Mr. Lyle Kristiansen (Kootenay West-Revelstoke) moved:
That, in the opinion of this House, the government should immediately proclaim parts II and III of the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, which was passed by the House of Commons on June 25, 1986.
He said: I hope that during the course of the consideration of this motion there will be more attention paid by members of the government than appears to be visible at this juncture.
It would appear to me that this is the degree of attention the cabinet has given to proclamation for the past seven years, ever since this House of Commons
Private Members' Business
passed the Parliamentary Employees and Staff Relations Act in June 1986, just one month short of seven years ago.
Many times I have asked the government why it has taken seven years to proclaim a law it introduced to this House of Commons which was passed by all parties. The most controversial section of it, namely part I, was proclaimed almost seven years ago. Why has it not proceeded to proclaim the other operative sections, parts II and III? They simply would provide to the some 3,000 or 3,500 employees of the House of Commons, no matter what kind of work they do, the same very basic labour standards legislation and occupational health and safety legislation which all other employees in Canada under federal jurisdiction enjoy.
I would just like to pontificate for a moment on a couple of possible reasons. There may be some misunderstanding about what the bill does. Some members may think that parts II and III have something to do with the unionisation of the parliamentary staff in their own offices. That is not the case.
Part I, which was already proclaimed, dealt with union recognition and certification of unions on Parliament Hill but it specifically excluded those employees who worked directly under the supervision of senators and members of Parliament. Therefore that is not an issue.
Maybe some members are concerned that their own office staff who, some might argue, are akin to executive assistants of cabinet ministers and political appointees should not be covered by union recognition or certification. There may be that argument and it has some legitimacy.
Maybe they think the inclusion of their employees under parts II and III is somehow going to restrict their ability to run an efficient operation. These employees would not be excluded by parts II and III which cover basic labour standards and occupational health and safety.
If we allowed any other employer in the country to say that the most basic laws governing hours of work and payment of wages are going to create problems then we would have no labour standards and no health and safety legislation across this country at all.
I would suggest that it is absolutely ridiculous for anybody to argue, and I have not heard anybody here argue it, that those basic labour standards and basic
May 13, 1993
Private Members' Business
occupational health and safety protective measures should not be accorded to all Canadians.
Then perhaps tongue in cheek the answer is to be found in those long-time definitions of the terms progressive and conservative. Progressives have been defined in the past with some degree of legitimacy as people who believe that things ought to be done for the first time. Conservatives are those who believe that maybe they should be but not now. Perhaps that explains the seven-year gestation period when we have been waiting to see the birth of this legislation which the government introduced and we all passed.
There have been repeated questions, statements, petitions, letters and phone calls to all members of the House of Commons of all parties from people right across the country for the last seven years and still no movement.
In answer to repeated questions, both by mail and verbally in this House and in personal conversations we have yet to hear the government give one single substantive reason why it has not proceeded. The government House leader did answer a question of mine on March 23, which I regard as almost a mischievous answer. He said: "Mr. Speaker, on behalf of the government we say that it is not really the government that is holding up this issue. This issue deals exclusively with the House of Commons, with employees of the House of Commons and with employees of individual members. There are certain aspects of the law which would impose on individual members some requirements that there has been some reluctance to take on. The proper forum to discuss this is the Board of Internal Economy. I will certainly relay the hon. member's concerns to the board".
He went on to answer in a supplementary by saying: "This is not a government question. It is a House of Commons question. There is a distinction. The Board of Internal Economy has the responsibility for this and the hon. member's party has a representative on the Board of Internal Economy. If there was such indignation in the NDP caucus all these years, why was it never raised by the hon. member's representative?"
The answer to that is that it was raised many times over the past several years by the member for Kamloops,
the House leader of the NDP. The answer has always been the same: "It is not our business. We do not proclaim legislation. The government has never asked us to study the matter", and so they say it is not their responsibility. It is not their concern. It has not been referred to them except by the NDP House leader, contrary to the assertions of the government House leader.
Just last night, to be sure once again, it was placed on the agenda of the Board of Internal Economy. It did not have time to deal with it last night. It did not seem to think it was urgent enough and other items took precedence. That is fine and maybe properly so, but after seven years surely somebody has to give some consideration to it.
I have written to the Speaker, I have written to the Prime Minister and I have written to the president of the Privy Council. I have asked questions of the government House leader. We have raised it on the Board of Internal Economy and we have yet to get one substantive reason why, after almost seven full years-just one month short-the government simply refuses to take any action which would lead to the proclamation of this basic health and safety legislation and basic labour standards legislation for those who work for us in this House of Commons.
We know them personally. Surely we all agree they are Canadians who are deserving of the same basic protection as other Canadians. Contrary to some public opinion, many of those employees engage in occupations which constitute some hazards to themselves, their fellow workers and the rest of us who work in and around this place.
Surely for our protection as well as their protection and the public's protection who visit us here, either on vacation or on business, they should have the same right to participate, for instance, in joint management, employee-employer health and safety committees as happens in every other operation across Canada under federal jurisdiction and in most provincial jurisdictions. Whether those operations are organized and unionized or whether they are non-unionized, all employees under the Canada Labour Code within federal jurisdiction have the right to participate in discussing matters relating to their own health and safety.
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Whoever is answering for the government in this discussion I hope finally will give one substantive reason why after almost seven years this legislation, parts II and III of the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, has not been proclaimed.
In the last few weeks there have been innumerable letters to members of Parliament of all parties, phone calls, petitions presented in the House of Commons. Just last night I addressed a membership meeting of the Public Service Alliance of Canada employees on the Hill and I was assured by them that they have been in touch with many members of Parliament of all parties. They get a lot of sympathy and understanding but no one from any party, including the government party, can give them a reason why we have not proceeded. It boggles the mind and one wonders just where we can go from here.
