Mr. Speaker, I would like to take this opportunity to wish a great national holiday to my constituents. I hope they are seizing this opportunity to celebrate the Quebec nation with their family or friends. I can say that, in electing an NDP member, they voted for a Canadian who respects and shares their language and culture.
On June 3, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers began a series of rotating strikes. However, even though workers were fighting for the right to a decent salary, they continued to provide a service that remains important to Canadians. On June 15, Canada Post decided to impose a lockout, thus depriving Canadians of postal services. Five days later, the government introduced back-to-work legislation that provides for a salary increase lower than the one offered by Canada Post during the negotiations, and also sets strict limits on the arbitrator's mandate in settling the dispute.
Through this action, the government has shown its contempt for collective bargaining and for the rights of Canadians who are waging a legitimate battle for their rights as public service employees. If the bill is passed, the Conservatives will have changed the rules significantly.
During the negotiations, Canada Post tried to impose certain working conditions on its employees, thus adversely affecting their quality of life and that of their families. For its current employees, it wanted to end the Workers Compensation Board's contribution for injured employees, to replace the benefits paid by the employer with an expense account for health care, to abolish the seventh week of annual leave, to eliminate sick leave and to impose a short term disability plan. For new employees, it wanted to reduce job security and social benefits, and to lower pensions and salaries.
Even though Canada Post gave up on certain reductions during the negotiations, it never took into consideration the union's demands relating to staffing, health and safety and working conditions. The fact that the government refuses to admit that this is a lockout, and not a strike by employees, confirms that there is no will to bring concrete solutions to these issues. Let us make one thing clear: it is the government that locked the doors at Canada Post.
Canada Post belongs to all Canadians, and its mandate is to guarantee postal service to all Canadians. The government is headed toward privatization, despite the fact that there is no alternative for fulfilling the mandate of Canada Post. While we in Canada pay 59¢ to mail a standard letter, the same service may cost up to 88¢ in countries with privatized services. In addition, it should be noted that Canada Post is profitable. Last year, its total revenues were $281 million.
Why should we punish postal workers and reward Canada Post, which imposed a lockout and was basically responsible for the shutdown of postal services? In addition, the back-to-work legislation calls for lower wage increases than those proposed by Canada Post in its latest offer: 1.9% in 2011 and 2012-2013 and 2% in 2014. The Conservatives' legislation proposes lower increases of 1.7% in 2011, 1.5% in 2012 and 2% in 2013 and 2014. I want to point out that both offers are well below the 3.3% inflation rate.
According to the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, that legislation would cost a typical full-time employee $875.50 over the four years of the agreement. Is the government here to reduce wages? Is it here to create a precedent that will enable it to interfere every time to cut wages?
I am very proud to represent the beautiful Quebec riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.
Many families who live in this riding are already heavily in debt, and they are having a great deal of trouble maintaining their modest lifestyle. Many of my constituents are worried at this moment. In fact, they are telling me that if the Conservatives are prepared to impose an act like this one on postal workers, then they would definitely be prepared to show an equal lack of respect for workers across the country. They elected me because they wanted to build a country in which workers had better working conditions, in which the elderly could live in dignity and in which young people could be confident about their future.
Today, we can see clearly that the Conservatives have a very different view of things. They supported a two-tier pension system that was initially put forward by Canada Post management, a system that would allow existing employees a defined benefit pension plan whereas newly-hired employees would have a defined contribution pension plan. Since then, Canada Post management has revised its position, but it is still asking for a five year increase in the retirement age.
If this bill is adopted, it will be a major setback for all workers, including those who live in the riding of Rivière-des-Mille-Îles. If the bill is passed, it will be sending a clear message to my generation: we are going to receive less stable pensions than previous generations. The manner in which the government intervened in this matter is blatant evidence of its lack of any political will to defend the next generations.
The Conservatives imposed the lockout on the pretext that the dispute at Canada Post threatened to cause serious harm to the Canadian economy. If that is true, why did they lock the doors to prevent employees from going to work? The Conservatives measure the strength of the economy in terms of the profits made by their friends, but my NDP colleagues and I believe that the strength of our economy is measured in the ability of ordinary families to make ends meet.
If we take away from workers the right to use legitimate means to defend their rights, we will continue to increase inequities. The government has attacked the defined benefit pension plan and has shown itself open to reducing wages and benefits. If this trend continues, Canada will become a country in which people of my generation will no longer be able to rely on dependable pensions when they retire, and in which the quality of life for workers will deteriorate.
The trend can already be seen. The wages of workers today are already proportionality lower than they were 20 years ago. According to Statistics Canada, between 1980 and 2005, full-time wages for this group dropped by 20.6%. Last evening in the House, the leader of the official opposition pointed out that the gains made by workers in recent decades needed protection. It is these gains that must be built upon.
It must not be forgotten that in 1981, CUPW was the first union to obtain paid maternity leave. It succeeded in obtaining this benefit after a 42-day strike, and once this was achieved, it set additional standards for all other employees. We cannot ignore the fact that this bill comes on the heels of other bills introduced south of the border in Wisconsin, Texas, Michigan, Idaho and Arizona. This is our Wisconsin, and we must stand up on behalf of workers everywhere in Canada.