Madam Speaker, it gives me great pleasure to take part in this interesting debate on the motion by the member for Laurentides.
The motion reads as follows:
That this Houserecognize the urgency of amending the Canada Labour Code toban the use of strikebreakers.
As you know, the Canada Labour Code is composed of three parts: the first deals with industrial relations; the second deals with occupational health and safety; and the third deals with standards related to the workplace.
Today's motion calling for a ban on the use of strike breakers concerns Part I of the Canada Labour Code.
You will recall that Part I of the Code was amended in 1999. These amendments, which were passed by the House, came about after a long and thorough review process during which a study was conducted by an independent task force, the Sims Task Force. This group was composed of experts in industrial relations.
What came out of these consultations is that the representatives of the unions and companies directly impacted by the code agreed on a number of major reforms. However, as concerns the use of replacement workers, the positions of the unions and of the employers remained entirely different, and the working group was unable to make recommendations based on consensus.
The government has already implemented most recommendations of the Sims working group. With the new provisions, the use of replacement workers is not prohibited generally, but it is possible to prove that it is an unfair practice in labour relations.
The parties involved in collective bargaining under part I of the code consider the current approach a reasonable compromise.
As you know, the government thinks that this balanced approach is the best way to settle this issue in the context of federal jurisdictions. The government does not see any compelling reason to change the legislation at this time.
Personally, I am quite pleased to address the House on the motion by the hon. member for Laurentides. I encourage her and all my colleagues in the House to nonetheless examine all the ramifications of this motion.
As we all know, the issue of replacement workers can lead to positions that are opposed one way or another. Typically, employers see things one way, and unions have another point of view. There are sometimes diverging views.
That is why we should take a few minutes to consider what the Canadian Labour Code says on this issue. More specifically, let us examine the amendments that were passed in 1999, as I said earlier.
What these amendments achieved was an eminently balanced approach to the issues, an approach that protects the interests of workers and employers during work sabotage. This balanced approach prohibits the use of replacement workers if they are hired to undermine a union representational capacity during the work stoppage, yet it is simultaneously an approach that allows an employer to continue operating. In the event there is a dispute about the use of replacement workers, employees and their representatives can make their case before the Canada Industrial Relations Board.
As my colleagues know, the Canada Industrial Relations Board is an independent third party. It is made up of an equal number of members from both the employer and the employee communities. As well, the board has an independent chairperson.
I want to point out that this board already has the appropriate expertise and mandate to address these labour relations issues. It is incumbent upon the Canada Industrial Relations Board to determine the circumstances underlying the dispute and help the parties reach an agreement.
I also want to talk a little more about some of the other provisions of the current Canada Labour Code concerning replacement workers.
Current legislation contains several provisions regarding practical issues arising from the use of replacement workers. These are the kind of issues that, in the past, led to bitter and endless disputes.
Finally, I also wish to give a very good example of this. Under the provisions of the code, replacement workers are now excluded from the bargaining unit. In practical terms, this means that these workers do not have the right to participate in representation votes to decide whether a recognized bargaining agent should be either replaced or removed, nor in other votes in the collective bargaining process.
As well, no employer can cancel or threaten to cancel medical, dental, disability, life or other insurance plans or deny these benefits to employees who are on strike or in a lockout position.
In addition, during the prolonged work stoppage, no application to change or decertify a union can be made without the independent consent of the Canada Industrial Relations Board. The board, as I stated earlier, is in a sense bipartisan and in a sense is chaired by a person who is not associated with representatives of either the employees or the employers.
Finally, the code recognizes the rights of employees in the bargaining unit to return to their jobs at the end of the work stoppage ahead of any replacement workers. As the hon. member may be aware, in the past an employer could apply to decertify a union after a work stoppage had continued for six months.
Since it was amended, the Canada Labour Code provides that employees have the legitimate right to choose their bargaining agent. The object of this provision is to ensure that work stoppages do not last unduly.
Under this balanced approach, part I of the Canada Labour Code now provides the settlement of disputes through arbitration, in the case of dismissal or disciplinary action taken during a work stoppage.
Altogether, the 1999 amendment to the code adds up to a very balanced package that we believe is the right way to proceed.
Well over 90% of all disputes that arise between employers and employees under the Canada Labour Code are settled without a work stoppage. This fact in itself speaks volumes about how well the code's balanced approach is working.
It would be very helpful to reflect for a moment on just what this legislation means to Canadians. The federal legislation applies to employees and employers under federal jurisdiction. This includes Crown corporations and industries with an interprovincial or international dimension, such as the transportation sectors, the banking sectors and the broadcasting sectors. The Canada Labour Code also applies to many first nations activities.
Employees under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code make up approximately a total of less than 10% of the Canadian workforce. The House is well aware that the provinces each have their own labour legislation. Provincial laws and regulations therefore apply to approximately 90% of Canada's labour force. These various jurisdictions all share the same vision: we want to promote and work toward a fair, safe, healthy, stable, cooperative, productive work environment. We also want to foster a work environment that contributes to the socio-economic well-being of all Canadians.
I believe that the balance struck in the existing provisions of the Canada Labour Code greatly support this vision.
By reaching a fair compromise between the values and interests, which are not easy to reconcile, of employers, unions and employees, part I of the Code touches on the critical issue of replacement workers with logic, balance and respect for all parties.
In fact, the philosophy underlying part I of the Canada Labour Code recognizes the precedence of compromise and negotiation in the resolution of the problems we are facing.
I greatly appreciate that my colleague, the member for Laurentides, has given the House the opportunity to deal with this issue. But, for all the reasons that I have just set out, and for another reason that my colleague knows—a bill has already been presented to the House—I hope that the House will have the opportunity to discuss this issue, which has been brought forward by my colleague—in a straightforward manner.
If the House decides to support this bill, I hope that the appropriate committee of the House of Commons will have the opportunity to examine these issues again, to analyze them in a fair way and to listen once more to representatives from all sides, that is the employees and the employers. This could lead to suggestions that will improve the bill in one way or the other.
I am sure that the government is listening to ensure that it responds positively. You know that, in my riding of Ottawa Centre, we had problems, several times, where employees and employers could not reach an agreement or a positive resolution that was beneficial to one party or the other.
I know that the then Minister of Labour, Alfonso Gagliano, worked extremely hard to ensure that there would be a positive solution in this regard.
Another time, with the new Minister of Labour, another problem was front and centre in the national capital region. We saw how the minister managed to promote a positive dialogue between representatives of management and labour. Once again, we were able to find a solution.
I point this out to show how most problems that may arise at times between employees and employers are solved through mediation, and sometimes through direct or indirect negotiations or arbitration.
So far, we have not seen, at the federal level, problems indicating that the system is not working. We talked about these issues in 1999, when the government asked a task force o study the labour code, to look at the different aspects of this code and to make recommendations to the government to act positively to help employees and industries. Most of these recommendations were included in a bill that was passed by the House.
Even though I know that the intentions are good, this is perhaps not a good time to raise these issues and to adopt these provisions, particularly because the motion before us does not provide details. We would need the appropriate details to take action on this issue. However, perhaps the member's bill will be drafted in such a way that we can look into this issue more closely.