The present Governor General of Canada was government House leader when this question came before a parliamentary committee back in 1986.1 want to read the remarks of His Excellency, then the government House leader, to that committee.
Mr. Chairman and members, in order to put the provisions of Bill C-45 -
That was the number of the bill at that time.
- in their appropriate context I would like to briefly review for the committee the events leading up to the tabling of this important legislation.
Collective bargaining for parliamentary employees has been the topic of discussion for many years. In 1967, a special joint committee of the Senate and the House of Commons recommended that the employees of Parliament be given bargaining rights similar to those being accorded to public servants under Bill C-170.
In 1982 the Privy Council Office commissioned a study of the matter by Mr. Robert Weir. His report was tabled in February 1983 and outlined a number of options.
With the assistance of the Privy Council Office the Management and Members Services Committee of the House of Commons prepared a draft act which was accepted unanimously by representatives of all three political parties.
In March 1984 the chairman of the Management and Members Services Committee of the House of Commons requested that the government of the day prepare legislation based on the draft act which envisioned limited collective bargaining rights for employees of the Senate, the House of Commons, and Library of Parliament. It was modelled on the Public Service Staff Relations Act but with no right to strike included in the legislation.
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The former government did not introduce legislation as requested by the committee prior to the general election of 1984. However, in August 1984 my predecessor as President of the Privy Council, the Hon. Andre Ouellet, publicly announced his intention if the previous government had been re-elected to bring forward the bill which had received all-party support in March 1984.
Immediately upon my appointment as government House leader I turned my attention to this important issue. The tabling of Bill C-45 on April 30, 1985 represented the first positive action by any government to accord collective bargaining rights to employees of Parliament.
As hon. members of this committee are aware, the bill which I have sponsored goes beyond the model originally proposed by the Management and Members Services Committee in that it also incorporates, and this is in addition to the draft bill which has been the subject of all-party agreement, the protections of Parts III and IV of the Canada Labour Code dealing with labour standards and occupational safety and health respectively.
In addition political staffs of members of Parliament and senators as well as all employees on the Hill regardless of employment or whether or not they are in a union, all members will be entitled to the protection of Parts III and IV of the code.
This initiative to provide parliamentary employees with labour legislation tailored to the special circumstances of their employment has unfortunately been delayed by events which take place in another forum.
In late 1983 the unions which had been endeavouring to represent the employees of Parliament approached the Canada Labour Relations Board seeking certification. In April 1984 the board determined that it had jurisdiction. Hearings were held, appropriate bargaining units determined and a number of certification orders were issued.
What all that shows is there was all the consultation in the world. The now Governor General, the then government House leader, said very clearly that this matter had been discussed with all members, with the management service and with the members services committee for years. He went so far as to say then that it was a shame it had taken so long to get to that point.
Almost seven years later we are still waiting. Those two most basic provisions, those that should be the least controversial, those which simply accord basic health and safety rights and basic labour standard rights such as hours of work, payment of wages, et cetera, still have not been proclaimed.
The last correspondence I received was in answer to a question which the current President of the Privy Council took as notice when I asked him in this House about the matter on April 30. It is a very short response and most of it is simply a re-cataloguing of what the question
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Private Members' Business
is. The President of the Privy Council states in his letter of May 12:
The question concerns the working conditions of employees of Members of Parliament as well as other employees of the House, the Senate and the Library of Parliament. Part II of the PESRA provides for such matters as maximum hours of work, minimum wages, holidays and leave entitlements under the Canada Labour Code. Part III provides that the Canada Labour Code provisions on health and safety standards apply to all Parliament Hill employees. These issues and their implications for all MPs are of direct concern to the Board of Internal Economy as the Government House Leader pointed out in his response to you during Question Period on March 23, 1993.
The Board of Internal Economy is an all-party forum for discussion and resolution of administration matters related to the House of Commons. The Government would want to consider the views of the Board before proceeding to implement the PESRA changes.
It was signed by the President of the Privy Council.
If the government for the last seven years wanted to consider the views of the board before proceeding to proclaim these two vety simple parts that are common to employees across the country, why has it not asked? Why has it not at any point referred it to the Board of Internal Economy? Why have the only people who have raised it with the board, been told by the board that it is not their business, been representatives of the NDP and the NDP House leader?
Either the government did not know what it was doing seven years ago in 1986, after all of that discussion and all of that consideration, or it simply does not know what the heck it is doing now. People are frustrated. The people who work for us and all Canadians in this place are frustrated. We have had suicides recently, partly due we are told to stress on the job and other kinds of problems. We have had major problems over the last several years with asbestos in the House. The absence of any structured employee-employer health and safety committees to discuss that has led to all kinds of rumours, all kinds of problems that we maybe do not even have because we do not have a structured way of dealing with these problems.
My question to the government simply is: if it will not give consent to let this come to a vote now and vote again
on what we voted in favour of seven years ago, will it at least give a clear substantive answer to what is the problem? Why will it not proclaim parts II and III? If it wants to hear from the Board of Internal Economy, why has it not asked it what the problems are?
We really do not know where to go from here. I ask for unanimous consent to have this motion deemed as votable. If that is denied I hope that the least that we can afford for those who work for us and all Canadians in this House of Commons is to give a clear answer why, after seven years, the government has done nothing.
Topic: PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS
Subtopic: PARLIAMENTARY EMPLOYMENT AND STAFF RELATIONS ACT