Mr. Speaker, first of all, I want to take a moment to wish all Quebeckers, and especially those from my Portneuf—Jacques-Cartier riding, a happy Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day.
This holiday is a special opportunity to spend time with our families, our loved ones, and to celebrate our pride in being a part of the Quebec nation, which has a rich heritage and culture. I especially want to thank the municipalities of Sainte-Brigitte-de-Laval and Saint-Casimir for inviting me to attend their holiday celebrations.
I would have really liked to take part in the activities organized throughout my riding over the last few days, but I absolutely had to be here, in the House of Commons, to support the Canada Post workers with my NDP colleagues who are working very hard. We are working very hard for those people today.
Despite everything that is happening in Quebec, it is very important for me to be here in Ottawa and join the Canada Post workers in defending and retaining their basic rights. Those rights include the right to free association, the right to collective bargaining—which seems to have been forgotten in this case—and the right to safer working conditions and fair wages.
The current situation is utterly deplorable, but we have to remember that this is not a strike, as I heard some of my government colleagues say repeatedly during the night. The workers are instead facing a lockout imposed by Canada Post. This is something we must remember and always keep in mind as we debate this situation. The executives are the ones who made the conscious decision to lock the doors and deprive Canadians of their mail services, despite the fact that these are so essential.
Canada Post workers, even when they were holding rotating strikes, always made sure that Canadians received their government cheques and other important documents. The union even offered to end the strike if Canada Post agreed to let the expired collective agreement stay in effect during the negotiations. To my mind, that was a very obvious sign of good faith.
It is only since Canada Post ordered a lockout that service has been suspended; prior to that, it was not. It is because of this lockout that Canadian individuals and small businesses are not receiving their mail anymore.
Now the Conservative government wants to impose an agreement on Canada Post employees. The Conservative government's special legislation is unacceptable. It is an irresponsible bill that runs counter to the fundamental and inalienable right of workers to negotiate a collective agreement in good faith.
These actions of the Conservative government are depriving both parties of any opportunity to negotiate their own agreement, an agreement they are going to have to live with and work under during the next few years.
In addition, the Conservatives' offer adds insult to injury, as it is worse than what Canada Post had offered workers before the government's useless and unnecessary intrusion. Lower salaries, job insecurity, an attack on their pensions; this is what the Conservatives are offering Canada Post workers. It is a complete disgrace.
Do my Conservative colleagues realize that Canada Post workers deserve better? Improved occupational health and safety, decent salaries and a pension; is that really so much to ask? Apparently so, according to our fine government.
But should the Conservatives' attitude in this matter really surprise us? This is far from the first time that the government has shown such utter contempt toward workers, in particular when it comes to pensions.
In my riding, I do not have to look very hard for a tangible example of the Conservatives' dismissive attitude in recent years. We need only look at what happened to the workers at the AbitibiBowater plant in Donnacona in the spring. Unfortunately, it was announced last spring that the plant would be torn down. As the hon. members are all probably aware, 9,000 pensioners are literally watching their pension benefits disappear before their very eyes because of AbitibiBowater's financial difficulties. Even though their pensions are nothing more than deferred wages, wages that the employer formally agreed to pay them when they retired, in accordance with the terms set out at the time of their hiring, the big bosses at AbitibiBowater have no qualms about dipping into the pension fund whenever it suits their needs.
What have the Conservatives done to help these pensioners? Absolutely nothing. There were calls for help, but nothing was done. To this day, those pensioners are still experiencing problems.
Back then, the hon. member for Thunder Bay—Rainy River introduced Bill C-501, which sought protection for workers' severance and termination pay in the event of a restructuring or corporate bankruptcy, as in AbitibiBowater's case.
In short, Bill C-501 would have given pension funds, as well as severance pay and termination pay benefits, secured creditor status, making them a priority in the event of a bankruptcy. Employers would have lost the ability to choose to reimburse all subcontractors before paying their own employees their deferred wages, as companies should have always done from the outset.
Despite lingering in the House for some time, being debated and seemingly receiving approval, the bill was ultimately defeated by the Conservatives, of course. Shame!
The Conservatives are clearly turning their backs on Canadian workers. Last spring, it was the Donnacona retirees who suffered because of the Conservatives' indifference and contempt. Today, it is the Canada Post workers who are suffering. Who will be next? Which group of workers will the Conservative government try to impose similar working conditions on next? Who will the government try to control once this special legislation has been passed? Everyone is in trouble. Make no mistake. It could happen to anyone, to any group of workers. We need to be very wary.
Personally, I am disturbed by the Conservatives' current attitude. I think that many of my colleagues and fellow citizens from across the country share that sentiment. I am worried about the future of workers' rights when faced with pressure from an employer.
The government's reckless actions are a direct attack on Canada's labour organizations and only serve to reinforce my belief that we need unions that are dedicated to defending the rights of citizens who, like us, work tirelessly to improve their communities. I do not feel that members on the other side of the House are ready to stand up to defend workers' rights as all of my colleagues did throughout the night last night, and as we will continue to do throughout the coming days.
As you know, unions have fought for many years to ensure that our children can go to school instead of having to work in factories, that the salaries workers receive are fair and just, and that workers have safe working conditions.
Very important rights were won through many fierce battles, and these rights include the right to negotiate as equals and in good faith with their employers in order to establish a collective agreement that works for everyone.
It is high time that the government stop eroding the rights of Canada Post workers by interfering so brutally in the collective bargaining process. The government must stop continually siding with management, and it must take concrete action to ensure that the conflict is resolved quickly and satisfactorily. The government has the authority to demand that the lockout cease and that the two parties return to the negotiating table.
Canada Post workers are ready to return to work. They know that they provide an essential service to Canadians and they are aware of their responsibilities and importance in their communities.
All they are asking for is to return to work with dignity and that their request be heard and respected. It is a very small request in the current circumstances. It is high time to end the lockout. We must respect the right of workers to collective bargaining by ending the lockout that prevents the workers from exercising their rights.