Madam Speaker, I am obviously in favour of Bill C-386, and I congratulate my colleague from Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel for presenting it with so much determination and conviction. However, after hearing the arguments of the Conservatives and the Liberals on this issue, I doubt that we will be able to advance the cause of Canadian workers, which I think is an argument—yet another one—in favour of Quebec sovereignty.
We knew that the Conservatives did not like unions. They have said so many, many times, but in this 40th Parliament, they are more determined than ever to prove it to us.
Yesterday, Bill C-395, which excluded the period of a labour dispute from the qualifying period for employment insurance, died on the order paper because it did not receive a royal recommendation. The Conservatives did not support this bill, which would have guaranteed that workers whose plant closed or whose jobs were eliminated would be entitled to benefits based on the time they worked before the dispute. Words cannot express how much this heartless approach gets to me. That is one of the big Conservative principles that the Prime Minister brags about. They do nothing while the workers are struggling.
It was also the Conservative party that, in part 10 of the 2009 budget implementation bill, formerly Bill C-10, imposed salary conditions on federal public servants despite collective agreements that had already been signed. And what did the legislation say? I think that we need to see all of the elements to really understand why the Conservative government members voted against Bill C-386.
The Act said that, should the signed collective agreement propose an increase higher than what was set out in section 16, not only would the increase no longer be valid, but any increase higher than 1.5% that was received after December 8, 2008, would have to be paid back as per section 64.
Subsection 64(1) said:
Every amount paid—including amounts paid before the day on which this Act comes into force—to any person in excess of the amount that should have been paid as a result of this Act is a debt due to Her Majesty and may be recovered as such.
With Bill C-10, which passed because the Liberals supported the Conservatives yet again, the government announced to public servants that if they had negotiated a better collective agreement than the one imposed by the Act, the employees needed to repay what they had earned. Can this really be?
Would a government that abandons workers who lose their jobs following a labour dispute, forcing them to turn to the provinces for social assistance, a government that reneges on its own collective agreements and imposes new salary conditions, would a government like that vote in favour of a bill like Bill C-386? Come on.
During the first hour of debate, the Conservative member for Simcoe North stated, and I quote:
[Some are fond of citing] Quebec as an example of a jurisdiction that has successfully enacted a legislative ban on the use of replacement workers, but they are less likely to mention that Quebec's efforts were enacted more than 30 years ago. It is important to keep in mind the context here. The economic and labour issues faced by the province of Quebec in the 1970s are absolutely not the same as the ones faced by the Government of Canada today. It is an entirely different scenario.
Well, he was right. That is why on September 22, 2010, the National Assembly of Quebec unanimously passed the following motion:
That in order to ensure that the Quebec Labour Code reflects the new realities of today's workplace, the National Assembly is calling on the Government of Quebec to examine the possibility of updating the Labour Code, particularly with respect to the anti-scab provisions, in order to take into account the impact of new technology.
Legislation preventing the use of replacement workers in order to achieve a balance of forces in labour disputes between employers and employees is as relevant in 2010 as it was 30 years ago. It is not a question of context, regardless of what the Conservative member from Simcoe North thinks, it is a question of values.
In contrast to Quebec, which prohibited it in 1977, there is nothing at the present time in the Canada Labour Code that specifically forbids the use of strike breakers.
Clause 94(2.1) of the Canada Labour Code contains a prohibition on the use of replacement workers, but only when an employer uses them “for the demonstrated purpose of undermining a trade union’s representational capacity”. This is a very weak prohibition because all that an employer has to do in order to demonstrate his good faith is continue to recognize the existing union and negotiate with it in order to have the right to use replacement workers.
A firm prohibition is absolutely essential, though, in order to encourage civilized negotiations and industrial peace. It is also the key to a fair balance of forces between employers and employees.
Workers in sectors that fall under the Canada Labour Code, such as telecommunications, banks, ports, bridges, air transport and so forth, constitute about 8% of the Quebec workforce and they are disadvantaged, therefore, when they have to negotiate with their employers. As a result, strikes tend to last longer.
According to Quebec labour ministry statistics, workers in Quebec whose employer falls under federal jurisdiction are almost always over-represented in the number of days of work lost.
Even though they made up just under 8% of the Quebec workforce, they were responsible for 18% of the person-days lost in 2004 and for 22.6% in 2003. In 2002, they constituted 7.3% of the workforce and were responsible for 48% of the work days lost due to labour disputes.
In short, over the last decade, the person-days lost by workers in Quebec covered by the Canada Labour Code were on average two and a half times greater than they should have been, given the demographic weight of these workers.
This means, of course, that strikes are longer—we have seen more when the federal government is involved—and more violent when employers can hire strike breakers.
They talk about good labour relations and mediation to justify their opposition to Bill C-386, but we will get back to that.
The Conservative government stated its opposition at the outset, and having no genuine arguments, retreated behind apocalyptic scenarios that have nothing to do with reality. Quebec has had legislation prohibiting replacement workers for 30 years, and there have been no catastrophes.
The Liberal labour relations critic has already made it known that she intends to vote against Bill C-386. And what is the red herring argument she gives for this? Allow me to quote what she said in the first hour of second reading of this bill on June 11:
What is at the core of my argument that we should not be supporting this private member's bill? The key to the situation really is fair and free collective bargaining that is balanced between employers and unions. I would assert that this balance cannot be maintained and improved through a selective private member's bill that picks [either of these groups].
In short, she suggested allowing scabs until a crisis erupts and ensuring the right to fair collective bargaining. If, during a labour dispute, the workers are the only losers and the plant is working on all cylinders thanks to replacement workers, the Liberal critic feels that there is fair collective bargaining. We would not need to harm the economy and it is just too bad for the poor strikers on the picket line.
However, I do not agree, and like the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel, I am asking my colleagues to support this bill and to listen to what will be said in committee by the main stakeholders: the workers.