Ms. Peggy Nash (Parkdale—High Park, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to join with my colleagues this evening in this important debate on this back to work legislation. For those viewers who are watching this debate and who may not fully understand the background, I want to take a minute to go through some of the background. I do understand the perspective of people who see a disruption, whether it is in rail or whatever the industry is, and they say can those people not just go back to work and problem solved.
I want to take a few minutes to talk about the collective bargaining process. I understand the concern about the economy and the need to get our freight moving. We have to understand from the very outset that the collective bargaining process is about two parties. This is a negotiation process whereby two parties try to arrive at an agreement that they will have to live with day in and day out for the term of the agreement.
For the people who work in rail, for the people affected by this collective agreement, they may have concerns that come up from time to time, day in and day out over a period of months and years. The only opportunity they have for their voices to be heard in a democratic fashion is through their elected representatives in the bargaining process. The representatives take their concerns to the bargaining table and in a situation of equals the people who are covered by the collective agreement, labour and management sitting as equals try to resolve their differences through this process.
It is a process that is defined by law. It has been defined over a period of decades, of generations. The rights that are enshrined in the collective bargaining process are rights that people have fought for. They were not just given by a government or by the employer. These were rights that people had to organize and fight for, and sometimes they were terrible fights, in order to achieve that basic opportunity to sit down with elected representatives face to face with the employer, raise the issues of the day and resolve those concerns in a democratic fashion. It is an opportunity for the people covered by the collective agreement to address a range of concerns.
Usually when there is some kind of dispute in bargaining the focus of the media and therefore the public is automatically on wages and they become the central issue. Usually wages are a part of the concern, but not the entire concern. Certainly issues that are negotiated are wages, benefits, working conditions, relationships in the workplace in terms of how disputes will be dealt with, how concerns will be dealt with. As part of the working conditions the most important working conditions are those of the health and the safety of the people who work in a given environment.
My concern always when a government comes in with ham-fisted back to work legislation is that it pushes all of those rights and the democratic process off the table. It is a very ham-fisted, heavy-handed way of resolving what ought to be a very finely negotiated collective agreement that everyone has to live with.
Often when agreements are imposed, whatever the method of the imposition, they are less satisfactory. The issues that remain unresolved fester and they remain concerns, whether they are issues on the side of the employer or on the side of the workers. That is one major concern that I have.
This is not an isolated situation. Over the last number of years the Canadian government has enacted a number of pieces of legislation that chip away at the rights of working people, legislative rights that were designed to protect them and their fundamental rights in the workplace and their democratic right to collective bargaining, and ultimately the right to strike.
I want to take a minute on the right to strike because it is about the issue of power. The employer has a great deal of power in the workplace. Employers decide who to hire, who to fire, who to promote. In addition to that, employers decide what their product or service will be, how they will manage that product or service, what equipment they will invest in, what kind of advertising they will do or what kind of clients will buy their products. They decide the advertising and how they are going to market their services. They have a great deal of power over what it is they are producing in the marketplace, and that is certainly well known. That is the system that we have.
For people who work for the employer, as I said earlier, the only opportunities they have to give their input and to exercise any kind of rights in the workplace is not as an individual person but through the collective, through their collective agreement.
Organizing that process, being part of collective bargaining, is something for which people have fought for years. Chipping away at these rights, as we have in Canada, has led us to the point where Canada now has one of the worst records when it comes to labour rights in the western world. This it is very troubling and it is something about which all Canadians ought to be concerned.
Some may say unions are a problem, they are too much trouble, they are always after something, Whether it is labour rights, or other legal rights or human rights based on religion, ethnicity, gender or disability rights, the other person's rights may not seem quite as urgent as one's own rights, but when directly affected, one understands how important they are. I think fair-minded people everywhere in the country ought to be concerned that if labour rights are being eroded, as they are, what other rights are being eroded in Canada?
We had a discussion earlier today with questions about the cancellation of the court challenges program by the government, thereby undermining the ability of Canadians, usually the most disadvantaged Canadians, to access their basic rights under the Charter of Rights.
Those who quickly dismiss labour rights ought to understand that this is only one aspect of a broader tapestry of rights that we pride ourselves on in Canada. All this chipping away leads us down a slippery slope. As Canadians and how we think of ourselves as fair-minded and protectors of human rights, I do not think it is a slope that we want to go down.
Some weeks or months back we had a debate in the House about replacement workers. A private member's bill on replacement workers was defeated. I remind the House that Liberal governments between 1993 and 2006 helped defeat 10 anti-replacement worker private members' bills in the House. I am citing this from the Montreal Gazette, which published a story on it today.
This is something that ought to be of great concern to all Canadians, and certainly I am personally concerned about it. I know my party is.
On the specific dispute at hand, we have to remind ourselves that the Canadian Industrial Relations Board ruled this a legal strike. When the strike originally took place back in February, workers, who were under the direction of their democratically elected negotiating committee, were negotiating terms to go back to work back in February, but the government kept pushing for back to work legislation. I recall this because the media kept reporting that back to work legislation would be introduced.
They came to a tentative agreement. As sometimes happens with tentative agreements, they are not imposed on people. The agreement needs to be ratified. The membership voted 79% against the offer, and it was their legal right to do so. They began rotating strikes while agreeing to maintain commuter service. However, in response to a fairly limited dispute, CN decided to lock out all the workers. The situation with which we are presented now is not a strike. We are presented with a lockout. In essence we are dealing with an employer strike.
As I said earlier, in the normal course of operations, the balance of power is very heavily weighted toward the employer and that this is the only opportunity for people to get their issues addressed. This heavy-handed behaviour on the part of CN is rewarded by the government with back to work legislation, which in fact endorses what CN is doing. It endorses its heavy-handed approach. It is an approach that undermines the democratic legal rights of the people in the workplace.
All through bargaining, CN has used back to work legislation as a bargaining chip, and that is not the first time this has happened.
Let us look at some of the issues the people in this workplace are trying to deal with at the bargaining table, like worker safety and railway safety.
A recent study was conducted by Transport Canada a couple of years ago that highlighted rather serious concerns in rail safety. The public maybe does not see all the day to day safety concerns. We do see derailments. Some of these are huge and they affect our communities. They endanger our communities. People scratch their heads and say, “How do we prevent this? It is costly, destructive and wasteful. How do we prevent these derailments?
