October 29, 1996

LIB

George Proud

Liberal

Mr. George Proud (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, we have listened to the concerns of my fellow members with regard to the wording of the amendment and we have given the matter very careful study.

The hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and the opposition were originally concerned to clarify that employees who perform work in more than one province be paid the rate of the province in which they are employed. They were concerned over any loophole which would permit a lower rate than that of the employee's province of employment. Now the hon. member is proposing an amendment that is somewhat different. It is proposed

that where an employee performs work in several provinces, the minimum wage would be that of the province with the highest rate.

While I appreciate my colleague's concern for clarity to protect the worker, I believe that the solution will create more problems than it will solve.

The proposal would be cumbersome to administer. Even one trip across a provincial border could alter a truck driver's hourly rate. What would be the justification for this approach? Surely we would want to establish labour standards that reflect the conditions in the local area.

The whole approach of this bill has been to align the federal minimum wage with regional economies. Why would the government impose the rate designed for one region on an enterprise within another? Furthermore, in the case of an employee who makes infrequent trips outside the province, it is unclear how long the higher rate would apply. Would it apply for a day, a week or a month?

The amendment would impose unnecessary rigidities on an employer who might have to refuse small amounts of business in another province. Surely we do not wish to place additional complexities and paperwork on businesses, and small businesses in particular.

The amendment would create inequities within an enterprise. For example, two employees travel the same distance but one travels across a provincial border while the other is going in another direction and does not cross that provincial border. Under this proposal the two drivers would not be entitled to the same rates.

Most important, the amendment is unnecessary. Our legal advisors do not see any difficulties with the present French and English texts of the bill. The current wording refers to more than one province where an employee works. It relates to the overall employment relationship which includes the province where the employee reports to work, where he or she picks up equipment and tools, is supervised by his or her employer and where, for example, the provincial worker compensation laws apply.

Similarly, the term usually or habituellement relates to where the relationship customarily takes place or commonly occurs, rather than simply the notion of time. When this was raised in the committee, the minister explained that in the case of a truck driver who drives across a provincial border the rate of the province in which the employee's home terminal was situated would be used in applying the law.

Very few workers are paid the federal minimum wage. About 2 per cent of workers come under the jurisdiction of the federal act and even fewer in the kind of employment that would take them outside the province. Since the minimum wage order came into effect on July 17, 1996 establishing the rates current in the provinces at that time, there have been no problems or complaints on the issue of concern to my hon. colleague.

Given the problems with the amendment proposed and the assurance of the Department of Justice that the existing bill is enforceable, I cannot support the Bloc's amendment and ask members to pass the bill as it stands.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
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REF

Lee Morrison

Reform

Mr. Lee Morrison (Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, the purpose of Bill C-35 is to align federal minimum wage rates with the general minimum wage rates established by the provinces. The involvement of the federal government in setting minimum wages is only about 30 years old.

In 1935 Canada ratified an ILO Minimum Wage Fixing Machinery Convention which had actually been introduced in 1928. It specified that workers would be guaranteed a minimum wage mainly in cases where wages were exceptionally low. However, it was 1965 before Canada actually began setting minimum wage rates. The Canada Labour Code covered less than a million workers so the government of the day did not feel pressured to establish a federal rule.

Between 1965 and 1986 there were sporadic changes in the federal minimum wage rate but 10 years ago only one-tenth of 1 per cent, or 7,000 workers under federal jurisdiction were directly affected. While updated estimates are not available from department officials, there is a presumption on our part that very little may have changed.

The big changes for Canadian workers over the last 30 years have been the diminished opportunities and lack of security which they now endure. Today one in every four Canadians is afraid of losing his or her job.

If the government was really concerned about workers and their wages it would not be sidestepping the real issue. It would be lowering the payroll taxes that kill jobs. At a time when 1.4 million Canadians are unemployed, about 2.3 million Canadians are underemployed and 500,000 Canadians have given up looking for a job, the best the government can come up with is a plan to realign minimum wage rates with the provinces. This is not even a decent band-aid.

If the government was really concerned about helping workers make ends meet it would be launching a plan, like the Reform Party's fresh start proposal, that would give workers much needed tax relief. Canadian workers deserve a tax break because they are working harder for less money.

