June 3, 1935

CON

James Arthurs

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. ARTHURS:

I rise to a point of order. I have listened very attentively to this debate, and I would submit that it is entirely out of order, the item before the committee being "fair wages and inspection" under the Fair Wages Act. Under that act the government has control only of wages on public works-

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LIB
CON

James Arthurs

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. ARTHURS:

-not on post offices or anything of that kind. That is controlled by the Post Office Department.

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LIB

Ian Alistair Mackenzie

Liberal

Mr. MACKENZIE (Vancouver):

We are discussing the whole principle of fair wages.

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CON

Raymond Ducharme Morand (Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)

Conservative (1867-1942)

The CHAIRMAN:

I think it still comes under the rule.

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LIB

Frederick George Sanderson

Liberal

Mr. SANDERSON:

I mentioned a moment or two ago that the speech of the Minister of Justice was printed and sent out to all the rural mail carriers. That was not all that was done at that time. A special letter, under the signature, I think, of the then chief organizer of the Conservative party, went out to the rural mail carriers of this country.

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LIB
LIB

Frederick George Sanderson

Liberal

Mr. SANDERSON:

Yes, on blue paper. This letter went on to say that the Conservative party were grieved and sorry that the rural mail carriers of this country were working for starvation wages, but that if they would see to it that there was a change in government, that is, if they would vote against the Liberal party, the Conservatives pledged their solemn promise that when they got back to power one of the first things they would do would be to raise the pay of rural mail carriers and it would be on a basis of $70 per mile per annum. I am sorry the Minister of Justice is not in his seat because I want to read just a portion of the speech which he delivered in the house on April 16, 1929. when the house was in supply and discussing rural mail contracts. This is what he said:

The system which was adopted in the first instance in regard to these rural mail routes was one based on tender and contract. Certain routes were publicly advertised, tenders were called, and as a rule a fairly large number of tenderers responded to the advertisement in the hope of securing occupation as mail carriers in the rural parts of Canada. I suppose that lack of experience had something to do with the unsatisfactory conditions which attended the first tenders and the first contracts, but as time has gone on, conditions instead of improving have gradually become worse until to-day we find a system established throughout practically the whole length and breadth of this country under which certain men who are practically employees of this government-

And I want the Minister of Labour to listen to this particularly.

7-and of this country, for the purpose of carrying His Majesty's mails, are not receiving an adequate return for the services they perform. Indeed, so inadequate is the return to our rural mail couriers that the matter has become nothing less than a public scandal. Year after year this matter has been brought to the attention of this government and' of the present Postmaster General during the discussion of the post office estimates. Year after year the rural letter carriers have requested that their claims be considered and that they be treated on some fairer basis and on some higher standard than anything they have enjoyed hitherto.

Supply-Labour-Fair Wages

Now, the situation I will briefly describe as follows. The figures which I give, it must be understood, will be only average figures; I cannot go into particular cases; but I find that in the report of the Postmaster General for the year ending March 31, 1928, the total cost to the dominion for the "conveyance of mails by ordinary land" is $6,291,180.52. I have been informed by officials in the Post Office Department that this item includes the cost of all the rural mail routes, of all the stage routes, and all the routes known as station-to-post office routes; these are all referred to under one item as "conveyance of mails by ordinary land." Just what part of that single item is devoted to the delivery of rural mail I am unable to say with precision; I can only form an estimate, but information has been given to me that the number of established routes to-day is 4.007, and it has been represented that the average route in Canada at the present time is one of twenty miles. Some routes are a little more than this, some a little less, but as an average twenty miles is supposed to be about right. The average pay for a courier who travels that route of twenty miles is according to my informant in the department, about $800, although according to a statement which I have received from the Letter Carriers' Association the average amount which each carrier receives is only $720. I am taking the higher figure of $800 for a twenty-mile route, which would be payment to the courrier at the rate of $40 per mile over a period of a year.

I need not take up the time of the committee in reading further, but the hon. gentleman goes on to advocate a flat rate of $<0 per mile per year. Then he deals with some figures in regard to maintenance; he gives the prices of hay, oats and bran; he gives the cost of horseshoeing, mentions depreciation and so on. All told he makes out an excellent case for the poor rural mail carrier of that time, and then he goes on to make the definite promise that if the Conservative party should get into power in 1930 they would immediately raise all mail carriers to a basis of $70 per mile per year.

*I think the Minister of Labour should investigate this question and should give ;t his careful and serious consideration. If he will take the trouble to secure from the Post Office Department the average rate paid the rural mail carriers of this country he will find that it is far below the minimum wage paid to ordinary labourers.

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LIB

William Alexander Fraser

Liberal

Mr. FRASER (Northumberland):

As a

member of this committee I feel it my duty, following other hon. members who have spoken and having regard to the remarks of the Minister of Justice '(Mr. Guthrie), to bring the debate on this question up to date. What happened in 1929 is a matter of record; what has not happened since with regard to rural mail carriers is also a matter of record. Permit me to remind the Min-

ister of Labour that we are now living in a new era, that the right hon. the Prime Minister of Canada (Mr. Bennett) has made the statement that the old order is gone. The *right hon. gentleman has said that the day of the open market place is largely gone and that the day of unethical practices and unfair competition is past. Let us start from that; let us adopt that new order; let the Ministe; of Labour see that the Post Office Department pays something better than starvation wages to our rural mail carriers. Let me add to what I have said in connection with the new order, or the old order having gone, that until the government of Canada, the largest employer of labour in this country, adopts fair, ethical business practices in connection with competitive contracts and payment for public service they need not expect any desirable result to accrue from howling from one end of this country to the other that the old order is gone and the new order is in vogue or from anything else; they need not expect any improvement while they continue to set this sort of example to the people. Therefore I should like to suggest to the Minister of Labour that he make it his business, under the jurisdiction that 3 given his department, to see that the rura. mail carriers get a square deal.

