October 21, 2003 (37th Parliament, 2nd Session)


Ghislain Fournier

Bloc Québécois

Mr. Ghislain Fournier (Manicouagan, BQ)

Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to this bill. It a subject that is very dear to my heart, both as a member of Parliament as an activist in an area where major strikes have disrupted the social and economic life of an entire region.
In a technologically and socially advanced society like ours, an anti-scab law is a necessity. It is not a luxury. The bill before us concerning labour relations in conflict situations is of the utmost importance not only to many workers in my riding, of course, but also to all workers in Quebec and in Canada.
Work is the foundation of society. Thus, workers deserve our full respect. In the minds of everyone, the right to strike is very important. It is their last resort in order to achieve better working conditions, job security and improved living conditions. When workers have got to the point where they go on strike and voluntarily deprive themselves of income, there is a serious problem in labour relations. Because it has been admitted that employers are often the cause of these problems, the right to strike has been recognized and the rights involved must protect the employee, not just the employer.
Having been a union president for close to ten years—of the labour council—I have seen all manner of labour disputes. Ordinary hard-working citizens fought a tough battle for the right to strike, but common sense finally prevailed and that right is now one of the advantages of the democracy we have heard so much about in recent months.
The labour code recognizes that right, as does the Public Service Staff Relations Act. Who then has the right to do away with it? Do we parliamentarians have the right to do away with something so precious, the only weapon workers have to ensure they can work in dignity? Yet this is something that happens frequently, because there is a legal void in the law. Provisions are needed to prevent employers from making use of replacement workers, who are essentially outlaws as far as I am concerned. The only way to remedy this shortcoming, in my opinion, is to have anti-scab legislation.
It is not a matter of holding a gun to employers' heads, far from it. It is a tool to ensure compliance with the law. Nor is it a luxury in a society such as ours. Once again, it is a necessity. Labour cannot be held up as valuable with the one hand, and then hampered in its progress by the other. History has proven this, in a number of Canadian provinces as well as in Quebec. Shocking things have happened because of this void. My colleagues have made reference to such events throughout this debate. Many examples have been given, including the recent situation with Vidéotron. How many such problems could have been avoided with anti-scab legislation? How much worry, suffering, and financial loss could have been avoided?
When I think of my own region, I think of something my colleague from Lac-Saint-Jean—Saguenay has already mentioned: the pointless strike at Cargill which lasted 36 months. Imagine. Replacement workers are not a solution, they are a calamity. It is unrealistic to see them as any protection for employers.
A strike that is gotten around by the use of replacement workers is a strike that drags on for a very long time. It is a situation that takes a heavy toll on both parties, when they ought to be concentrating on making peace, not war.
I believe that it causes a lot of trouble. In my region, I have seen brothers who stopped talking to each other. I have seen families on the verge of collapsing and I have been a society go from harmony to chaos because of this legal vacuum that should have been filled a long time ago.
In my riding, I have the case of the Quebec North Shore and Labrador, QNS & L railway, and the Iron Ore company. Iron Ore employees are protected by the Quebec code; I believe they are very well protected. Workers of the Quebec North Shore and Labrador are protected by the Canada Labour Code. Thus, there is a huge legal vacuum.
I will try to conclude quickly in the three minutes I have left.
I will thus recommend the Quebec legislation, which has a good track record; there is also the Ontario or the British Columbia legislation. I think that my colleagues mentioned them. The legislation in effect in these three provinces has proven, beyond any doubt, that the tendency to incorporate the principle of banning the use of replacement workers to do the job of people on strike is gaining ground, both at the management and the union level. Where this principle is in effect, it is well accepted and well integrated.
I must insist and draw the attention of the House to the fact that, tomorrow, we will be called to vote, and show dignity and respect for and recognition of the workers.
Will the members of this House be able to leave with their heads held high, if they violate this right of workers. Tomorrow will be a historic day, not only for Quebec, but for all workers in this country. It is a very important day for society, and I thank my colleague, the hon. member for Laurentides, for having done such a great job.
I want to ask all the members to vote in favour of this bill tomorrow, because not doing so would be a slap in the face of the workers and an indication that they come second.
I trust that tomorrow the members will vote in favour of this anti-scab legislation.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Canada Labour Code
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