The Fraser Institute estimates that the average worker's income has decreased by over $3,000 since the government was elected three years ago. Why are Canadians taking home less money? The government wants to lay the blame by pointing a finger at

employers. However, the real culprit is the ever increasing tax burden.

In 1996 the average family pays a staggering 46 per cent of its income in taxes. Twenty-five years ago, when one income families were the norm, families could pay their way and even prosper. Today it takes two incomes just to scrape by. One partner works just to pay the taxes for the household.

If the government was really concerned about Canadian workers' wages it would get its greedy hands at least part way out of the workers' pockets. If the government was really interested in helping workers it would streamline its operations and relinquish jurisdiction to the provinces in those areas that the provinces are best equipped to manage.

Take Bill C-35, for instance. On one hand the government is saying that it trusts the provinces to set realistic and fair minimum wage rates. However, on the other hand it is saying that it does not trust future provincial legislatures to set realistic and fair minimum wage rates so it will retain the right to set its rates whenever it sees fit. The provinces have already proven that they are better fiscal managers than their federal counterparts. What governments in this country have succeeded in balancing their budgets? Provincial governments.

Now is the time for the federal government to show that it is serious about streamlining and delegating more power to the provinces. Instead of retaining the right to set the rate, the government should seize this opportunity to enter into agreements with its provincial counterparts to give them sole discretion over the setting of rates. The agreements could feature clauses stipulating that each province and territory retain a minimum wage rate. It would be obligatory. That would protect Canada's international commitments and the free trade agreement.

The provisions of Bill C-35 have actually been in effect since July 1996. This is not a concern for Reformers since the overall intent of the bill is positive. However, there is still time to improve the bill.

Section 178(3) gives the governor in council the option of "replacing the minimum hourly rate that has been fixed with respect to employment in a province with another rate, or fix a minimum hourly rate with respect to the employment in a province if no such hourly rate has been fixed".

An amendment has been tabled calling for the deletion of section 178(3). If the government adopts this amendment the bill will receive our support, although with certain reservations. The amendment moved by the member for Edmonton Southwest, seconded by me, is:

That Bill C-35 in clause 1 be amended by deleting lines 1 to 8 on page 2.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
BQ

Osvaldo Nunez

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Osvaldo Nunez (Bourassa, BQ)

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in this House to debate Bill C-35 at report stage. This bill tabled on May 9, 1996, is to align the federal minimum wage rate with the general minimum wage rates established from time to time by the provinces and the territories. Let me say right off the bat that I support the amendment put forward by my colleague, the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.

This is a subject in which I have a great interest. As a previous speaker indicated, I was involved in the Quebec labour movement for a long time and, at every convention of the Fédération des travailleurs du Québec or of the Congrès du travail du Canada, resolutions were passed requesting that the federal and provincial governments raise the minimum wage, which is consistently too low.

I have often criticized the federal government, arguing that, in its capacity, it should be an example to the provinces in the area of labour law in Canada. As a member of the International Labour Organization, the federal government is the one that signs international conventions respecting minimum wage and other principles important to the workers.

Like the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, I think that the best way for low-wage workers to improve their conditions is to unionize. The unions can do something to improve the plight of these workers. Those who earn minimum wage are not even entitled to social benefits. I think that raising the minimum wage is a great way of fighting poverty.

Under Bill C-35, the rate paid to any particular employee is that of the employee's province or territory of employment. The Governor in Council retains the authority to establish a minimum wage rate that can apply to employees on a provincial or territorial basis and that differs from the rate set by a province or territory.

This bill is important to the official opposition, and it is in our best interest to support it. Of course, once this legislation is completed by the antiscab bill I tabled in this House last week and the other necessary amendments to the Canada Labour Code, we can then state loud and clear that the Canada Labour Code is in line with reality at the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Make no mistake about it, the Canada Labour Code still has some major flaws.

I support this bill, which-it is important to emphasize this-concerns more specifically the most vulnerable in our society. For example, workers who are not covered by a collective agreement or who hold precarious, often part time jobs, increasingly concentrated in industrial and economic sectors that are sensitive to fluctuations, the soft sectors in the economy.

