Mr. Osvaldo Nunez (Bourassa, BQ)
Madam Speaker, I am rising today to take part in the third reading debate of Bill C-66 to amend the Canada Labour Code. It is a reform of part I of the code dealing with labour relations.
Key changes include the creation of the Canada Industrial Relations Board; the modification of the conciliation process; the clarification of the rights and obligations of parties during a work stoppage; a requirement for parties involved in a work stoppage to continue services necessary to protect public health and safety; making the undermining of a trade union's representational capacity during a strike or lockout an unfair labour practice; and improving access to collective bargaining for off-site workers.
The Canada Labour Code has not undergone major changes since the early 1970s. We all know that labour relations are a fast evolving area. In 1995, the then Minister of Labour established a task force composed of labour relations experts, including Rodrigue Blouin, professor of industrial relations at Laval University, and Paula Knopf, under the chairmanship of Andrew Sims.
The mandate of the task force was to recommend changes to part I of the code. Its report entitled "Seeking a Balance" was made public in February 1996. Labour unions and employers under federal jurisdiction in the private sector agreed with several general recommendations made by the task force. However, there was no consensus on some very important issues such as replacement workers. I recognize that this bill contains certain positive elements, but it also contains many flaws.
It must be noted that the Canada Labour Code applies to some 700,000 workers and their employers under federal jurisdiction. This sector includes banks, interprovincial and international rail and road transportation, pipelines and shipping, airports and air carriers, broadcasting and telecommunications, port operations and longshoring, grain handling and other industries declared to be to the general advantage of Canada, as well as some crown corporations. The code also applies to private sector employers and workers in the territories.
The Canada Industrial Relations Board, composed of a chairperson and vice-chairpersons and an equal number of members representing employers and workers, will replace the present Canada Labour Relations Board. These individuals will be appointed by the government. My fear is that here, as with other organizations like the IRB, the main criterion for appointment will be the political affiliation of candidates, not their ability, despite the labour minister's earlier attempts to reassure us.
The board is expected to deal rapidly with routine and urgent matters. Certain cases will be able to be heard by the vice-chairperson alone, rather than by a panel of three, as is now the case. One of the major difficulties today is the length of time it takes the board to process cases.
I have already spoken to the labour minister about the serious problems existing within the board, particularly the chairman's lack of leadership. The minister's response was neither satisfactory nor appropriate.
I hope that, with the amendments introduced by this bill, the operation of this organization will improve in future. Certain powers of the board need to be clarified, particularly with respect to the review of bargaining units and the sale of companies. It will also have to take the appropriate action with respect to certain unfair labour practices, such as those involving bargaining in bad faith. It will also be able to certify a union, even if it does not have the support of the majority of members, in cases of unfair practices by an employer.
The board will have the discretionary power to give an authorized union representative the names and addresses of employees whose normal workplace is not on the premises of the employer and to authorize the union to communicate with those employees.
I am opposed to Bill C-66 for a number of reasons, although I do acknowledge that it contains some positive points. This is an inadequate and incomplete reform. The Liberal Government has lacked courage on some very significant points, such as anti-scab clauses. Replacement workers can still be used, for the minister has made only one cosmetic change in that area.
In this connection, the government has shown itself incapable of siding with the workers. It has shown itself instead to be pro-employer. As in other bills, it has accentuated its slant to the right by giving in to pressure from employers. It must be kept in mind that the Liberal Party of Canada had voted in favour of the anti-scab measures when in opposition.
My major criticism of this bill is the lack of real anti-scab measures. As you know, I was involved for 19 years in the FTQ, the major central labour body in Quebec, which has a membership of close to half a million, 480,000 to be exact. This past February 16 marked the 40th anniversary of its founding. I attended celebrations at the Chateau Frontenac in Quebec City. These were held in exactly the same room its founding assembly had taken place in
A very well made video on the history of the FTQ was shown.
It was a moving experience to hear the first leaders, many of whom are still alive, of a labour congress that today plays a major role in Quebec society. I am very proud of the years I spent in this organization with outstanding leaders like Louis Laberge, Fernand Daoust, Clément Godbout, Henri Massé, Claude Ducharme, Émile Boudreau, and so forth.
It was after a strike that went on for more than 18 months at United Aircraft, today Pratt & Whitney, in Longueuil, a strike led in 1974-75 by the Canadian Auto Workers union affiliated with the FTQ, that the Parti Quebecois government and the National Assembly adopted anti-scab legislation in 1976. It was the first legislation of its kind in Canada and came into force in 1977.
Unlike the Quebec system, because of the lack of anti-scab provisions in the Canada Labour Code, employers can resort with impunity to using replacement workers during a labour dispute. This also creates an imbalance that prevents free bargaining in good faith. It is also a source of frustration and violence. The presence of scabs, escorted by private security guards and often by the police, is unacceptable and indeed shocking. Workers who built the reputation of a business or an institution see scabs walking past them every day.
Previously, I spoke out in the House of Commons against the use of replacement workers at Ogilvie Mills in Montreal, where the workers are represented by the CSN. We also saw instances of violence in other labour disputes, especially in the railway sector.
I therefore tabled in the House on October 22, 1996, Bill C-338, legislation that would add anti-scab provisions to the Canada Labour Code and the Public Service Staff Relations Act. The bill also contains provisions to ensure that essential services are maintained in the event of a strike or a lock-out.
If passed, the bill will apply to more than 700,000 Canadian workers in federally regulated sectors.
