Ms. Joy Langan (Mission-Coquitlam):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to once again discuss Bill C-101. As you know, this bill was introduced in December of last year. Today we are discussing third reading of the bill.
The amendments to the Canada Labour Code, parts II and III, were the result of over two years of consultation, as you heard the minister say, with employer groups and
unions. Neither side in this discussion got everything they wanted but a consensus was reached.
For the most part, we have here needed improvements to the Canada Labour Code. We have improvements in the protection for pregnant and nursing women in the work place. We have improvements in parental leave provisions. We have improvements in protection for injured workers. We have improvements in the administration of the code to speed up the determination of workers' rights and we have improvements in wage protection for workers.
As stated here and in the committee hearings, we also have the regressive step of a ministerial ordered vote on the employer's last offer. This measure which applies to both private and public sector workers came about without consultation, without consensus and most obviously without any stated need from either the private sector employers or the unions.
Its inclusion in this bill will not improve labour relations in federal jurisdiction. The reason it is there has nothing to do with labour relations in federal jurisdiction. It is there to simply advance an ideological position that holds that the employer must have more rights than the workers in the collective bargaining process.
In the legislative committee we heard from the Minister of Labour and the minister responsible for Canada Post. We heard from 10 witnesses, 7 from labour, 2 from the employers, as well as the chair of the Public Service Staff Relations Board. With the exception of the two ministers, we did not hear from one person who supported the directed vote amendments to the Canada Labour Code and the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
A recent ruling by the Canada Labour Relations Board points to one of the difficulties in holding these types of votes. The Canada Labour Code does not prohibit the use of scabs. The directed vote provision of this bill does not define who is in the bargaining unit and who is not.
In hearing a certification application by a company union, the CLRB considered scabs to be part of the existing bargaining unit. This opens the way for the company to lock out its workers, hire scabs, await the call of the vote by the minister and be assured of effectively decertifying the bargaining agent by stacking the vote
June 7, 1993
with scabs or, as the government prefers to call them, replacement workers.
This is not some sort of a curiosity when the CLRB has said that there exists a community of interest between the scabs and those who are on strike. The CLRB has said that scabs are members of a bargaining unit. In effect the CLRB has said that it is okay for the employer to attempt to break the certified union by hiring scabs. Taking this decision at face value and applying it to the directed vote provisions of this bill, we can see a reactionary shift in the direction of labour relations in Canada.
The CLRB is saying that the employer can hire scabs with impunity and that they become part of the bargaining unit. The government is saying that it can direct a vote on the employer's last offer to be taken by the bargaining unit. What is apparent therefore is that the collective bargaining relationship is being stacked in favour of the employer. The CLRB is redefining the bargaining unit; the government is defining what the offer is going to be.
Implicit in the government initiated amendments to part I of the code and the Public Service Staff Relations Act is the belief on the part of the government that the union or bargaining team does not represent the interests or the will of the membership. This directed vote is saying that the government or the minister knows better than the elected and accountable union executive or bargaining team what is in the best interest of the union membership at the bargaining table.
Such an anti-democratic inference should have no place in legislation enacted by the House of Commons. To suppose an arbitrary decision by the Minister of Labour is a superior process to those democratic structures of trade unions is offensive and calls into question the sincerity of this government's commitment to the collective bargaining process. It calls into question the commitment of the government to upholding the rights of the worker-controlled, democratic work place institutions and trade unions.
The existence of this provision in the code also poses a severe threat to the fundamental right of workers to withdraw their labour. By giving the minister the right to intervene at any time-it is important to note that is at
any time-after notice to collective bargaining has been given, it effectively allows the minister to circumvent the free collective bargaining process as well as the right to strike.
From a strictly pragmatic perspective the problem of carrying out a vote within a large bargaining unit such as the Canadian Union of Postal Workers is absolutely immense. There will be the problem of determining who is an eligible worker, finding the correct addresses, dealing with appeals by both the employer and the union as to who should be included and who should not and most important, how such a process is to be carried out if it is Canada Post that is behind a picket line.
Is the government going to order the workers back to work so that ballots can be delivered, so that workers can vote to reject the employer's last offer and so that they can go back to the picket line? As an example, in the CUPW certification vote a number of years ago it took over five months just to prepare the list of eligible voters. Is a five-month delay going to enhance the collective bargaining process or help find a resolution? I think not.
Yet another problem arises when one has to determine just what is the employer's last offer. Is it the last complete offer? Is it an amalgamation of offers? Will it include what is still outstanding as well as what has been agreed upon? Who is to determine what the last offer is? In collective bargaining there is always much posturing on one side or the other in terms of what was the last offer.
In the last round of CUPW/Canada Post bargaining there were at least three offers put on the table that the employer claimed was its final offer. The bill calls for a vote to include all matters remaining in dispute, but often in collective bargaining the less contentious issues are dealt with first and the more difficult ones are set aside. In most cases this means that wage offers are the last to be determined.
What this bill does is to allow the employer to agree to non-monetary issues and then throw out a wage offer that is non-negotiable claiming it to be the last offer. Intimidation will become part of the process. Will employers have the right to put out advertisements which purport to be the last offer? Will spouses of workers be contacted directly as in the past in the hope that they will influence their partner into accepting the
June 7, 1993
employer's last offer? The employer's message will be simply: "Ratify or else".