Study after study will show that probably the best way to prevent derailments is top-notch, high quality safety measures and top-notch, high quality investment in infrastructure that ensures the tracks, the rail beds, all of the equipment being used is absolutely in top condition so derailments are much less likely.
In the agreement CN was seeking to increase the number of hours workers would spend away from home. It is already 80 hours a week. It sounds kind of like the life of a member of Parliament. On the part of the union, it was trying to get better rest provisions, washroom breaks, a 40 minute lunch on a 9 hour shift, which sounds pretty reasonable to me, an end to 16 hour workdays and a number of safety measures. There have been over 100 derailments in Canada in 2005.
These are serious issues. If I am not in that workplace, I have trouble maybe relating to those issues. I do not know them as well as the people who live in these conditions day in and day out, whether they are in the union or in the company. That is why the process of collective bargaining works so well. Those two parties, which know the workplace, the issues, the concerns, maybe from a different perspective in the bargaining process, have to sit down and hammer these issues out and come to a mutually agreeable solution.
Again, CN has been less than stellar in terms of bargaining in good faith. It has been relying on the Canada Industrial Relations Board to rule the strike illegal, which it did not, and then wait for back to work legislation.
We have heard concerns in the House about the economy and the impact on it because of this dispute. I remind us all that this is a lockout, not a strike. However, fair and safe working conditions are equally important to the Canadian economy as the continuation of the transport of goods. The economic impact of a derailment, for example, is an enormous waste of our resources. If through this process we can address some of the safety and infrastructure concerns of the railway system, that would also be very good for the economy.
I have heard members talk about the cost to the economy of the strike back in February. I remind my hon. colleagues that many other factors were involved in the delays in shipments back in February in addition to this dispute. There was a refinery fire in Ontario. There were serious weather delays both in Canada and the U.S. that caused delays in the transport of goods. There was also a general downturn in business that affected some levels of production in the manufacturing sector and in other sectors as well.
I also remind the House that the managers are working. Managers are on the job, so it is not as though the rail industry has completely ground to a halt. Managers are working at CN, and there are other forms of transit available, including other railways. However, I do not at all pretend that some farmers and other shippers are not affected. Whenever there is a dispute, people are affected. That is why it is incumbent upon both sides in a dispute to get to the bargaining table in good faith to legitimately try to address the issues affecting them and to come to a resolve as quickly as possible so that any impact is as small as possible.
However, when we impose back to work legislation like this in a ham-fisted way, it sides with the employer. It denies people the right to a fair collective agreement because they get an imposed agreement that may not, in any way, deal with the legitimate concerns that they have brought to the bargaining table. It is simply not fair to them.
My colleague earlier talked about the importance of rail to our country. We are a country that was built on the railway. It is a key part of our history. It is part of our heritage and it created the ties that bind us as a nation. A country as vast and rich as Canada, with a fairly small population, ought to be a world leader when it comes to rail. Whether it is freight or passenger transportation, we ought to have the fastest, the best, the most efficient transportation system by rail than anywhere else in the world. When I hear about safety concerns, when I hear about derailments, when I hear that people are not being treated fairly at work, that is a terrible thing.
This round of negotiations, because it is ending up here in the debate in the House of Commons, reminds us all about the need to have a rail system that is top-notch, that we invest in the infrastructure to maintain a top-notch rail transportation system, that safety is a priority, and that we have to build on our history to improve our rail transportation system for the future.
I think this back to work legislation is another bad step in a bad series of steps to erode the rights of working people.
Mr. Nathan Cullen (Skeena—Bulkley Valley, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, it is with some reluctance that I join this debate, simply because the need for this in this day and age should not still exist. One would hope in 2007 that reasonable minds using legislation that this country has agreed to would be able to resolve disputes, yet somehow we find ourselves in this situation. Workers are conducting a legal and authorized action. They have serious and legitimate concerns, health and safety and otherwise. Many members of Parliament would also wish to have the ability to affect their immediate environments in their workplace, the ability to make sure that safe and fair working conditions are applied here. Certainly any of the MPs in their own self-interests would wish for the same thing. Yet here we are facing a forced negotiation at the end of a gun barrel, Bill C-46 it is called. I think there are a few terms we have to establish before we can even move further beyond.
The actual name of this bill that has been cobbled together quickly by the government is an act to provide for the resumption and continuation of railway operations.
I have tried to find in the title or the substance of the bill some mention of the main issue that has been brought forward by everyday average ordinary workers on the line, which is around rail safety based upon evidence, audits, that have been done by the government itself. Safety is the issue. Safety is one of the critical issues that has been brought forward as a reason for this dispute and this draconian piece of legislation that was introduced to stop the dispute does not mention it in the title. It would be interesting if the title were an act to provide for the continuation of safe railway operations, but the government could not do that because right now the operations are not safe. There would be no resumption of any type of safe operations because we have the audited reports that say otherwise. The records have become worse as the profits of the company have gone up.
Surely there is a way to operate a rail system in this country that is both safe and profitable, but it seems that unfortunately or otherwise that CN does not feel that those two things can actually go together and exist in harmony. It will tell us that they do but then we see a news report of another train off the tracks lying beside or in a river, and we know that not to be the case. There has been an explosion of unsafe rail practices and we also know it because the workers have told us so.
There is another term that is important for us all to realize. Because I was not sure, before entering into this debate I asked some of my colleagues what to call the company, CNR or Canadian National Rail. It has since changed its name. It reminds me of Kentucky Fried Chicken having to change its name to three letters, KFC, in order to avoid any association with chickens because it was not actually serving chicken any more. In this case, we cannot call the company Canadian National Railway because it is no longer Canadian.
Not only did it change its name, which is well and good and perhaps it was for brevity's sake, and there are a lot of syllables when we spell it out, but it forbade the workers from actually referring to it as Canadian National. They have to refer to it as CNR, and are not allowed to call it Canadian any more.
These are small but important things and are symbolic of what we are seeing take place in an industry and an operation that is at the very heart of this country. It is one of the few things that Canadians can absolutely hold on to and identify with. Different from others was the creation of this majestic dream, and it was dreamt up in this very place, to create a national railway system to connect us from coast to coast, as part of our national identity. It enabled the west to open up. It enabled all Canadians to be part of this massive country. This experiment of some peacefulness between the French and English cultures was critical.
