, the employer only has to say that he recognizes the trade union that is in place. Thus, an employer only has to ensure that the trade union's representational capacity is not undermined to be entitled to use scabs. This is quite an easy scenario. In other words, if an employer systematically refuses to negotiate while using scabs, it is only then that the Canada Industrial Relations Board may prohibit the use of scabs.
This is a ridiculously weak measure that opens the door to the use of scabs.
In June 2002, in this House, the then Minister of Labour confirmed this interpretation of the provisions. She even said that the Canada Labour Code does not prohibit the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage.
We see that the issue remains alive. For workers who greatly suffer from this in areas where the Canada Labour Code still applies, we need anti-scab legislation. Why is this important? There has already been a widespread consensus over the years, but more is needed, both for workers under provincial jurisdiction and under federal jurisdiction.
On today's labour market, anti-scab legislation is a necessity, because it would bring more transparency when there is a labour dispute. I do not think any worker or employer is against transparency.
The main benefit of such a bill would be the elimination of violence, which is unfortunately a frequent occurrence, and the bullying on picket lines when disputes drag on and on. I am not making this up. It has been proven over the years.
Disputes drag on because of the lack of a level playing field. That is why disputes sometimes get worse. When we consider the outcome of disputes, and the violence and vandalism in the past, nobody wants that to occur again.
Those are the perverse effects of strikes and lockouts. There are more. With a closer scrutiny, we realize that in a dispute, a strike or lock out, the employer's revenues go down. These disputes are not good for governments either.
The income of workers also go down. So does their purchasing power. And this impact is not limited to a small community or region. The more a dispute lasts, the more its negative impact is visible. The same thing goes for disputes that drag on and generate serious social trouble. We have seen that in Canada in the past.
In Quebec, we also had very long disputes that had a considerable impact long after a settlement. Families affected directly by the dispute have a heavy debt load. There also family problems and psychological disorders because disputes are not settled fast enough.
When we researched this bill, a few figures gave me food for thought. In Quebec, we have an anti-strikebreaking legislation since 1977, thanks to René Lévesque. Going from there, I have a few data that are quite interesting.
In Quebec, the average number of working days lost due to labour disputes dropped from 39 days in 1976 to 32 days in 1979, two years after the anti-scab legislation was passed. Later, in 2001, this figure had dropped to 27.4 days. Generally speaking, thanks to the anti-scab legislation, there has been a reduction in the average number of working days lost. From 2002 to 2003, the number of workers involved in labour disputes in Quebec dropped by 18.8%. Those are figures which make us think or should do.
As I was saying, British Columbia passed anti-scab legislation in 1993, with significant results.
As a matter of fact, from 1992 to 1993, the percentage of time lost has dropped by 50%. We can see, therefore, that this type of legislation brings concrete results. One wonders why, after so many years, we are still hesitating to apply the Canada Labour Code to this type of legislation.
I have more significant figures, which speak for themselves in terms of the average number of working days lost from 1992 to 2002. Under the Quebec Labour Code, it is about 15 days, compared to 31 days under the Canada Labour Code. As we can see, there are significant losses in the case of the Canada Labour Code. Under the Quebec Labour Code, the number of days lost for every thousand employees, from 1992 to 2002, is 121 days. During the same period, under the Canada Labour Code, it was 266 days. Therefore, the number of working days lost under the Canada Labour Code is 119% higher than under the Quebec Labour Code.
So we can see we could go on and on citing figures for hours to comprehend that, for instance, the Vidéotron dispute, so much in the news, left deep scars and lasted over 10 months, resulted in over 350,000 days of work being lost in Quebec in 2002. At Sécur, another work dispute caused the loss of 43,000 workdays. These are worrisome numbers.
It is easy to understand in the light of what I have just stated that any parliamentarian who wishes to associate their name, no matter how closely, to a modern, just and fair measure should vote in favour of this project, because it is a legislative measure which can make a world of difference between the law of the jungle and a society which is truly respectful of the rights of working people.
What is needed, first and foremost, is to go beyond mere partisanship. I call upon the goodwill of parliamentarians, because, after all, even though it is put forward by a member of the Bloc, anti-scab legislation is resolutely progressive; and it is also both liberal and democratic at the same time. Indeed, everybody faces that kind of situation. It is thus important to remind people of how urgent it is to act.
Let us take some specific examples, such as Vidéotron. As we know, that conflict lasted over 10 months. Indeed, 2,200 employees of that cable company were on strike or locked out from May 2002 until March 2003. This was a long labour dispute. Things deteriorated. Scabs were used and the company's facilities were vandalized. That whole mess could have been avoided if there had been anti-scab legislation governing the Canada Labour Code. There are many other examples.
In the case of Sécur, after 99% of the employees voted against the employer's offers, they went on strike in July 2002. At the time, Sécur held 75% of the market of valuables transport in Quebec, with an annual turnover of $55 million.
Sécur employees were delivering cash to thousands of automatic teller machines in Quebec. During the labour dispute, this task was fulfilled by other workers, business managers or replacement workers, as they are called. The result was that, once again, the situation deteriorated and ATMs were vandalized. That conflict lasted over three months.
There is also the case of Radio-Nord Communications, in the Abitibi. Here again, things were not very pretty. Scabs were used, with the result that the conflict lasted a long time. I could go on.
The Bloc Québécois raised this issue many times over the years, often through the voice of the hon. member for Rivière-du-Nord, who never gave up.
I will conclude by saying that the battle continues. Today, it is the Bloc Québécois critic on labour issues and member for Saint-Bruno—Saint-Hubert who is taking over. Myself, as the member for Louis-Hébert, and the hon. member for Shefford, who is our deputy critic on labour issues, will also continue the battle because, in our opinion, it is important to bring the Canada Labour Code out of its great darkness. It is also important to act before it is too late.
Therefore, considering all the workers whose rights were denied over the years, considering all these victims of a totally obsolete Canada Labour Code, we do not have the right to forget and, more importantly, we no longer have any excuses not to act.