Madam Speaker, I welcome the opportunity to join the debate on this bill.
The issue of replacement workers is a controversial one and one that can be guaranteed to generate debate wherever it is introduced. However, anyone who knows the labour policy file, knows that it is virtually impossible to achieve consensus on this issue. Typically, employers and their representatives have one point of view and just as typically, employees and the unions have an opposing point of view. That is only natural.
Bill C-328 represents only one of these points of view, and that is the union side. However, I feel the government has to bring a balanced perspective to this issue, such as it did when it made the changes to the Canada Labour Code in 1999. At that time, the government consulted widely with representatives of employees and employers as well as many professional consultants who were familiar with labour policy issues. It was clear then that there were two opposing points of view on the question of prohibiting the use of replacement workers under the Canada Labour Code.
It is clear that no consensus position or compromise looks likely today. Therefore, the balanced approach to a legislative solution, which the government introduced in 1999, is still the right approach to deal with this issue today.
The current provisions of part I of the Canada Labour Code mean that the employers in the federal jurisdiction are not strictly prohibited from using replacement workers during times of work stoppage, but rather that their use of such workers is subject to clear constraints. For example, replacement workers cannot be used to thwart the legitimate bargaining objectives of a union during a legal strike or lockout. Thus, employers are provided with some flexibility to use replacement workers to continue operating, but they cannot engage in unfair labour practices.
This balanced approach to the issue of replacement worker legislation was debated actively, with great vim and vitality, and agreed to finally by this House in 1999. Since then it has been accepted as a practical reality by most parties governed by the Canada Labour Code, not everyone but most.
By advocating for a prohibition on the use of replacement workers during work stoppages, Bill C-328 would upset this balanced approach. It would reopen a divisive debate that took place during the time leading up to amendments in the Canada Labour Code in 1999. We do not think that is the way to go.
As it is now, well over 90% of the workplace disputes under the Canada Labour Code are settled without a strike or lockout. Therefore, in the overwhelming majority of cases the question of replacement workers is not even an issue because there is no work stoppage and no need to replace striking or locked out workers. As well, most employers that fall under federal jurisdiction would not use outside replacement workers during strikes or lockouts, in any case, because they would use members from the non-bargaining units or management.
Thus, for the over 700,000 workers under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code, the question of replacement workers is not likely to be a major concern. Of course, there are many other employees in Canada who are not subject to the Canada Labour Code.
I think it is important to remind members of the House that jurisdiction for labour legislation in Canada is shared between the federal and provincial governments.
This is extremely important. Close to 90% of Canadian workers, for example, are governed by provincial labour legislation and some provinces do have a legislated ban on the use of replacement workers. For instance, we know Quebec has had such legislation in place since the 1970s and British Columbia since 1993. Ontario brought in replacement worker legislation in 1993, but it was repealed in 1995.
Even though the Canadian way is to share jurisdiction for labour legislation between federal and provincial governments, we all share a common vision. That shared vision is to promote fair, safe, healthy, stable, cooperative and productive work environments, work environments that contribute to the social and economic well-being of all.
On a personal note I must say that I know the value of unions. Through the negotiating process they have played a major role in uplifting the quality of life and enhancing the lifestyles of Canadians from coast to coast to coast. I have had the experience. I have been on the picket line. I know what it means to be in a position to fight for one's rights.
A study on the impact of the ban on replacement workers in these provincial jurisdictions was performed in 1999. It provides us with some interesting findings to consider in the context of this debate.
The researchers found that legislation prohibiting the use of replacement workers could actually prolong work shortages. In the study for example, they show the effect of a ban on replacement workers was to prolong strikes by 31.6 days. They also found that prohibition on replacement workers correlated to an increase in the incidence of strikes. Let me say that a different way. This study found that a ban on the use of replacement workers meant not only longer strikes, but also more of them.
Findings like these raise challenging questions for those who hold the view that a ban on the use of replacement workers will improve the labour management relations climate. In fact, this study on replacement worker legislation suggests the opposite might be true. By the way, the study was done for the September 1999 issue of the “Labour Law Journal” and is entitled “The impacts of strike and replacement bans in Canada”.
The point is that there are different opinions on this question. That is why the compromise approach that we currently have in place under part I of the Canada Labour Code is the right one. It does not support one side or the other as Bill C-328 does. It works to balance the rights of workers to protect their interests during legal work stoppages. At the same time, it allows employers some flexibility to continue to operate.
This is an issue that the government has considered very carefully on a number of occasions. It is one that remains of ongoing interest. It is not a matter that the government believes requires specific new legislative action at this time. Therefore, we do not support Bill C-328.