We know the historical roots. We can walk into the foyer just outside the House of Commons and look above the sculptures. Represented there as one of the primary industries of this country is the rail industry. Clearly, it is in our DNA. It is in the very soil of our country.
Here we have an operation which by all accounts, by the audit reports, by the workers working on the line every day and by the communities that live beside those lines is no longer a source of pride. It is a source of worry. It is a source of contention, controversy and conflict.
I need to talk for a moment about my riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley in the northwest corner of the province of British Columbia. It has one of the increasingly most important rail lines in the country. It is part of the government's laudable efforts to open up the Asia-Pacific Gateway. It is receiving a significant amount of funding that we negotiated with the previous government and ensured with this government. We are proud of being able to leverage that funding for the container port in Prince Rupert. There is also some significant funding by CN itself along the rail.
Here is an interesting thing to note. There are hazardous products that travel along this rail line that stretches right across northern British Columbia. Some months ago CN sent a letter to all of our predominantly volunteer fire departments. CN said that if there was any major spill of toxic chemicals along the line, the volunteer fire departments, which neither have the equipment nor the training to deal with such a toxic spill, should just hold the fort for 12 hours until CN got a skeleton crew up there to deal with it. This is in a letter. CN actually put it in black and white and sent it out to these noble volunteer fire departments and said that just for their information, CN would show up half a day later, once the train was in the river or on the side of the tracks. This is what a so-called responsible corporate citizen is offering to people who live cheek by jowl, right beside many of these lines, whose livelihood depends on the conservation of our environment, particularly the rivers.
Those who have visited the northwest have seen some of the most stunning scenery right from a passenger rail car because the rail runs right on the very edge of many of our most stunning and magnificent rivers. The road is on the other side. The access to these places, unfortunately, I have to say, once a train derails, based upon anecdotal and the audited experience of this company is seriously impeded.
There is no mention of safety in this bill. There is no mention of the technique being used, this heavy-handed approach that allows for final offer selection. The two sides present their cases and an arbitrator will then pick one or the other. It is a system that can or cannot work, depending on the various labour disputes.
Clearly, by not mentioning any aspect of safety in the bill, the government is sending a clear signal to the company that it does not have to negotiate on the safety concerns of the workers and the communities that they have placed in the public eye. That is not a concern to the government and it certainly will not be for the company when it is negotiating. And the legislation does not name an arbitrator.
It is important to understand that once this legislation passes and it seems doomed to pass, if I can use that term, because the Liberals, Conservatives and the Bloc for some bizarre reason have decided to ram it through by invoking closure and that is democracy in action, but once this bill passes, the government can pick any arbitrator it wants, anyone. It allows anybody to finally decide upon a contract that will be imposed upon the workers in the company.
For those who have followed labour disputes across the country and the history of CN and the UTU, this is not a combative organization. I have met with the workers in my riding, both formally and informally. I met them around a coffee table just a few days ago when I was in northern B.C. I sat down with a worker, an honest, hard-working average Canadian who is just doing his job. When this labour dispute first came up in February he had had enough. He had been working on the rail for 25 years.
Anyone who has spent a day on the rail will have a sense of the working conditions. The workers work 12 hours, maybe 16 hours plus. There is forced overtime. Rattling around on the rail is hard work. The workers all knew what they signed up for and they are willing to do it, but that worker had had enough. Time and time again he had gone to his supervisors and pointed out a safety concern and said that a piece needed to be replaced because it was broken and it was part of the safety system, and he was told to just leave it be, leave well enough alone.
No longer was there a culture of care and concern that had been built up in that organization over many years to ensure that no matter what the trains would run on time and they would also run safe. That can no longer be said. That is a tragedy not just for the symbol of what CN and rail are for this country, but it is also a tragedy on other levels, and I would like to talk about a couple of them.
We have talked much about the environment and the litany of derailments. Oftentimes CN does not have to prepare any kind of a manifest. There is no legal obligation to tell communities down the line what type of products will be moved through those communities.
We have all been around this country and know that some trains move right through the very heart of communities. There is no manifest created and some of these substances are of the most toxic nature imaginable, the belief being that it is better to move them by rail than by truck, because the incidence of accidents traditionally has always been lower by rail. If a toxic substance has to be moved from a chemical plant, as is often the case, or the oil and gas industry, to another site, it is best to do it by rail, as the chance of an accident or incurring any sort of harm to the environment or human health is lower.
Can we still safely say that? On March 12, 2007, some 3,000 VIA Rail passengers were affected. On March 10, 2007, CN's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted because of a 17 car derailment at Plaster Rock. On March 1 there was a grain spill from a CN freight train derailment in Pickering. In February 2007 there was a hydrochloric acid spill. On January 14, 2007 in northern Ontario there was another derailment and 30 cars went into a swamp.
Time and time again, when dealing with issues of the environment, we know it is always easier and cheaper to not have the pollution happen in the first place. Here we have a clear case of what it would mean to have a little more protection, a little more understanding up front about the types of chemicals and noxious substances that are being moved, and how much better it is from every measurement to make sure that they do not tip out somewhere along the way, never mind the human concern.
I was in Sudbury recently and there had been another derailment north of that town, reminiscent of one that had occurred the year before. All sorts of noxious substances were being pumped out of the river and lakes systems. I talked to the member of Parliament from that area. The people in Sudbury have done so much to try to remedy the damage done by previous historical practices in the industry. We all know about the moonscape and that NASA uses the area around Sudbury as a practice area for its astronauts. The damage had been severe in terms of the environment. Sudbury has dedicated itself on many levels to clean up the mess, and once a year there are trains tipping into its river and lake systems.
Canadians are concerned and they have a right to be concerned. I would hope there is not a member of Parliament who would dispute the right of Canadians to be concerned when they read their papers and turn on the evening news and see that another train has tipped over. The workers have come forward and said where they think the problems are, and they are ignored by the company.
An audit was ordered by the previous government as a third party investigation into what was happening, with no vested interest, so the union bashing going on by some of the government can stop. It was a third party audit which the government conducted in 2005. It finished in 2006 and then the government sat on it. It was not until a journalist with the CBC filed an access to information request that the findings were released.
