Mrs. Marlene Catterall (Ottawa West):
Mr. Speaker, this is an important bill. As the minister has said, in large measure it is the result of good consultation among the government, the employers and the unions representing employees in the federal sector.
As far as it goes in that direction it is an example of the importance of good management-labour relations, both in the interest of Canada remaining competitive, having a stable work environment and being able to deliver on its commitments internationally, and in the interest of what the government likes to call a partnership relationship between employers and employees that leads to more productive and more efficient work places. The government seems to understand this intellectually but continues to have a problem with fully committing to implementing the development of better management-labour relationships in Canada.
As they get down to the wire on actually doing something positive in this area, the devil inside that says all labour unions are bad seems to get in the way. It causes them to do that bit extra that again creates an atmosphere of confrontation and undermines the progress that has been made toward more productive partnerships.
Let me make it clear what I am speaking about. The bill contains two essential elements. As the minister has said, one is provisions that were negotiated and were the subject of lengthy discussions and very productive consultations between employee representatives and employer representatives in the federally regulated sector.
These are the provisions that relate to conditions of work, occupational health and safety issues relating to pregnant or nursing women, to employees who have become injured or disabled, parental leave and so on. Where the partnership model was followed and the
consultation was carried through there was consensus, agreement and a large measure of support for the bill.
Regrettably the government found it necessary to abandon that consultative process entirely and introduce an entirely new element into the bill before bringing it into the House, that is the provision of a forced vote among the membership of the union on a last offer. I do not know why the government chose to undermine the consultative process, the very positive atmosphere that had developed among government, labour, management and employers on this issue, by dropping this element into the bill at the last minute. Nonetheless it did.
It is on the basis of the negative effect we think the provision will have on the continued development of a positive climate of management-labour-govemment relationships that we will be voting against the bill.
Let me go back to the first package of amendments that we certainly support. The fact they have wide support is a tribute to the consultative process and to all those who participated in it. It provides for work place redeployment of women who are pregnant or nursing in the interest of their health and the health of either their bom or unborn child. It also provides similar measures for workers injured or disabled as a result of their employment.
The positive result is the likelihood of keeping workers employed, adapting the work place so that they can continue to be employed and self-sufficient, rather than take advantage of various disability programs that are seldom satisfactory to either party.
We entirely support these provisions. We entirely support the greater flexibility of parental leave. If we want to keep a productive skilled work force, we know that increasingly the work place, public sector or private sector has to make accommodation for a better balance among personal, family and work responsibilities.
However we fail to understand why the government does not recognize that those are equally valuable provisions for approximately one-third of the 700,000 federally regulated employees it talked about, the third who are employees of the government, the Public Service of Canada.
We fail to understand why the government would not have accepted an amendment put forward by Liberal
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members of the legislative committee to apply those same positions to employees in the Public Service.
We think nursing and pregnant women in the Public Service deserve the same entitlement and rights as nursing and pregnant women in the private sector. We think that parents or those who are about to be parents deserve the same conditions of work in the Public Service as those about to be parents or parents in the private sector.
These are provisions which private sector employees have accepted. These are provisions which they are now legally obliged to adhere to. Yet these are provisions the federal government is not prepared to apply to itself as an employer.
It is this kind of double standard that has increasingly raised the ire of business and employer organizations. They see the government imposing requirements on the private sector as employer that it has failed to take unto itself.
We were surprised by the government refusing this amendment because the government at least in words has said it is interested in getting rid of regulations. These kinds of conditions for the Public Service are covered in volumes of policies and programs at least 10 feet high. This would have been a great opportunity to get rid of that kind of policy regulation regime and put people's entitlements very clearly into legislation.
We are really surprised in the deregulating atmosphere that the government seems to be promoting that it still wants to maintain these volumes and volumes of policy manuals and regulation that have to be cross-referenced time and time again with respect to its own employees.
I want to speak now about the second major provision of the bill which is the right of the Minister of Labour to refer a last offer to a vote of the employees. I want to make quite clear that this provision was dropped into the legislation at the last moment with no consultation whatsoever. I think the minister concedes that.
The minister was asked during the course of the legislative committee why this came up after the consultations were over on this piece of legislation and why he felt he needed this kind of tool. The best answer that he could come up with was he had seen how useful it was to Premier Rae in ending the TTC strike in Toronto. He
thought it might be a useful tool to have in the government's arsenal.
What it is in fact is an undue undermining of the whole rules of the game of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining works when there is a reasonable balance of interest and of clout between the employer and the union representing the employees.
When the rules of the game are clear you sit down and you bargain. That is the way you reach a collective agreement. Instead the government now wants to be able to intervene at any time and say the process is not working, which gives either side an out. It takes off the pressure to sit down, negotiate and come to a mutually acceptable conclusion.
We were particularly concerned about the application of this rule to the Public Service because the government already has such substantial clout over its own employees that it enjoys an undue power to undermine the collective bargaining process and to resolve issues and disputes by mutual consent. It enjoys the power to exclude any of its employees from the bargaining unit in the public interest, in the interest of public health and safety.
It does so most generously to ensure that at times of labour or management disruption there are continuing public services. It enjoys the right at any time by legislation to send employees back to work, to dictate the terms of their employment, as this government has done a minimum of three times in this session of Parliament.
We fail to see why it needs this additional power to send an offer to a vote of the employees directly and bypass a negotiating process with the unions when it already enjoys such tremendous power. The only reason can possibly be to avoid public debate in this House on the usefulness and the propriety of its actions when it does want to order people back to work. It now has another mechanism that it can use without ever coming to this House and allowing this House to debate what is in the public interest.
The second element that makes this a different issue in the Public Service is that the government is the employer. Therefore, it should not have the right under any proper concept of collective bargaining as one party to the negotiations to determine how those negotiations will proceed.
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A minister of the Crown is in the position that I am sure the president of General Motors or any other major corporate head would love to be in of being able to decide to bypass the union completely and go directly to the members. But that is not the way collective bargaining works. It is undermining the role of unions in the collective bargaining process and that fits with the ideology of the government.
What it does not do is serve the public interest well in the long run. Nor does it serve the employees who belong to a democratic organization and who are responsible themselves for determining whether their union is or is not representing them well. That is not up to the employer, the other side of the table, to determine.
We did hear some excellent representations before the legislative committee. I regret first that the government felt obliged to introduce an unpopular, unwelcome, undiscussed measure into this bill at the last moment and then refused to remove those provisions.
Second, I regret very much that despite the excellent representations before the committee, it has chosen not to apply the same working conditions to its own employees as it forces private sector employers to provide.
Third, I regret that it has saddled the future government with a system that is unworkable and simply will not be helpful to the collective bargaining process.
Subtopic: CANADA LABOUR CODE