Two thirds of minimum wage workers are women. Many are immigrants and young people. Of course, the harmonization of the minimum wage based on the rate in effect in the province or territory should be hailed. In fact, the Government of Canada has not raised its ridiculous $4 hourly rate since 1986. This rate is so out of step with today's cost of living, it seems like an anachronism. There was an urgent need to raise it as soon as possible.

It is interesting to compare this $4 hourly rate with the rate in effect in the Canadian provinces, which average around $5.60. In Ontario, the minimum wage rate is $6.85, while Quebec raised its rate to $6.70 on October 1. I must point out that this increase is due in part to the women who, in May 1995, participated in the "bread and roses march" from Montreal to Quebec City.

In the Prairies, the minimum wage rate hovers around $5 an hour: it is $5.35 in Saskatchewan, $5.40 in Manitoba, $5 in Alberta. I do not understand how a province as rich as Alberta can have such a low minimum rate. The minimum wage in British Columbia and the Northwest Territories is $7 an hour, compared to $6.86 in Yukon. It is $4.75 in Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island, $5.50 in New Brunswick, and $5.35 in Nova Scotia.

As I said before, it is quite clear that raising the minimum wage is an important tool in the fight against poverty. Such a policy makes the economy of a country or a province more dynamic, in that it helps reduce the underground economy, while stimulating the consumption of goods and services.

Also, in the case of a welfare recipient, working outside the family home becomes more interesting when the minimum salary is more decent and in line with the costs involved. It is important to remember that, over the years, the gap between minimum wage and the poverty line has decreased.

It would have been a good thing to table this bill and to announce at the same time the implementation of a true policy to fight poverty in Canada and in Quebec. One Canadian in six currently lives in poverty. The proportion is even greater in the case of women, children, immigrants and young people.

Canada's population is increasingly poor. I am not the only one to say so and to deplore this fact. The loss of jobs and the cuts in the federal public service payroll and in social programs are meant to help reduce the public debt, but they do little to put a stop to the impoverishment of our society.

Moreover, this situation does not only affect the poor, but also social classes which were thought to be immune from a deterioration of their quality of life.

This is why I can only support whatever attempt this government makes to help protect the interests of Canadian and Quebec workers. The federal government should show the way regarding minimum wage and everything that relates to labour law. Unfortunately, it is not the case.

Still, the proposed legislation is a step in the right direction. This is why I support Bill C-35.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

The motion of the hon. member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia relates to the next motion, so we will postpone that until we deal with the second motion.

Is the House ready for the question?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 1. All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Yea.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

All those opposed will please say nay.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Nay.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

In my opinion the nays have it.

And more than five members having risen:

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
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?

The Deputy Speaker

A recorded division on Motion No. 1 stands deferred.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
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REF

Ian McClelland

Reform

Mr. Ian McClelland (Edmonton Southwest, Ref.)

moved:

That Bill C-35, in Clause 1, be amended by deleting lines 1 to 8 on page 2.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
REF

Lee Morrison

Reform

Mr. Lee Morrison (Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, I have nothing further to add to what I said earlier.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

The mover of the motion is the hon. member Edmonton Southwest and the hon. member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia is the seconder.

Does the hon. member for Edmonton Southwest wish to speak to the motion?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
REF

Ian McClelland

Reform

Mr. Ian McClelland (Edmonton Southwest, Ref.)

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member for Swift Current-Maple Creek-Assiniboia spoke eloquently on the substance of this bill during the debate on the motion of the hon. member for Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. We would not further use the time of the House to say what has already been said.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
LIB

George Proud

Liberal

Mr. George Proud (Parliamentary Secretary to Minister of Labour, Lib.)

Mr. Speaker, to conclude this discussion, I want to say that we disagree with the amendment. It would delete 178(3).

The governor in council has the authority to issue an order replacing a provincial minimum wage rate. What we are saying here is that the federal government in a situation which would occur not very often, I would hope, has the power and will retain the power to set a minimum wage for employees under the jurisdiction of the federal government. That is all we want to do. It would not affect provincial employees, it would affect only federal employees. Therefore I cannot support this motion.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

Is the House ready for the question?

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Question.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

The Deputy Speaker

The question is on Motion No. 2. All those in favour of the motion will please say yea.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink
?

Some hon. members

Yea.

Topic:   Government Orders
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
Permalink

October 29, 1996