This is not collective bargaining. It is intimidation and coercion. The government claims there is nothing sinister here. It claims that this is simply another tool to assist the collective bargaining process. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In committee we had the pleasure of hearing not only the Minister of Labour but also the minister responsible for Canada Post who was very gleeful about the fact that these two clauses, 2 and 42, were his idea and his babies. It was clear from any reading of the transcripts that the real target of the government with this bill was the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and with the amendment to the Public Service Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
It is indeed disheartening to see public policy developed in this country that serves no purpose other than to satisfy the vindictiveness of a particular member of cabinet. In this instance it was the minister responsible for Canada Post who, as I said, was quite clear about why he introduced the amendments.
It is difficult to forget given the number of times it has been used but it has to be remembered that the government still retains the right to legislate workers and employers back to work.
In the case of public sector workers the government already has extensive powers to ensure essential services. Unlike provincial jurisdictions the bargaining units covered by part I of the Canada Labour Code are quite large. There is CUPW at Canada Post. There are the bargaining units in the railways and airlines. There are the units in telecommunications.
In the case of a serious threat to the public welfare the government can and has ordered the resumption of the enterprise and the involvement of a mediator and/or arbitrator. This is done quickly. Necessary services are restored and the collective bargaining process is either ended with an imposed settlement or the parties are placed into an arbitration process that will result in a collective agreement.
With this directed vote provision there is no speed to the resolution process and there is no involvement of a mediator. The collective bargaining process is simply stalled to the detriment of all.
One must ask just what the point is when all the evidence we have heard demonstrates that from a collective bargaining perspective the directed vote is an unwarranted intrusion. From a strictly practical perspective its use is simply unworkable and extraordinarily expensive.
What is clear is that this provision is politically motivated and is not another mechanism to assist in the collective bargaining process.
If the government was sincere in wanting to enhance the collective bargaining process it would have put all of part I of the Canada Labour Code on the table during the consultative process. It would have followed the lead of B.C. and Ontario and banned the use of scabs. As we saw during the lengthy Nationair dispute and as we continue to witness in the ongoing dispute in Yellowknife, the use of scabs has not only lengthened the dispute but it has also strengthened the resolve of employers bent on breaking a union.
With regard to the directed vote amendment in the Public Service Staff Relations Act one has to question where the employer, in this instance the government, goes with public sector bargaining if it is required to vote on the last offer and the workers say no. Where does the government go? The chairman of the Public Service Staff Relations Board told the legislative committee that this clause is totally unworkable and that if implemented it would cost $2 million to $3 million to undertake the vote. The government has chosen to ignore that expert information and we are still faced with those clauses in this legislation.
I want to address some of the amendments that were made in committee. It should be noted that improvements to this bill were made in committee in large part due to the witnesses from organized labour whom we heard. They suggested amendments. At this point I would like to thank the Minister of Labour for agreeing to those amendments.
June 7, 1993
Clause 30 of Bill C-101 as originally drafted was intended to remedy the situation where pregnant women, being denied illness benefits while on maternity leave, were protected. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the case of Brooks v. Canada Safeway that an employee benefit plan which denied illness benefits was discriminatory and therefore in contradiction of Canadian human rights law.
We found that while the Department of Labour recognized that such insurance plans were discriminatory, the wording of the bill did not make it as clear as it might have that those plans which continue this discriminatory action were illegal.
I then proposed new wording which was adopted by the legislative committee which clarifies the intent of this change to the Canada Labour Code. Again the minister agreed to the wording. It is now very clear that employee-employer insurance plans cannot discriminate against pregnant women.
One other clause of this bill was changed by the committee and that was clause 40.1 proposed an amendment to make it clear that regulations can be made to regulate those deductions an employer is permitted to make from a worker's pay cheque.
My concern here was about the case of overpayments made to an employee or losses that an employee is solely responsible for. Take, for example, shortage of cash in a bank teller's cash drawer if he or she had sole control over that cash drawer. Regulations could be drafted to ensure that any recovery of these moneys not be done all at once.
These regulations that are now permissible under the legislation will protect workers and ensure that they continue to receive an appropriate wage during the period of repayment. Hopefully the guidelines will be something like 10 per cent per pay period.
We are however disappointed that the government did not agree with the second reading amendment of the member for Laurier-Sainte-Marie. That amendment essentially outlined that if there is better protection, particularly for pregnant women, in provincial jurisdiction then the provincial jurisdiction would apply. This is the case in Quebec.
Despite the many gains we find in this bill achieved through consultation and through working together, the New Democrats cannot support it. We cannot support it
because we believe that it was underhanded, unwarranted and unnecessary to create and have the addition of the directed vote provisions to the Canada Labour Code and the Public Service Staff Relations Act.
They were introduced without consultation or provocation. They were introduced in fact without the support of any of the parties who were involved in the consultation process.
Because we believe legislation enacted in this House should uphold and reflect the general public interest, we cannot support this legislation. The laws we enact should be used to expand and protect the rights of Canadians. They should not, as we see in clauses 2 and 42 in this bill, expand the arbitrary powers of the cabinet.
The consultative process that resulted in most of what we see in BUI C-101 is testimony to an effective, if not somewhat lengthy, legislative process. Client groups working with departmental officials can produce consensual law that fits the needs of those workers covered by the Canada Labour Code. Those who wUl benefit most from the Canada Labour Code are those workers not covered by collective agreements and those who depend on the code to protect their rights as workers.
It remains however very disheartening that these benefits are tainted by the government's last minute decision to take one more shot at those unions in the public and private sector who have stood up to the government in defence of the rights of their members.
It is disappointing that the consultative portion of this bUl must be voted against in order for us to give a clear message to this government that the imposition of amendments that constitute clauses 2 and 42 are repugnant to New Democrats, to my caucus and also to working Canadians.
Topic: GOVERNMENT ORDERS
Subtopic: CANADA LABOUR CODE