February 16, 2004 (37th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Jim Gouk

Canadian Alliance

Mr. Jim Gouk (Kootenay—Boundary—Okanagan, CPC)

Madam Speaker, I get 10 minutes to speak to this bill. I would like to take 10 minutes to speak about the positive attributes of this bill. Unfortunately, it would take 30 minutes just to cover some of the incorrect statements, myths and errors the last three speakers have put forward. I would like to deal with a couple of those. The Liberal member that final offer arbitration is not appropriate for west coast ports.
It is strange. It is her government that actually imposed final offer arbitration as a settlement when it legislated a group back to work, and then attempted to pervert that. The government imposed final offer arbitration but did not allow the two parties to go back to negotiate and develop final offer arbitration or final positions.
It took the previous positions of the two parties which was done under a completely different system and said that is what would go to final offer arbitration. There was no allowance for any further negotiation, and that was fundamentally wrong.
The NDP stated that strikes and lockouts were the methods that have been used for centuries. That is absolutely correct. Is it not time that maybe we grew up a little? This was something that might have been appropriate back in the 1800s when a strike or a lockout was basically an economic tug-of-war between the employer and the employee. It was a battle between them.
It was a question of who could afford to go without work or go without work being done the longest? There was little collateral damage to families and maybe some people in the town, but generally it was centralized on the workers in the company.
We are in the 21st century and the impact is so global that now when a relative handful of people on the west coast of Vancouver go on strike, a farmer in Manitoba may lose his farm as a direct result of that strike. We must consider that a lot of other people are affected by this, not just the people involved directly between the employer and the employee.
I have an interesting anecdote for the member of the Bloc Quebecois who spoke. I was on transport committee meetings in Halifax several years ago. A member of the Bloc Quebecois was there. There was a strike at the port of Montreal during that time, and there was a push to have legislation to have them go back to work. I think there was also a problem with the rail system. But the Halifax people were just beaming.
They said that this was the greatest thing that ever happened to them, because all those ships that used to go down to Montreal were now coming into Halifax. They were just booming. The people were working full scale and the facilities were full. This was economically the greatest thing that ever happened to them. And beyond that, it gave them an opportunity to prove how good a job they could do in handling these shipments.
When the Bloc Quebecois member heard this, he disappeared. We never saw him again during the rest of the hearings. He went back and started getting ready to support the motion to get the people in the Montreal port back to work because he suddenly woke up and realized the harm that it was actually doing in his own province.
Sometimes members must open their eyes as well as their ears and realize there is much more to this than taking a partisan type approach to this, from a very stated view, and realize there are much more global problems to be dealt with.
It should be understood that collective bargaining does not involve strikes and lockouts. That is not part of collective bargaining. Collective bargaining involves negotiation, conciliation and mediation. We have no intention to interfere with that whatsoever.
It is interesting that the most recent speaker talked about how final arbitration is already an arrow in the quiver. Well, all those other arrows will still be there as well. They can still settle their negotiations in a variety of different ways. They just cannot have work disruption that would harm not only themselves but a lot of other people as well.
Finally, strikes and lockouts are not part of collective bargaining. They are a dispute settlement mechanism. Actually taking a coin out of a pocket and flipping it , heads it goes one way, tails it goes the other, is a dispute settlement mechanism. It is probably not very appropriate for settling a complex labour negotiation, but that is a dispute settlement mechanism.
We are saying that we need to come up with a 21st century dispute settlement mechanism instead of staying with the 19th century one, as suggested by the NDP.
There are many problems created right now, in terms of the damage it does to workers who have to go without wages and to employers who not only lose revenue during that time but perhaps lose contracts. It has a longstanding impact on the workers as well. Some of them may find, after they return to work, that they are laid off because there are no longer the same amount of contracts being handled.
One of the things that happens with final offer arbitration is parties do still negotiate. What often happens is that it is not a matter of picking one side or the other, it is a matter of seeing how close the two can get together.
I will use wages as one example. If a reasonable increase were $1.50 an hour, the union wanted $5 an hour and the company offers $1, invariably the $1 would be accepted. That means the union left 50¢ on the table that it rightly should have received. However, if it asks for $2 and the company is suggesting a new contract with no increase whatsoever, then the union will likely prevail and it will get 50¢ an hour more than it was reasonably entitled to. Both sides know this. Consequently, they tend to move as close to the line as possible and usually they get so close together they manage to settle.
We have heard that there is a 95% settlement without a strike or a lockout. Then the same 95% should be settled without resorting to final offer arbitration.
All we are doing is trying to find a 21st century solution for those few times when the dispute cannot be settled and has to go to some kind of dispute settlement mechanism. It should then go to one that does not harm all the collateral of the people involved as well as the employers and employees.
All the members who have spoken are right, the government has imposed settlement and has forced people back to work through legislation at various times. That suggests that strikes and lockouts do not really work that well, that there is a problem already existing.
What is interesting is that usually it is a strike. However two years ago when grain shipments were low and there was a big drought on the Prairies, negotiations were going on with the west coast grain handler and the employer locked the employees out. What happened? The union came to Parliament and asked to be legislated back to work.
We have to recognize that there is kind of a pendulum effect. When the pendulum is over here, one side says that they do not want to do anything different because the pendulum is on their side. Then it swings to the other side and suddenly this side that was clamouring for change says that they do not want it now, but the other side is now the one that is looking for it.
It is time Parliament took responsibility and recognized that it creates an overall problem in the system when we allow a dispute settlement mechanism that causes great harm to the economy of the country, to people, sometimes thousands of miles away from where the dispute is actually centred, this is a way of doing it.
If someone were to come to me and ask if this is a perfect solution, no it is not. If the NDP, the Bloc or even the Liberals have a better solution, we are wide open to listening to it. We just happen to believe that final offer arbitration, as a dispute settlement mechanism, when all else has failed, is a better system than the one we have right now.
If the government is really interested in democracy and in helping the workers and the employers of the country, the reality is that it should seriously consider this unless it has something better to offer.

Topic:   Private Members' Business
Subtopic:   Final Offer Arbitration in Respect of West Coast Ports Operations Act
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