Mr. HUGH GUTHRIE (South Wellington) moved for leave to introduce Bill (No. 25) in further amendment of the Railway Act.
He said : As the matter dealt with in this proposed amendment is somewhat involved, this may be as suitable a time as any to offer a few words in explanation of the scope of the Bill. The object of the Bill is, if not to prohibit, at least very greatly to limit the power of a railway company operating under a Dominion charter to contract itself out of its common-law or statutory liabilities to its employees in the case of injury resulting from the negligence of the company or its servants. The whole trend of modern legislation upon this point, as regards employers and employees, is strongly in the direction of safeguarding the right of the workman, and to prevent any contract or agreement from proving a bar or hindrance to the recovery of compensation by the workman. While the Bill which I have asked leave to introduce is wide in its terms, and will, if passed, affect all railway companies operating under Dominion charter, yet, as a matter of fact, the only company really concerned at the present time is the Grand Trunk Railway Company. This arises from the fact that the Grand Trunk Railway has, in years past, obtained certain special legislation from the parliament of Canada, and I have not been able to ascertain that any other railway company enjoys similar privileges.
Tlie difficulty which it is sought to remedy had its origin as far back as 1874, when the Grand Trunk Railway Company obtained the passage of an Act to enable them to set aside a fund, and to form a superannuation and provident society for its workmen. They were entitled, under this Act of 1874, to formulate a scheme, to formulate rules for the transaction of the business of the society, and for the government of the members of the society. In 1878, they obtained further legislation authorizing them, in addition to their superannuation fund and provident fund, to establish an accident and life insurance fund, and to conduct the business of life insurance and accident insurance, with regard to their workmen, and in connection with their superannuation society.
Then in 1880, the Great Western Railway Company obtained similar legislation. In 1884, after amalgamation of the two roads, this superannuation and insurance society was applied to the whole system of the Grand Trunk Railway. This was again confirmed by an Act of 1888. Now the difficulty which presents itself is this : Under authority of these various special Acts the Grand Trunk Railway Company has formed a society known as the Grand Trunk Railway Insurance and Provident Society. They have passed rules, regulations and by-laws for the government of the society and the members of the society. Rule number 5 provides that every workman, the moment he enters into the employment of the Grand Trunk Railway Company, becomes a member of that society, and is bound by its laws. Rule 66 provides that all rules and regulations of the society shall be submitted to the Grand Trunk Railway Company and approved by them. But the most objectionable1 rule, or by-law, of the society is by-law 15, and it is under that by-law that the difficulty arises. Bylaw number 15 provides :
In consideration of the subscription of the Grand Trunk Railway Company to this society, no member thereof or his representatives shall have any claim against the company for compensation on account of injury or death from accident.
Under these various Acts the railway is empowered to grant certain money to this fund. I have heard it stated in open court that they do grant annually $12,500, and as they have approximately 25,000 workmen, they pay 50 cents for each man into that fund, and as a result they claim they have absolute protection from all common law or statutory liability towards there workmen. Now they do provide some insurance, but they charge the workmen for the insurance at the rate of 40 or 50 cents a month; for the vast majority of their 25,000 men the rate is 50 cents per month, or $6 per year. For this they provide, in case of sickness, an indemnity of $3 per week for 26 weeks in the case of permanent disability, a sum of $100; and in the case of death, a sum of $250. They do not give
as much as can be obtained by workmen doing similar work, from any one of the score of friendly or benevolent societies doing business in Canada to-day.
Now this matter has lain dormant for many years. I think it is only within the last eighteen months that the question has really arisen. During that period it has been 'decided by a trial judge in the province of Quebec, by a trial judge in the province of Ontario, and I think likewise by a trial judge in the province of British Columbia, that under that by-law 15 the workman is absolutely precluded from recovering against the railway company, even in case of the negligence of the company or of its servants. If I were to venture my own opinion in the matter, I would have no hesitation myself in saying that by-law 15 is not authorized by any enabling of the Acts ; but it has been decided otherwise by trial judges. The difficulty of the situation is this, that where you have as plaintiff a disabled or injured railway man, or the widow of a deceased railway man, they are not in a position to carry this matter further and get the decision of a higher court upon it. As long as the matter is involved in doubt, or as long as the present decision stands, these 25,000 workmen in that company are absolutely debarred from recovering damages against the company in cases of Injury resulting from negligence. The Bill which I have brought in is framed largely on the lines of clause 10 of the Ontario Workmen's Compensation Act and a similar clause is to be found in the English Act, the Employers Liability Act, and no doubt in other provincial Acts with which I am not familiar. It does not preclude agreements between the employers and their employees, but it simply provides that no agreement shall be allowed to prevail as a defense unless, in the first place, there is consideration on the part of the workman for entering into such an agreement other than the mere fact of his being taken into the employment ; and unless the agreement is reasonable, just and adequate in the opinion of the judge who tries the case ; and unless, in the opinion of the judge who tries the case, it is not improvident on the part of the workman. The onus of establishing the reasonableness and the adequacy of the consideration is thrown upon the railway company. That, Mr. Speaker, is in brief the Bill which I ask leave to introduce this afternoon.
Motion agreed to, and Bill read the first time.