One would have to suppose that if the audit had said that things were fine, that the Canadian public should not worry, that everything was all right, the government would have trumpeted it out. It would have had a press conference, announced it and given every detail of how wonderful it was, but we know that is not what the audit said. The audit came out with findings that 54% of the locomotives showed serious defects. More than half of the things that are responsible for moving and stopping the trains that are going through our communities, and in British Columbia in particular, up and down mountains showed serious defects.
That is why the government sat on the audit. That is why the government has now removed from this bill the concept of triggering any sort of negotiation around safety for workers. We have to understand that the whole concept of workers' safety, the whole concept of safe locations in which to work in this country, was one that initially was resisted by industry as an extra expense when it was done years ago. It has now been adopted and it is trumpeted by industries, the progressive ones in particular, that they have a safe working environment.
The lumber mills in my community, the good ones in particular, show on their signs that visitors are welcome to such and such a lumber mill, and they show many safe days and accident-free days they have had because they know it is good for business. They know it is good for worker morale when people are not getting hurt. They know it is good for absenteeism, obviously, when people are not getting hurt, and just ethically it might be a good thing, too, to not have a system or workplace set up where people are likely to get hurt.
We have had an audit come back that says the crossings and some of the bridges had faulty beams. Workers died two years ago in British Columbia because a bridge failed. Workers were coming to me prior to this saying that people were going to die. They said this flat out because they had looked at the trusses. They had looked at the structure of the bridges. They had known the upkeep had not been done, but who was watching the henhouse? Clearly it was the fox.
The reason for this legislation, the reason to force these folks back to work even though the Labour Relations Board has said that this is a legal and legitimate strike, has often been talked about. One assumes that the company thought it had this in the bag, that it could just go to the Labour Relations Board and it would order the workers back from strike immediately.
Even though this is a legal strike, it has been rolled out time and again that this is an economic catastrophe waiting to happen. Even if the government and the official opposition had the courage to stand up and speak to the legislation, which they do not, it has been pointed out by the few who have that this is an economic catastrophe waiting to happen in this country and that we need to force these workers back to work and impose a contract on them so that Canadian business can move again, because we are an exporting nation.
We would contend that this short term, poorly managed fix will lead to economic disaster in the medium term and the long term, as there is a clear indication to the railway to continue with business as usual.
A lot of the shippers in my region are completely stressed out. These are people who need to get their products to market. The cashflow is essential to their operations. They work on very fine margins and they want products to move.
However, they have also lamented to me over the last number of years that they cannot get reliable service from CN. When a train goes off the tracks, guess what? They cannot run another train right by it. There are days and days of delay and then an investigation, and then the train has to be fixed in the shop and there are fewer cars on the tracks.
It causes problems, but clearly someone within this organization has done the calculation and has figured out that it is worth the cost of business and that there are all the so-called savings they make by having people work longer and longer hours. We know as a result of studies that, like a student studying or a worker in any workplace, once past a certain point, effectiveness and clarity drop off demonstrably and in a significant way.
As soon as people go beyond the 8 to 12 hours, their ability to pay attention, to focus and to do as good a job as they were doing in the first 8 hours goes down. What CN wants to do is continue pushing people the limits of what we know to be safe when it comes to the people who are at the switch. Right now those workers are meant to be away from home for as many as 40 hours a week or 160 hours a month. CN wants them to be away more. CN wants them to work longer periods each and every day. They are working 16 hours right now. I am not sure exactly where CN would like them to go, and how someone in their 17th hour of work is meant to be performing as well as in their first or eighth seems ridiculous. It even seems counterintuitive.
A number of Canadians would be quite worried if they knew that train carrying hydrochloric acid and barrelling through their town in the middle of the night was being driven by someone in the 17th or 18th hour of work, someone who has been doing that consistently over the last number of weeks and months. How is the government meant to assure Canadians that everything is okay, that these workers are not asleep at the switch, so to speak?
When it comes to our environment and the idea that in this day and age we will knowingly operate an unsafe system and keep pushing the boundaries into places that have been proven through the government's own audit not to be safe, it is intellectually dishonest. As for the idea that somehow the government can paint itself green and run about the country claiming some sort of adherence to environmental principles and priorities when at the same time it is taking actions like this, actions that threaten exactly the heart of the clean air and clean water it purports to be defending and are unable to do so, it is intellectually dishonest. It is intellectually dishonest of the government, the Liberals and the Bloc to suggest that they are doing their jobs in this case.
A lot of MPs are pushing for this heavy-handed tactic and are trying to position one set of working families against another. It is a good old tactic that does not die out easily. The workers in my region of northern British Columbia are very much connected to the same people. The rail workers are exactly the same folks whose kids are in soccer and who go to Rotary and all the rest of it in our communities, exactly the same as the people who need to ship the product, the same workers who are just down the line at the mill or at the smelter looking for consistent rail service in order to feed their families. They are deeply connected.
They understood back in February when the strike first erupted, as they do now, how serious it is when they say that things are this unsafe and that the relationship between the company and the workers has broken down so much they are seeking to strike. They understand the consequences more than any member of Parliament does and certainly more than any of the fat cats on the frontbench of the Conservative Party do. They understand deeply what the consequences are of their actions and they are committed to them. Eighty per cent voted to reject the very deal that the government now wishes to impose on them.
It is absolutely ludicrous to suggest that using such a technique somehow will allow for any sort of labour peace or harmony in the workplace or betterment of service, whether it is the protection of our environment and Canadians' health from fewer derailments or better service by just being on time and actually picking up the freight that CN, not Canadian National, has promised to.
This is going to be trumpeted by the government and those supporting it as a salient approach and a quick fix to getting the rails back on line and the trains running on time. What I will suggest to the House, to Canadians and to people in my riding is that we need labour peace. We need a drastic improvement in the way CN operates, the way it treats its workers and the way it treats the safety of Canadians on either of these rail lines, because the situation cannot go on as it is, and this bill exacerbates it. That is why I am proud to be here as a New Democrat opposing it to the nth degree.
Mr. Nathan Cullen:
Mr. Speaker, I know the member for Timmins—James Bay experiences first-hand what happens when the rails go wrong. It is not often that some of these noxious substances go barrelling through the middle of Montreal, Toronto or Vancouver. They tend to travel on other routes to market. They tend to go through smaller communities to get there. It is just how the rail was set up.