By tabling this bill, I kept a promise I made before I was elected as a member of Parliament. Unfortunately, up to now, it is still at first reading, as it has not yet been selected in the draw.
However, many union leaders, lawyers, university professors and labour relations experts have expressed their support for it. Some union people have even written their members asking them to vote in favour of C-338 when the time comes. Despite the fact that the government showed no courage in this area, I know that a number of Liberal members agree with such legislation. Naturally my own party, the Bloc Quebecois, has expressed its approval and supports my efforts. The union movement is also going to have to exert a lot of pressure to get the federal government to introduce anti- scab legislation, finally.
Bill C-66 before us does not contain a blanket prohibition against the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage or a lockout. It prohibits their use in one very limited instance. Thus the new section 94 of the code will read as follows:
No employer or person acting on behalf of an employer shall use, for the purpose of undermining a trade union's representational capacity, the services of a person who was not an employee in the bargaining unit on the date on which notice to bargain collectively was given and was hired or assigned after that date to perform all or part of the duties of an employee in the bargaining unit on strike or locked out.
Unfortunately, in his speech this morning in response to criticism from management, the minister interpreted this section even more restrictively.
The industrial relations board will decide if an unfair practice undermines a trade union's representational capacity. This is hard to prove. If it is proven, the board will order the employer to stop using replacement workers as long as the dispute lasts. I hope the board will act quickly on issues of this kind. If it were to wait too long before coming to a decision, clause 94 would be inoperative. And the dispute would be settled before the board handed down its decision, probably to the detriment of one of the parties.
The government should look into the Quebec's experience since 1977, which has been very positive. Its antiscab provisions have resulted in less violence and reduced tension on the picket line. Members will remember that, at the time, this legislation met with a lot of anger and negative feelings on the part of Quebec's Conseil du patronat, which even challenged it in court. A decision of the Supreme Court of Canada allowed it to proceed as the representatives of employers. However, subsequently, the Conseil du patronat decided to drop the challenge because it felt that the labour relations climate in Quebec had changed a lot since passage of the legislation and, consequently, it did not want to antagonize labour. Canadian business leaders should show similar open mindedness.
I have other criticisms of Bill C-66. For instance, too many conditions apply to the right to strike or to lock out. Why should a union have to hold a secret ballot within 60 days before a strike? Why should it have to give notice of a strike 72 hours in advance?
This provision obliges the union to hold several ballots whenever negotiations drag on. Also, strike mandates will tend to disappear. The notice period is too long, even unnecessary. Because of these hard to meet requirements, many strikes will become illegal. But what is even more unacceptable is the labour minister's powers to impose a secret ballot on the employer's last offers. I condemn this undue political interference in labour relations. It is unwar-
ranted meddling in the collective bargaining process, by a third party.
I already condemned the use of this provision, passed by Parliament in 1993, during last year's dispute between Canadian International Airlines and the CAW. The vote was held. The employees agreed to new cuts in salary and new concessions, over and above what had been imposed previously. But it is not sure yet if Canadian will be able to survive.
I already mentioned some operating problems in the Canada Labour Relations Board. The bill provides for some reforms to this organization, but it should have gone a little further. For example, the government is committed to consult labour and management with regard to appointments, but it has refused to make such appointments based on lists provided by the parties. The minister missed a good opportunity to ensure that the board becomes truly representative of the parties. Political patronage, which is a trademark of this government, will continue.
Also, the board did not receive extended powers allowing it to order any compensation that, according to its judgment and experience, would reasonably correct any violation of the code and any harm that such violation may have caused.
Moreover, the bill does not deal with a demand that was made several years ago by the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which is that public servants come under part I of the Canada Labour Code. At the present time, the alliance cannot negotiate the issue of employment security, protection against technological change, job classification, appointments, promotions, transfers and so on, because it is governed by the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
Also, the bill does not allow RCMP officers to unionize and to resort to collective bargaining for their working conditions, which is unfortunate.
In the area of technological change, the government could also have been a little more daring. It could have gone further in this area, which is essential to the economic development of any country today. Workers and unions must be involved in technological change.
I would like to talk briefly about preventive withdrawal from work. Women's reproductive function causes serious discrimination in the workplace. Still today, the Canada Labour Code does not adequately protect the rights of pregnant women and nursing mothers. This is why I support the campaign launched by the Public Service Alliance of Canada to address this rather regrettable situation.
Under normal circumstances, pregnant women should be able to work. However, safe and healthy working conditions will have to be provided to ensure nothing threatens the woman or the child she is carrying or nursing.
Unfortunately, not all employers apply this principle. Instead of making the workplace a safer and healthier place-which would benefit all workers-several employers take the easy way out and withdraw pregnant women from work.
This is why the Canada Labour Code should include special provisions to ensure pregnant or nursing women can continue to work in a safe and healthy environment or receive compensation equal to their pay. In addition, it is important that this legislation apply to all Canadian women. It is time society assumed its responsibilities.
Women should not have to put up alone with the drawbacks of reproduction. Again, I call upon the government to introduce legislation on this.
Furthermore, the Sims report recommended that some powers held by the Minister of Labour be transferred to the federal mediation and conciliation service, which, unfortunately, has not been done.
Finally, I regret the government majority defeated every amendment moved by the Bloc Quebecois, although these were all amendments designed to improve the bill. For these reasons, I will vote against Bill C-66.
Topic: Government Orders
Subtopic: Canada Labour Code