Mr. Speaker, I would like to take a few moments to wish all Quebeckers a happy national holiday, in particular the people of the riding of Laval—Les Îles, with whom I would really have liked to celebrate tonight, but since the government has prohibited this—we know what is going on, we understand—it will not be possible. They will understand the reason for my absence.
The government decided to extend the work of the House without regard for Quebec MPs or their constituents. It preferred to interfere in the negotiations between the postal workers and Canada Post, by forcing the workers back to work under unacceptable conditions, rather than allowing us to go and celebrate with our constituents.
I am here tonight in order to stand up for the workers of Canada Post who are fighting in good faith to obtain sound working conditions and a negotiated collective agreement. They are faced with the possibility of seeing the government impose salaries that are lower than those that were offered by the employer. I am also here to stand up for all workers who could be facing the same fate because of a government that has no values and does not want to amend its bill.
Before continuing, I would like to specify that unlike Canada Post, which has locked out its employees and deprived the public of an essential service, postal workers never took Canadians hostage. The rotating strikes they held delayed postal delivery by one day at the most. Their goal was to force Canada Post to negotiate. But the employer's reaction was to close the door to negotiation, impose a lockout on its employees and interrupt all mail delivery.
This is a manoeuvre that is putting the most vulnerable people in a difficult if not precarious situation. In spite of the lockout and the threat of legislation imposing a return to work with lower salaries than those proposed by Canada Post, postal workers are continuing to provide mail delivery in my riding. Pension cheques, social assistance cheques and child benefit cheques have been delivered so as to limit the damages. The postal workers are not doing this for money, but out of respect for Canadians who may well depend on those benefits for their subsistence.
I said “respect”, a word that seems to mean nothing to the Conservative government. Government interference and the prospect of special legislation to force postal employees back to work leave the door wide open for the employer, which realizes it no longer has to negotiate in good faith and can hand its dirty work over to the government.
The message to workers is clear: accept the offer of the employer, which is taking away the gains that employees have been able to achieve, not by forcing Canada Post's hand but by bargaining. Today, the government, on whom these workers should be able to rely to stand up and protect them, will impose an even worse settlement on them than Canada Post's offer. It is important to point out that Canada Post is not on the verge of bankruptcy, far from it. It generated nearly $300 million in profits in 2009, and yet it is claiming that it cannot provide its employees with sound working conditions or new employees with fair wages. That is a tough pill to swallow when the corporation pays its CEO almost $500,000, not to mention a performance bonus of more than $150,000, which would climb even higher under this bill. I am certain, by the way, that he still collected his paycheque during the lockout.
Canada Post is a profitable, reliable and indispensable postal service, and contrary to what pro-privatization forces would have us believe, no alternative involving the private sector could ever be adequate.
In addition, the Canadian public does not agree with privatizing a low-cost, high-quality postal service.
I wonder what the government—which is supposed to serve the public and respect its will—does not understand about that.
Finally, I am concerned about the precedent that will be set by this interference. Who will pay the price next time? Unionized workers have every right to expect their contract to be respected. They have every right to expect their employer to negotiate fairly, justly and in good faith. By introducing this bill, the government is opening the door to a dangerous practice that would allow employers to gut worker's rights with the blessing of the House of Commons, or at least one side of the House of Commons.
The Canadian government must set an example in terms of equality, safety and respect for workers. This should be a country that makes its citizens proud and not a land that turns the clock back on the gains made by taxpayers for benefit of company CEOs who already profit from the current system.
Happy Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day to all French Canadians.