That is all well and good, except when people no longer have confidence in the train coming through town. It is not just a noise disturbance people are worried about. They are worried about being able to drink the water after the train is gone and the cleanup. When the ability for people to live where they have always lived is jeopardized by the simple passing of a train, one wonders what is next.
We have been hammering away on this so Canadians can understand. If we measured this company's success by the pay packet it offers its CEO, we would think the company is doing fantastically well. The externality, as they say in business, is what is being applied. These trains have jumped tracks and spilled toxic substances into rivers, as they did in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. I wonder if we can start a list of provinces which have not had a toxic spill happen within the last year or two. It would be a very select club. Perhaps Yukon or the Northwest Territories have been safe so far, but they should not hang on to that too long.
I would love to see an amendment to the bill, and maybe we can work on one in the next couple of hours, that would direct the negotiators to ensure that the CEO's pay packet was tied to the company's safety record. I am sure they will decide what reasons to give him more and more dividends and share value, but if every time another train left the tracks, he would be docked a little pay. It would be a fascinating approach. I am sure it is one the government will advocate for because clearly safety is important to the government. It has said it time and time again.
If it were so important to this company, which has left in a sense any semblance of control from within this national interest that we proclaim to hold in this place, it would not sign on to any such contract. The record is so terrible right now that the investors are clearly worried about the next quarter. When only fixated on the next quarter, the value of shares are able to move around so quickly in our marketplace that the longer term investments in safety and the investments in the rail grade itself are no longer seen as worth it, so they are not being made. The audit conducted by the federal Government of Canada showed us that.
Lo and behold, the workers come forward and say that they are not sure it is safe to go on the rail any more, and I will speak to one example in my riding recently. I will not mention the fellow's name, although knowing him I am sure he might appreciate it.
A train left the rail in February in the course of the strike. Prior to that the Liberal government had slipped a small amendment into the Labour Code which did not allow rail workers to not cross the picket line. It forced them to cross the line, unless they were under threat. There had been a strike in a northern town, a legal and perfectly well conducted strike. A man got to work that morning and said that, as a fellow unionist, he would not cross the picket line. Immediately the company was there with a copy of the legislation, as signed by the Liberals and endorsed by the Conservatives. It said that he had to cross the line. In response he said that he would not, that it was against his convictions.
The only way an individual is able not to cross is if that person makes an accusation that he or she has been threatened by one of the people on strike. The RCMP will then be called in to arrest that striking person. That was the condition he was given. At some point this moves from the absurd to the ridiculous.
The notion is that people can have an unsafe working environment under laws that were constructed by Parliament and legislatures across the country, present evidence that their workplace is unsafe. MPs would not even sit in these chairs if they were not sure the legs were solid. They would refuse and demand another chair, never mind going to work, getting on a rail not being sure if it will stay on the rail by the end of the shift and then being asked to work beyond safe hours that have also been proven unsafe. Suddenly the government says that is an infringement upon the rights of others in the country.
We in the NDP will defend the rights of workers across the country for safe working environments. We really thought we were already there. We thought the legislation was in place, that the codes had been worked out and signs posted on the wall in all work environments, which allowed people to work safe and enjoy income and receive it in a safe way.
Lo and behold we see, when push comes to shove, the government falls over with the effort. It cannot stand up. By invoking this and knowing this was always in the back pocket, it has skewed the negotiations, it has crippled them and has made it impossible for the union and the company to come to a fair and reasonable resolution. This was always waiting, and the company knew it. That, therefore, made the lowest class of negotiations come forward, which is what the government advocated for and is now accepting, pushed by the Liberals and supported by the Bloc.
Ms. Denise Savoie (Victoria, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, for this debate, I looked to arguments that might possibly offer a rationale for this draconian legislation. For example, at cbc.ca, the president of the Canadian Industrial Transportation Association said:
|| Shippers serving highly competitive export markets and retailers needing to stock their shelves with seasonal imported merchandise will all be affected.
I thought is that why we were curtailing bargaining rights, to ensure shelves are stocked with seasonal imported merchandise? I thought, no, that could not be the reason we were sacrificing a fundamental right of workers to collective bargaining to negotiate conditions under which they were going to work. Given the safety issues that have been raised during this debate, I thought there must be a more important reason.
I will come back to talk about the safety issues, but I looked further for other reasons. I found a Canadian Press article in which the Conservative labour minister said, “Employers and many groups said they would like to see our government acting”. Clearly, then, is this legislation about taking sides with one party, the employer? How can that be a government that works in the public interest objectively?
We have had a lot of talk recently about the delicate balance between employer and labour. Apparently, that balance is only judged to be fair when employers get to scuttle their way around the right of workers to bargain collectively and fairly, either by using replacement workers or now by having the government do the dirty deed of curtailing the bargaining process and forcing a settlement on workers, a right that has been achieved over a very long time, democratically.
Then I read in the newspaper that the employer welcomed the news that the government would introduce back to work legislation. I do not see the balance in that. I see the government, which is after all supposed to represent the interests of Canadians, working instead on behalf of the interests of corporations, working out of the pocket of the corporate elite, bowing to corporate pressure, now twice in one month, to curtail the rights of workers to bargain collectively and fairly.
If this were sports, we would call it cheating. Since it is real life for workers, real life for Canadians who are exposed to safety risks, it is no sport, and it is not cheating, it is reprehensible.
I thought, surely, there must be an explanation that eluded me. Then I found, again in the Canadian Press article, in which the labour minister said, “The health of our economy is very important”.
The health and safety of Canadians is important. The health and safety of Canadian workers is important. The health of our environment is important. If we pass back to work legislation every time we might lose some dollars in export profits, how do we know that other safety concerns are not overridden? All Canadians workers should be afraid that safety in their workplace will not be overridden. All Canadians should be afraid when airline safety or transport truck safety is overridden because of the economy or because of a few dollars.
I finally found the reason that I think might have motivated the government. Again in the Canadian Press article, the labour minister said, “We saw what happened in February when...about $1 billion of our exports [was] lost. Now it's time to act”. If we only had this “act now” mentality about climate change, or homelessness, or mentality, or poverty, or health care, or student debt, or literacy, or a better course in Afghanistan and all the issues about which the Liberals and the Conservatives pretend to care a lot.
What is the first usage of closure in this Parliament? What is the first time the Conservatives have invoked this legislative measure designed for only the most desperate and emergency situations? It is for seasonal imported merchandise.
