February 28, 2000 (36th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Peter Mancini

New Democratic Party

Mr. Peter Mancini (Sydney—Victoria, NDP)

Mr. Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in favour of Bill C-238 which has been presented to the House by the member for Winnipeg Centre. In many ways it is a telling piece of legislation.
When I first came to the House, I talked about the new two solitudes in Canada. Those solitudes are urban and rural Canada. Increasingly the government tends to cater toward urban Canada. People from the regions of the country, whether they are in my region in the east, Saskatchewan or the north, see that there are different standards and different rights for people in different parts of the country.
This legislation deals directly with a vital service to rural Canada, the delivery of mail to people in rural parts of the country.
I was shocked and did not know until I read this legislation that rural route mail carriers are denied fundamental rights that are guaranteed to many other Canadians particularly in urban centres. We have to ask why. We know why the Liberal government justified it almost 20 years ago when they were exempted. But we have to ask why today are 5,000 people denied the right to collective bargaining?
We are in a new millennium. We heard and lived with the hype leading up to new year's eve about how this is a new century. Surely we do not have to repeat the same mistakes of the last century. Surely there should be the right to collective bargaining, the right for workers to come together and say that they collectively want to ensure that they have a better standard of living. Surely we do not have to go back to 1920 or 1930.
Those workers, as has already been stated, do some of the most difficult work. I know because I represent an area that has rural route mail service. I can talk about the northern part of Cape Breton, Inverness and Victoria counties. The rural route mail carriers are vital especially to seniors. Seniors are the ones who wait for parcels from many of their children who have been called to the urban centres because that is where the work is. For those people the rural route mail carriers represent a vital link.
Why is it that these 5,000 employees across the country are denied the same basic rights as their urban counterparts? They do the same kind of work so it cannot be justified on that ground. What do they face because they do not have the same rights?
Their employment can be terminated on 90 days notice. Surely in this day and age 5,000 Canadian workers who are told that they have to submit bids in a lower tendering process, have the right to come together and say “We would like to organize so we can bargain with the employer and we will not be constantly under the gun or constantly having to downgrade our standard of living”. Today if they were to say they do not like the conditions, they could be terminated on 90 days notice. If I were one of those carriers that is one aspect I would seek to change.
There are no benefits. Imagine that workers, who everyone assumes work for Canada Post but who are in fact independent contractors, are denied the same benefits that their urban counterparts have. They are denied bereavement leave. There was one postal worker whose parents were both rural carriers. She had to use her bereavement leave to deliver her mother's route when her father died so that her mother could attend the funeral. In the year 2000 in this country.
And we are going to deny these people the right to come together collectively, to organize, to change these kinds of things to get the kinds of benefits that most Canadians take for granted.
There is the tendering process. They have to bid on their routes. They also have to do all kinds of other work. They are the ones who have to shovel out and clear away the area around the mail boxes. There is no compensation for that. They do all kinds of extra work and they get no benefit for it. If they complain, the employer can say, “If you do not like it, here is your three months notice. We will find somebody else in the rural community to deliver the mail”.
Some might say that is the free market economy and that we should let it dominate. I say that it is unfair to the rural people and to the rural economy. Even if one person gets better pay in a rural economy there are spinoff factors. It comes down to why rural communities are treated differently. Why are rural workers not treated in the same way as urban workers?
It is not just the NDP arguing this. Perhaps most telling is the Canada Labour Relations Board decision regarding this. For those who do not know, the labour board is like a court. The clarity bill, which will be coming before the House, was based on a ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada on the Quebec succession agreement. The government has often taken rulings of the courts and incorporated them into legislation. It says that the matter has been articulated and argued before the courts which have given some guidelines, so it will enact legislation.
The Canada Labour Relations Board is no different. It is not partisan, at least we hope it is not. It gives us some rational guidelines to go by. These rural route mail couriers brought their case to the Canada Labour Relations Board and it decided that there was a similar content in the two kinds of jobs.
What the hon. member for Winnipeg Centre is seeking in his bill is to guarantee those 5,000 workers the same basic rights as other workers have in the country. I cannot believe that members of the Liberal Party would oppose giving collective bargaining rights to people in the country. I cannot imagine the Minister of Labour being able to look her colleagues in the face. I know the Minister of Labour supports collective bargaining. The test, I suppose, for the other members of her caucus is to see if they support the collective bargaining rights that have been fought for and are hard won by the workers in the country.
This is a private member's bill and I do not know whether the Liberals will have to vote as a block. It will be interesting to see whether they grant one of the things that makes this country so different from perhaps other countries and that is the right of workers to collectively organize.
As my colleague said, I cannot believe we would deny rural route mail couriers a right that American rural route mail couriers have. I have never thought of the United States as a bastion of labour legislation and to allow America to be a guiding light is a shameful statement for this country. For us to be in the shadows of America when it comes to granting rights to our workers is something I think the people in my riding are ashamed of.
This is a private member's bill that will give members of parliament an opportunity to do the right thing. I would ask them to do so and support the legislation.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Canada Post Corporation Act
Full View