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

What would you suggest?

Some hon. MEMBERS; You are the doctor; you prescribe.

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

I thank the hon. gentlemen for their very informative replies.

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LIB

William Alexander Fraser

Liberal

Mr. FRASER (Northumberland):

The

minister has asked me a direct question, and I feel honoured. Permit me to reply that after the next election the incoming government will inaugurate a policy that will provide a fair return for the service rendered by the rural mail carriers.

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CON

Robert James Manion (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MANION:

Just to complete the record, Mr. Chairman, I looked up the motion as moved by the present Minister of Justice (Mr. Guthrie) when he was in opposition. It reads:

That all the words after the word "that" in the motion be struck out and the following substituted therefor: ,

"in the opinion of 'this house the present system of awarding contracts for the delivery of rural mail by tender has proved unfair, burdensome and unsatisfactory

That is what my hon. friends say to-night. -and that such rural mail carriers should be appointed by the civil service commission upon a permanent basis with a definite rate of pay-

Supply-Labour-Fair Wages

Again that is what my hon. friends say.

-based upon mileage and the physical conditions of the territory involved, having regard to the amount paid to the other servants of the government for similar employment."

When the vote was taken two of the active gentlemen opposite voted against that motion; I refer to the hon. member for South Perth (Mr. Sanderson) and the hon. member for Charlevoix-Saguenay (Mr. Casgrain), the whip of the Liberal party. My hon. friends know I never criticize; I merely make this statement in order to keep the record straight. Incidentally the vote against the motion was 106. all of them Liberals, so far as I can see; the vote in favour was 70, all of them Conservatives, so far as I can see.

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?

Charles Eusèbe Casgrain

Mr. OASGRAIN:

May I ask a question?

Was that a vote of want of confidence in the government?

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CON

Robert James Manion (Minister of Railways and Canals)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. MANION:

No, it was merely an amendment on going into supply.

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

So I would suggest that

both parties have been wonderfully consistent.

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LAB

Abraham Albert Heaps

Labour

Mr. HEAPS:

This only goes to show, Mr. Chairman, how virtuous all oppositions are and how full of vice they become when they are on the government side. There is one point I should like to bring to the attention of the minister, and I should like to go back to the matter I raised in the early part of this discussion. I refer to the question of the wages paid on work done under government contracts, and what can be done by the government to enforce the payment of fair wages. I know the conditions under which some of these contracts are let. In one instance which came to my attention, the manufacture of trousers, it was stated that after the goods had been paid for, only 17 cents per pair was left for wages and overhead expenses. Obviously it was impossible for the manufacturer to pay his overhead and decent wages out of that allowance, and as a result the wages were cut down. With the number of inspectors available it would be almost impossible for the government to make any close inspection of all the places where government work is being done to see that fair wages are being paid. I would suggest to the minister, however, that where government contracts are being let they insist that a sworn statement of the wages paid be submitted to the government, and that these lists be carefully scrutinized by the Department of Labour. Many of these contracts are sublet; in fact I belief that happens in most cases, and this would give the government some idea at least as to what was being done under the contracts after they

were let. I should like to ask the minister if he would be prepared at this time to inaugurate a system which would provide that all contractors in receipt of government contracts be compelled to furnish the government with sworn statements of the wages paid under such contracts. May I have an answer from the minister?

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CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

The course followed by

the Department of Labour is to see that the fair wages clause is carried out, so far as possible. I can readily understand that possibly in the purchase of clothing or some other material there may be an evasion but despite that it is the policy and the endeavour of the department to see that fair wages are paid not only in the erection of buildings but in connection with the purchase of supplies. I am hopeful that under legislation presented to parliament greater powers may be given the federal government, and that there will be a clearer recognition of the duty to see that within the competence of parliament a lead may be given in demonstrating that fair wages are imperative not only in building trades but in the preparation of supplies and materials. I am aware that at times a condition has developed, one which I do not believe is general, which has indicated that fair wages have not been paid in certain trades, and particularly those trades in which needle workers and allied working people are engaged.

It has been the endeavour of the Department of Labour to check on these matters; in fact, that is what the department has been set up to do. As Minister of Labour I am just following the course pursued by ministers who have preceded me, although I believe I may fairly state that at times I have been somewhat more vigorous than my predecessors. I trust that we shall be clothed with authority to impose greater and severer restrictions upon those dealing with the federal government to ensure a standard of fair and reasonable wages to those employed in government works.

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LAB
CON

Wesley Ashton Gordon (Minister of Immigration and Colonization; Minister of Labour; Minister of Mines)

Conservative (1867-1942)

Mr. GORDON:

I did not expect it would be totally satisfactory. Do not misunderstand me.

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June 3, 1935