We hear all this talk about the social conscience of the members on the other side, the Liberals, but when do the Liberals side with the Conservatives, other than to extend the flawed Afghanistan mission? To tip the delicate balance of labour relations in favour of the employers, twice recently for the replacement worker bill and now for this draconian legislation.
Do the Liberals support an “act now” approach on climate change, homelessness or poverty as well? No, I do not see that. When they do support an “act now” approach, it is for seasonal imported merchandise.
Bill C-46 infringes on fundamental rights to collective bargaining, to negotiate the conditions under which Canadians work, when it is clear that CN is using back to work legislation as a bargaining chip to disregard the very serious concerns that have been expressed by workers.
The Conservatives have invoked this restricted back to work legislation on the pretext that it is impacting the economy.They may as well state they are against collective bargaining because most strikes have an economic impact. That is why two parties work together, work across the table from each other, deliberate and try to find a solution that meets the needs. This has not occurred.
When I get up in the House, I often say that I am speaking on behalf of my constituents. Of course I am speaking on their behalf, on behalf of Canadian constituents who I think are concerned when the rights of one group might be eroded, as they are in this case. However, this evening I am also speaking on behalf of my father, who worked for 25 years for the then Canadian National Railways, which is no longer. My colleague pointed out that name has been shortened. In his years at CN, he worked and fought for workers' rights in his union. He loved the railway and he passed on that love and passion of the railway to me.
In the time that I have been in the House, I saw some opportunities to really make rail and public transportation a centrepiece of our vision for the future of our country. Rail should really be a very central part of the future of Canada.
However, rail service will only be as good as the investments made to ensure the safety of workers, the safety of the infrastructure and the safety of our environment. Yet the government has not seen fit to develop a national transportation strategy. There has been no vision for public transportation and this is an area where the government might think of acting now.
In past decades an increasing corporate culture has led to the privatization of rail lines, to focus on profitability over safety, reduction of the number of workers, disinvestment in railway infrastructure, elimination of some rail lines, no matter that some communities have been abandoned, as long as the large salaries of CEOs continue to be possible.
I want to give an example very close to my heart on Vancouver Island where a freight service was slowly eroded over the years and was finally discontinued. A passenger service was also allowed to degrade. The rail itself became so badly maintained that the service was slow, unreliable and always late, to the point where the rail companies were going to simply abandon it. However, the community came together and said that it did not want to see that right of way abandoned and did not want to see its rail service disappear.
The communities along Vancouver Island formed what is now called the Island Corridor Foundation to protect the integrity of the right of way and renew the passenger and freight rail service. From the document on their plans, they explained some of the reasons that had led us to this point. They said that in recent years a variety of business changes had occurred which created financial challenges, like lack of investment and bad business plans. They said that it simply became apparent that there was a lack of interest to maintain a good rail service. They said that slow or inadequate responses to these changes meant that rail service was not able to maintain its market status and was at risk of failure on numerous occasions.
It is very sad that in Canada, a country that was built on rail and where we see increasingly, given environmental issues, that our future will once again be based on the strength of rail transportation, that we now consider that it is okay to forget about very serious safety issues that have been raised.
In doing a very quick Google search, I found numerous articles citing safety issues: Accident comes day after release of audit finding holes in railways' safety procedures. Again, the safety jumps the track.
Trans-Canada highway in B.C. closed in two spots. Again there was a derailment. There were derailments on March 10, March 4, March 1, February 28, January 14 and January 8, all in 2007. I could go on and on and yet this is a company we are going to reward, act on its behalf to support those interests and, in a way, give it licence to continue with this disastrous safety record.
This will not help industry in the long term. It will not help the safety of our workers. It undermines the atmosphere in a workplace to do good work. It undermines the confidence that Canadians have and that companies have in the rail service. I believe this is a very ill-advised bill that the government is proposing to introduce.
I do not know when government will begin to consider that we do not support the economy at the expense of the environment or at the expense of social rights. We cannot build a three-legged stool that is balanced when we continually tip in favour of the economy at the expense of our environment and erode the rights that workers have to collective bargaining. This, unfortunately, is what the bill does.
Ms. Catherine Bell (Vancouver Island North, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I stand today to oppose this draconian piece of back to work legislation. I want to echo some of the comments made by my comrades and colleagues from Timmins—James Bay, Skeena—Bulkley Valley, Victoria, Burnaby—New Westminster and Parkdale—High Park. Some of them talked about their families and their long and proud history of building this country. Their forefathers and foremothers who worked in the rail industry and other industries built this country.
I want to talk a bit about my parentage. My grandfather and father were loggers and built the small communities of northern Vancouver Island. They worked very hard to shape the industry that we see today. It is appropriate and relevant that I talk about this to underscore my opposition to this back to work legislation, as my colleagues have done before me.
My grandfather and father worked in the logging industry. They worked in small camps where there were a lot of health and safety issues. Everywhere they went they tried to make things better for workers down the line and people who were coming after them. They fought tooth and nail, and had to go on strike under really difficult conditions to make sure that workers' rights were brought to the forefront, so that people were not killed on the job, as many were in those days.
I grew up in a family that was very much aware of worker and workplace safety. I grew up in a family that was very political. Because of that, I became a union activist myself. I was very active in the labour movement for quite a long time advocating for workers. I was on bargaining committees. In my own workplace we went on strike and had been locked out. I know what it is like to be on a picket line with workers who are in adverse circumstances trying to make a difference for other workers and standing up for the rights that others behind them will enjoy because they may not. Those are things that labour activists do.
I have heard in the House other hon. members talk about the age old argument, which we just heard a few moments ago, of pitting workers against one another saying, “We have to resolve this because others are suffering”. That is an age old argument that has been used by employers and managers for many years. It does not wash. It is a bogus argument. It allows employers to get off the hook and not have to do the right thing, which is bargain in good faith.
Again, my history as a labour activist is very relevant to underscore my opposition to this back to work legislation. Back to work legislation is never the right thing to do. I and my NDP colleagues oppose this. We oppose replacement worker legislation or any other kind of legislation that undermines the fundamental right to collective bargaining.
Railway workers are locked out. This is a legal labour dispute. The government had a choice. It could have chosen to send CN back to the bargaining table, but it did not. Instead, it chose to deny workers their right to free collective bargaining. If the government were really concerned about the economy, it would order CN back to the bargaining table to get serious about bargaining. Instead, CN is given the green light by the government to take advantage of workers once again.
