Mr. Speaker, it is an honour for me to take part in the debate on Bill C-419, an act to amend the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act (members' staff).
First, I think it is appropriate that this bill is being considered during private members' business, and it is not my intention to seem skeptical about the changes nor negative about unions, god forbid. I want to congratulate the member for bringing this issue forward again for debate in the House of Commons.
In my humble opinion and the opinion of my government, this bill would have a direct impact on how parliamentarians work and run their offices. It is, therefore, reasonable for us to discuss these issues in a non-partisan manner, which does not mean that we cannot try to come to some agreement.
Since the legislation was enacted in 1986, the government has considered many points raised by this bill. It must be said that no solutions were implemented because parliamentarians were unable to agree on these points.
Bill C-419, which the House is currently considering, proposes three major changes to the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, passed in 1986.
First, part I of the legislation would be amended to allow employees of members and senators to negotiate collective agreements. These provisions would apply to Hill and riding office staff, as well as caucus employees.
Each member and senator would be considered an employer by his or her employees. Hill staff would then be subject to the same act as employees of the House of Commons, Senate and Library of Parliament.
Under part I of the act, staff of Parliament could appeal to the Public Service Staff Relations Board, for arbitration and settlement of grievances.
Second, the bill would add a new provision prohibiting lockouts by employers. This would apply to the House of Commons, the Senate, the Library of Parliament and each member and senator as employers. Furthermore, this bill includes sanctions for employers who resort to lockouts.
Third, this bill would ensure that parts II and III of the act would come into force. Part II sets standards for hours of work, salaries and leave, and integrates part III into the Canada Labour Code.
Part III sets occupational health and safety standards, and also integrates part II of the Canada Labour Code. These two parts, parts II and III, apply to staff of members of Parliament, the Senate and the Library of Parliament.
Even though the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act was enacted on June 27, 1986, parts II and III—which deal with health and safety standards—never came into force because of concerns expressed by parliamentarians from both chambers that these provisions should not apply to parliamentary staff.
One of the concerns of parliamentarians who did not want parts II and III to come into force was that these provisions have financial and operational consequences.
Let us refer to the financial consequences first. Bill C-419 could provoke considerable expenses due to occupational health and safety standards set out in parts II and III. The new provisions that would allow for collective bargaining could also have significant financial repercussions for members and senators.
More important still, there would also be possible repercussions from parts II and III on the independence of members of Parliament and on their privileges. For example, employees could refuse to carry out certain tasks, or claim that certain jobs are dangerous. We can immediately imagine the consequences, which would prevent the House from sitting.
The work of members' offices would be disrupted. Among other things, government inspectors would have access to Parliament Hill and to members' offices.
As parliamentarians, we must ensure that our privileges are not unduly jeopardized. We must find the right balance between maintaining these privileges and respecting the interests of our employees. The House of Commons, the Senate and the Library of Parliament have managed to solve labour disputes informally. Yet, employees benefit from protections similar to those provided under the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. This act has the benefit of not breaching our privileges.
As parliamentarians, we must ensure that we fulfill our duties as employers in such a way as to provide our own employees with good working arrangements.
The purpose of this bill concerns each and every one of us. I am pleased to see that we can deal with this topic in a non-partisan manner. In the end, the government recognizes the concerns expressed on this matter by parliamentarians over the years. For this reason, it does not wish to move forward with this bill without consensus among parliamentarians.
The most appropriate compromise, and I do say compromise, rather than solution, would be for the Board of Internal Economy to create a parallel non-legislative structure with the same purposes as those set out in this bill, but without the problems that would arise under Bill C-419, introduced by the member.