Mr. Speaker, on my own behalf, and as the critic on francophonie, allow me to first wish a happy national holiday to all Quebeckers. This day has been called the national holiday for the past few years to be more inclusive of all minorities in Quebec. My age is betraying me here. I am sometimes a little nostalgic and I miss what used to be called Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. Today, I feel a great deal of empathy for all the francophones of this wonderful country who are celebrating Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day. Happy celebrations to them also.
It is no secret that, before May 2, my life was totally different. I wore two hats: I was a teacher in a Trois-Rivières high school, and I was the union rep for the teachers at that institution. Therefore, I have some experience in collective bargaining. I negotiated at least four collective agreements, each with a term of five years. They were referred to as “institutional peace”. At the end of each of those negotiations, and despite the clashes and the differences of opinion, we always managed to find a win-win solution and both sides could come out of the process with their heads held high. They may not have obtained all that they wanted, but they had improved their lot.
On May 2, a majority of voters in my riding elected to me to represent them in this House. I was perhaps a little idealistic in thinking that I was coming here to help create and draft legislation that would ensure the well-being of all Canadians. In the few minutes that I have, I am going to show how Bill C-6, now before us, contains major flaws that make it unacceptable. Since yesterday, there is broad consensus if not unanimity in the House on the importance of getting postal workers back to work. The Conservative Party, the NDP, the third party in the House and postal workers themselves all hope that the workers can return to work. Everyone hopes they will go back to work. Why is that not happening? Probably because this specific dispute involves a lot more than just the conflict at Canada Post.
Canada Post is a very large corporation. Yesterday, I listened with great interest when the Minister of Labour described this corporation. It became clear to me that what we have been debating for hours will set a precedent. Indeed, whether it is another crown corporation, a private venture, a small, medium or large business, or any type of business in this country, what is going on right now is setting a precedent. The government is setting the rules for future negotiations.
While I was preparing these notes, I put my history teacher hat back on, to see when these mean unions were born. Of course, I am being ironic when I use the term “mean”, because that word was used in reference to me during many years. I suppose it will be used again against me in the next few minutes, in addition to the term “socialist”, but I have no problem with that.
At the beginning of the industrial revolution, at a time when those who had money were creating businesses, workers were not listened to by owners. Their working conditions were harsh, their living conditions were miserable and they did not have any access to the sharing of wealth. Whenever they would, individually, try to meet their boss to improve their plight, the door would be shut, or they would just be ignored. So, the solution came naturally. The only way for workers to have a balance of power was to get together and create unions. And how did the employers of the day—at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century—react? Their initial action was to try to pass legislation to prevent unionization.
Thank goodness, they did not succeed in that respect and the union movement was able to continue to develop. A second attempt was made to pass legislation preventing the right to strike. It seems to me that, 200 years later, we are not very far from those actions in the current dispute, since the strike at Canada Post was a very modest one. We are talking about rotating strikes designed to stop mail delivery for one day in one region of the country, and then in another one, so that the whole economy would keep running and businesses would continue to get postal services. At the same time, it allowed employees to show to the public what their working conditions are, while also putting some pressure to support their demands.
Fortunately, unions have made a lot of ground since the industrial revolution, with the result that working conditions are now much better. The work week is reasonable—with the exception of the current one—, living conditions are much improved and wages are decent. As regards salaries, Bill C-6 includes a despicable discriminatory measure whereby young workers would not enjoy the same treatment as more senior workers. It is strange that the government would propose, here in the House of Commons, a bill containing measures that members of Parliament would not accept.
The hon. member for Sherbrooke, who is not here right now but who is the youngest member in this House, the hon. member representing the neighbouring riding of Bas-Richelieu—Nicolet—Bécancour, who is the dean of this House, and I, who am somewhere in the middle, all receive the same salary, because here we have understood that, regardless of age and experience, the ideas, the values and the work of each member are of equal value and deserve equal remuneration. I cannot figure out why we would not provide for others what we are providing for ourselves. Yet, such is the nature of Bill C-6.
Who benefits from a fair and equitable negotiation process and a win-win solution? Everyone can benefit. Canada Post employees of course, but also management. It would benefit from having a positive working environment for many years and from objective management practices based on a mutually accepted agreement. Moreover, the employees of other corporations in Canada would also benefit, because that successful process would serve as a model.
Let us not also forget the whole category of precarious jobs and self-employed workers, whose numbers are constantly growing because of technological progress. Since these people are alone, they can hardly make demands. However, they are affected positively or negatively by the outcome of the collective bargaining process carried out by major unions.
And here is the icing on the cake. Labour standards provide that the union has the right to strike, while the employer has the right to impose a lockout. In principle, these are the two ultimate negotiation tools. However, these negotiations have been going on for eight months. We have been told for the past two days that it is terrible to have negotiations that have been going on for eight months. Discussions and negotiations are two very different things. One does not have to have been very involved in negotiations to know that the first few months are spent getting to know each other, developing a rapport and putting the demands on the table. Eight months is a very short period to negotiate a collective agreement.
In the escalation process, the biggest pressure tactic used by the union was to begin a rotating strike. The reaction was swift: not only a lockout, but the suspension of the collective agreement, which includes workers' rights and benefits. And they would have us believe that this reaction is fair.
Unfortunately, I am going to stop here, because time flies. However, I will be pleased to reply to the questions and comments of hon. members.