Canadians are concerned about worker safety just as much as they are concerned about the economy. The economy should not take precedence over worker safety. We have seen this scenario all too often.
Back to B.C. and the forest industry. Last year there were over 40 deaths in the woods. Those deaths were the result of workers having to work in unsafe working conditions. Fatigue brought on by long hours at a dangerous job in dangerous conditions is a remedy for disaster for forestry workers. Because of the way the industry has been restructured, that is the only way that workers can make ends meet. Workers fought for and got commitments from the provincial government to look at safety conditions and working conditions. However, I have to ask, why? Why does it always take deaths of workers to wake up our governments?
Governments have a role to play in forcing employers to follow safe work practices by legislating and enforcing strict rules for workplace safety. We have seen the scenario in our mining industry. We like to think that those days of the canary in the coal mine are over, but all we have to do is remember the Westray disaster where miners were killed not very many years ago because the employer did not follow safety rules.
We see it every time a worker is killed because an employer in an effort to increase the profit margin cuts corners and puts pressure on workers to take risks. Too many families have lost husbands, fathers, brothers, mothers, wives and sisters because workplace safety is thrown out the window or down the shaft or derailed in the interest of the economy.
However, the economy is not in jeopardy because of this dispute. What is in jeopardy is workers' rights, public safety and the environment.
There have been over 100 derailments in Canada since 2005. Let me just mention seven of them here, only seven, and these seven just happened this year in 2007. It is only mid-April, the fourth month of 2007, and we have had seven derailments. That is two a month. I guess we can expect another one any time soon unfortunately.
On March 12, 2007, about 3,000 VIA Rail passengers had to board buses on the first day of March break after train service in the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor was disrupted after a CN freight train derailed near the station in Kingston.
On March 10, 2007, rail traffic along CN's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted until the next day by a 17 car derailment in the Plaster Rock area.
On March 4, 2007, grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C., two hours north of Kamloops when 27 cars of a westbound train fell off the track. How does a train fall off the track?
On March 1, 2007, a CN freight train derailment near Pickering, Ontario disrupted VIA service on the Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor and commuter rail service in the Toronto area.
On February 28, 2007, hydrochloric acid spilled from one of five cars of a CP Rail train that went off the tracks in the Kicking Horse Canyon in southeastern British Columbia. Emergency crews managed to contain the spill and none of the chemical went into nearby waterways. Lucky for them.
On January 14, 2007, a derailment near Lake Minisinakwa in northern Ontario dumped more than 30 cars, one containing paint-related supplies, into a swamp. Officials said there was no sign of leaking but train traffic was blocked at Gogama while the accident was being cleared.
On January 8, 2007, 24 cars of a 122 car freight train derailed in Montmagny, Quebec, about 60 kilometres east of Quebec City. There were no injuries, but the accident occurred in a residential neighbourhood and one rail car came to rest about 12 metres from a home.
It seems to me that derailments are harder on the economy than any kind of labour dispute that anyone might find themselves in.
As I have read, some of these derailments have had devastating impacts on communities. I have heard from some of my other colleagues who have talked about some of the derailments in other provinces. People have had to be evacuated because of toxic fumes and there have been devastating impacts on the environment because of toxic spills in rivers, lakes and watersheds. Millions of fish and other wildlife and their habit are gone.
We will be seeing the negative effects of that for years to come. A recent safety audit at CN expressed huge concerns about management's approach to safety measures. Why is it that management had to be told by Transport Canada to clean up its act?
We keep hearing the mantra that they are responsible corporate citizens, that business has our best interests at heart, but when we see an audit that found a number of safety defects, a significantly high rate, 54% to be exact, on locomotives with problems ranging from brake air defects to too much oil accumulated on locomotives and fuel tanks, we know that corners are being cut and public and worker safety is at risk. Every time there is a derailment, the environment suffers.
The goal for the workers at CN is workplace and railway safety. CN workers are put under tremendous pressure to produce. There is a fear of reprisal if workers blow the whistle on safety issues. What kind of a message is the company sending when safety concerns are ignored?
CN is trying to turn back the clock by forcing its workers to accept increased hours away from home. They are already working up to 80 hours a week. The union is fighting for better rest provisions and an end to the 16 hour workday. They are hard-working men and women. All they want is fairness.
Some are saying that this strike is all about money and that workers are asking for $70,000 a year. For persons working 16 hours a day, that works out to about $12 an hour. That is not very much money per hour as far as I can figure. These are not outrageous provisions to ask for, but what is outrageous is the salary of CN CEO Hunter Harrison, who made $56 million in 2005. At 16 hours a day, that is $9,580 an hour. Tell me, how many people in Canada make that kind of a wage? It is outrageous and it is relevant because there is a growing prosperity gap in the country and workers are feeling the brunt of it.
Why is it that when it comes to labour legislation, to fairness for workers, the government talks the talk, but does not walk the walk? Why is it that the Liberals side with the Conservatives every time when it comes to fairness for workers? They say they support free collective bargaining, but they will vote for back to work legislation. They say they support free collective bargaining, but they voted against legislation that would ban replacement workers.
Why is the Conservative government playing into CN's hands and introducing closure on this bill? The government could have made a better choice. It could have chosen to send CN back to the bargaining table instead of sending the workers a kick in the teeth.
The government appointed a negotiator but did not give the negotiator time to find a solution. Everyone wants to find a reasonable solution and get back to work. Everyone wants what is best for Canada: safe working conditions for railway workers, safe transportation of goods, and a strong railway system for a strong economy.
Unlike some in the House, the NDP believes a strong economy includes fairness and safety for workers, safety for the travelling public, and safety for our communities and for the environment.
Let me conclude by saying that I and my NDP colleagues vigorously oppose any back to work legislation, or any legislation that undermines the fundamental right to collective bargaining. Decent hours of work, needed work breaks, and safe working conditions to protect the well-being of railway workers so that at the end of the day every worker can get home safe with their families, that is what we stand up for.
I ask all members to consider the ramifications of letting CN continue its business as usual approach. There is much more at stake than the economy. I am proud to stand and oppose yet another affront to workers' rights and vote against this back to work legislation.
