Madam Speaker, I rise today because I consider this motion to be one of the most important this legislature has had to consider to date.
It is important because we are being asked to rush through the consideration of a bill that is every bit as important to the future of all Canadian workers as it is to that of the employees of Canada Post.
This bill, if adopted by the House, will be a major step backwards following decades of work by our Canadian unions. It will fly in the face of the legitimate right of workers to negotiate their working conditions, a hard- won fight waged by our ancestors who helped shape Canada’s labour history.
Here is what has occurred: Canada Post employees went on a rotating strike at 11.59 p.m. on June 2, 2011, giving the assurance that it would have no impact on the delivery of government cheques, thereby minimizing any potential adverse impact on the public, even though there was no legal obligation to do so.
Moreover, the Minister of Labour stated on the morning of June 14 that back to work legislation was not necessary since it was a rotating strike and mail delivery was continuing. On the morning of June 15, 2011, the minister announced that she had, in fact, received very few complaints regarding the rotating strikes at Canada Post.
On the evening of June 14, 2011, claiming it had suffered losses of $100 million, the employer, one of this government’s crown corporations, decided to impose a lockout, completely paralyzing the postal service, despite the fact that the rotating strikes continued to ensure the delivery of mail.
The government then decided that the disruption to postal services had gone on too long, and chose to introduce legislation to force Canada Post employees back to work only one day after the imposition of a lockout that it had itself created, on the pretext that it was in the best interests of the Canadian economy.
Worse still, the government has included working conditions in the bill that are worse than those proposed to workers under the employer’s most recent offer, as if they had not already been sufficiently insulted. The arbitrator will have to choose one of these proposals. There are no shades of grey; it is all black or white.
This bill may end up setting an incredible precedent in the history of Canadian workers. The implication is that the government could henceforth take it upon itself to intervene in a situation of its own making by forcing workers to return to work under worse conditions than those initially proposed.
This bill is clearly important, as it will draw a line in the sand in terms of workers’ rights in our country.
We have a motion before us today to limit debate on this bill, with no acknowledgement of its importance. This bill will violate the rights of workers, and yet the government has the gall to ask us to approve it as quickly as possible.
Given the importance of this bill, I feel it is crucial that we take the time to think things over and ask the questions that need to be asked. But it will be impossible to do that with a clear head if there is no adjournment until the end of debate on this bill.
Giving orders about working conditions can have disastrous consequences. In 2005, I had working conditions forced on me when I worked in the health sector in Quebec, and I suffered the consequences.
First, I felt as though it were an attack. People with no real concept of our day-to-day reality had decided for us, even though it is the workers who live that reality. My trust in the government that made the decision was shattered. And that feeling lasts and lasts.
Being left out of the talks that will govern your reality is the worst affront for a worker who is dedicated to the job. It is as though the worker has become nothing but a number to a machine that is too big to realize that people are affected by these decisions—mothers, fathers, young, motivated workers and others with more experience—all proud of the professions they have chosen.
Then there was the return to work. The workers were bitter and unmotivated after the ruling, their hope lost in light of a true evaluation of their worth. They lost their sense of belonging. When you are treated like a pawn, you are prone to act like one.
Many nurses deserted the public health system because they felt ignored after the ruling. The vast majority of them chose to go to private nursing placement agencies where they have the right to do what was refused them—negotiate their working conditions.
Private nursing agencies have had disastrous consequences for our health care system in Quebec. They have quite simply caused costs to skyrocket, when it comes to the salaries paid, to pay for these agency nurses. The agencies have been a contributing factor in major conflicts between employees in the public system, who then often have to work overtime, and private agency employees, who go home without suffering those consequences.
Other conflicts have erupted when hospitals had no choice but to assign additional day shifts to private agencies, since they refused to work the evening and night shifts. The hospitals then turned to their own employees and demanded that they work the night and evening shifts.
What point is there in staying in the public system if it means being saddled with lower wages and less favourable working conditions compared to private agency employees?
When the 2011 collective agreement was negotiated, the Quebec government did not make the mistake of legislating working conditions. There was real bargaining, which brought the two parties to a satisfactory agreement. Bit by bit, the feeling of sharing in the pride of a profession has returned, but the wounds take a long time to heal.
The damage done to our health care system by the intrusion of private agencies will take much longer than five years to heal. Those wounds would probably not have been so deep if the government had not legislated working conditions in 2006.
The reason I have brought all this up is that I am concerned about the potential privatization of Canada Post. What seems to be hidden in this bill is a desire to privatize Canada Post.
This motion wants to make me give the bill hastier consideration, even though it may bring about profound changes in the future of a corporation as important as Canada Post, a corporation, a system, that has left its mark on Canadian history.
Considering the hidden agenda to privatize postal services, it is crucial to point out that Canada Post is a very profitable concern at present: it had revenue totalling $281 million last year. The cost of sending a standard letter is currently $0.59 in Canada, while in all countries that have privatized their postal services it is always higher. In Germany, it is $0.77, and it is $0.88 in Austria and $0.64 in the Netherlands. Obviously our public system is benefiting. And the other thing is that if we move toward a private system, the competition will push a lot of businesses toward the major centres and there will be no one left to serve small, remote communities.
Who will come to serve the country roads and isolated communities in my riding? No one. What business would agree to come and serve the towns of St-Lambert-de-Desmeloizes, Belleterre, Saint-Nazaire-de-Berry and Bellecombe? None. Why? Because it would not be lucrative.
There are seniors in my riding who live out in the country and no longer have a driver's licence. They have made the decision to remain in their homes, many of which they built themselves. I wonder how they will get their mail.
Therefore, if I am asked to hurry up and pass this bill as soon as possible, despite all the consequences it could have, I will stand up and firmly oppose it. I would also like to point out the disrespect this government is showing for our Quebec nation. It is telling us that if we want to celebrate our national holiday, we must do so at the expense of the Canada Post workers.
I have missed Saint-Jean-Baptiste celebrations in the past, when I worked as a nurse in the hospital. It did not really bother me that much, because I told myself that my patients needed me. Today I know that the Canada Post workers need members who will stand up for them, as the NDP members will. I will miss my national holiday for them. It does not bother me, because I know they need me.