Mr. Dick Proctor (Palliser, NDP)
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to rise and speak on private member's Bill C-312, an act to provide for the settlement of labour disputes affecting west coast ports by offering final offer arbitration. The bill has been put before the House this morning by the member for Wetaskiwin.
The legislation says that the Minister of Labour would have the authority, without coming back to the House of Commons for any debate, to suspend the right to strike or lockout in the west coast ports or, where a strike or lockout has occurred to direct the parties back to work. Then, any outstanding settlement differences would be settled by final offer arbitration. The findings of the arbitrator would be binding without recourse to appeal.
I thought the member for Whitby—Ajax explained the shortcomings of the legislation quite well. She pointed out quite clearly that with this kind of a process there is a winner and loser environment that is inevitably created.
I am pleased to speak against Bill C-312 on behalf of the NDP caucus and indeed on behalf of working people across the country.
If there were 100 things that farmers in Canada would be worried about today, final offer arbitration would be 101 on their list of priorities. They have drought, low commodity prices, grasshoppers, mad cow, the fear of genetically modified wheat affecting their ability to export and they have incredibly high input costs. Final offer arbitration is not even on the Richter scale.
The NDP caucus contacted the president of the International Longshoremen's Association when Bill C-312 was coming back for discussion to see if there was something that we had missed in the process, some activity at the west coast ports that would lead to a labour disruption. We found out that, not only is there no strike or lockout being contemplated at the port, but for the first time since 1967, almost 40 years, all agreements between the longshore workers on the west coast and the employers have been negotiated without either a strike or a lockout. This is truly a case of trying to fix something that is not broken.
We are opposed to the bill. We continue to strongly believe that the right to withhold services is a legitimate and peaceful means of protest and has been for centuries. It is one of the most important democratic rights and freedoms of all working people. We are firmly opposed to any legislation that would erode any of these fundamental rights, as the bill certainly would do.
Nowhere in the bill are the parties encouraged to continue meeting to resolve their differences after the final offer arbitration process has begun. It does, as other members have noted, set up a winner and loser situation.
I say to the member who moved Bill C-312 that final offer arbitration may work for hockey and baseball stars who are negotiating whether their contract should be $8 million or $10 million. However, it will not work for ordinary people who have a whole lot of other concerns besides the size of the pay packet that they will receive.
I want to remind the mover of the bill that negotiators already have the options, if they so choose jointly, to move to final offer arbitration in any round of bargaining that they see fit. It is another arrow in their quiver. By introducing something like that, the other arrows are being taken out and it is saying that this is the way that the negotiations will continue henceforth.
It has been pointed out many times in the House, including last spring by the Minister of Labour, that almost all negotiations under the jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code are resolved with no time lost, no strike, no lockout, and no labour unrest whatsoever. About 95% of all collective bargaining agreements are settled peacefully and amicably with both parties getting what they need out of the collective bargaining process.
It is a myth that the country loses significant productivity due to strikes and lockouts. There have been confrontations in the past. Changes sought by producers to address the needs of farmers were made to the Canada Labour Code. Section 87.7 of the Canada Labour Code prohibits secondary picketing at west coast ports.
As members have heard from other members of our caucus in the past, we think that far more time is lost on the job due to workplace accidents, injuries, and illness, than as a result of work stoppages.
We in the NDP are opposed to Bill C-312 for all of the reasons that I outlined. We think it is an imposition on the parties. They need to have more opportunities at their disposal and more arrows in their quiver than this straightjacket of final offer arbitration.
For all of those reasons, the New Democratic Party caucus will oppose Bill C-312.
Subtopic: Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act