Mr. David Christopherson (Hamilton Centre, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the opportunity to join in the debate this evening. It is interesting that often the size of a bill is not necessarily reflective of the power or impact that it will have. This is one of those cases.
Bill C-46 is not that lengthy a document. It runs but six pages. However, contained in it are incredible weapons, weapons that working Canadians are going to perceive have been turned on them by Parliament, their own government.
While it may be a debate for some members here, for individuals who are either walking the picket line now or are still out on the rails doing the best they can to provide, not just the best level of service for the customers of CN, but also for the safety of themselves, everyone else on the train and everybody who is affected by the incredible escalation of derailments that have taken place across this country, this is a powerful bill that goes in exactly the wrong direction.
The summary of the bill states:
|| This enactment provides for the resumption and continuation of railway operations and imposes a final offer selection process to resolve matters remaining in dispute between the parties.
That sounds nice and simple. The NDP has three huge problems with that sentence alone. First, to say that this act provides for the resumption and continuation of railway operations, it also means that free Canadians who, through a free and democratic vote, decided to exercise their rights to withdraw their labour and put pressure on their employer to cough up a better collective agreement are being denied those rights. If this bill passes, those Canadian citizens lose their rights.
Second, it imposes a final offer selection process. I see a couple of government backbenchers nodding their heads up and down nicely as if they were in the back of the car window. The fact is, I say to the hon. member now that he is actually listening, that this is not a fair process for the workers involved. That may not matter to the backbenchers but it matters to a lot of Canadians and their families.
Third, the summary says “resolve matters remaining in dispute”.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: What about farmers?
Mr. David Christopherson: In spite of the heckling, I am going to continue. If members do not want to listen, they do not need to listen but the workers will have their say while the Conservatives railroad them into an agreement or a law that takes away their rights. I have news for the members of the Conservative caucus. The NDP will stand here and defend those workers' rights today and every day that we need to.
The last one is the point about “resolve matters remaining in dispute”, which is just a nice way of saying that the government will jam it down their throat and they will just have to live with it. Basically, that is what it says.
Let me put on the record what one of Canada's foremost national labour leaders had to say about this.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: What about the average farmer?
Mr. David Christopherson: Here we go with the laughing and heckling from the Conservative benches. Anybody inside the National Union of Public and General Employees, NUPGE, who wants to know who is laughing while I am reading its national president's statement, just call the NDP office. We will be glad to give the names of those who think this is funny.
In the news release, the national president of NUPGE, James Clancy, said this about what is happening right here:
|| This is another regrettable example of Canada abrogating labour and human rights obligations....
|| We have a duty as a country to honour these conventions and treaties that our governments have signed over the years with the United Nations (UN) and the International Labour Organization (ILO).
|| Canada's “new government” is behaving in the old discredited way that governments in the past have behaved by violating our international obligations to respect the rights of workers.
|| This makes a mockery of Canada's signature on international labour and human rights conventions and treaties. The Harper Conservatives are behaving no better than the Liberals did, Clancy argued.
Mr. David Christopherson:
I apologize, Mr. Speaker. I thought you were referring to the name of the president, which I think is in order, but in this release was the name of a member. You are absolutely right and I apologize. It does not change the argument but the point is taken.
Mr. Clancy goes on to say:
|| There is no compelling need for the government to intervene. The strike has been declared legal by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board...and the parties should be left to resolve their differences through the collective bargaining process.
At its core that is what we are asking. All we are asking is that the government recognize there is a democratic negotiation taking place right now between two parties. A legal strike is underway. That, in and of itself, is not the end of the world. They were rotating strikes. I would put to members that a union that conducts rotating strikes, as opposed to a general shut down, is merely trying to make its point and put pressure on management to come to the bargaining table and negotiate a fair collective agreement.
If the union wanted to wreak the kind of havoc that the Conservative backbenchers are suggesting, it would have just taken a vote. It has huge support of, I believe, 70% or 75%. The workers could have taken that mandate and shut the system down but the workers did not want to do that.
What the workers want is to get a collective agreement. We must remember that at the end of the day this is supposed to be about getting a collective agreement. When there is a strike or it is imposed, we are breaking down the process. The strike is okay because it is within the confines but when the government starts dictating what the terms will be then it completely denies the union its legal right to represent those employees in the bargaining process.
In addition, if the union had wanted to do all this damage and it was so evil in listening to the Conservative backbenchers, it would have included commuters. If the union really wanted to crank up the heat, it could have done that. If it was all about an exercise of power, the union had the ability to do that.
However, the union is not seeking to do that, which is why this is so heartbreaking today. The legislation gives absolutely no recognition for the rights of the workers in this.
A colleague continues to mention the farmers. Fair enough. They are a part of the equation but to do this will not help the farmers.
This takes me to my next point, which is the safety issue. It does not do people an awful lot of good if all their products are on a train that goes over the cliff.
I want everyone to listen to this. If we wait long enough it starts to come out. Another one of them pipes up with a squeak here in the background, “well, that's what insurance is for”.
Mr. Chris Warkentin: That is not what I said.
Mr. David Christopherson: That is not good enough if somebody dies on that train that goes over the embankment.
I wish everybody was here to hear all the moans and groans at the suggestion that people could really be hurt. When a train derails that is a big deal because an awful lot of heavy metal is moving uncontrollably. How many have we seen this year alone?
I hear from my friends who deal with these issues every day that derailments have doubled this year in January. I know these have been read out but I want to read them again.
On January 4 in the Fraser Canyon a locomotive plunged down an embankment. Why are they not laughing? That is a funny line according to the guys opposite. They think a derailment down in an embankment is funny.
How about January 8, that was a real joke when 24 cars of a 122 car freight train derailed in Quebec. That is pretty hilarious.
How about March 1. Here is a real knee-slapper. A CN freight train derailed in Pickering. I will bet the people living in Pickering are not laughing very hard when they think about what has happened and what it means.
On March 4 grain was spilled near Blue River, B.C. I do not imagine farmers were very happy to see their grain going over the side, insurance or not.
On March 10 train traffic along Canadian National's main freight line through central New Brunswick was disrupted by a 17-car derailment. Although I know we have heard it, one still has to say it with amazement that for this wonderful accomplishment, this great safety record, the CEO of CN makes $56 million a year, more than $1 million a week.
My colleagues calculated it out. I stopped after I got to the $9,000 an hour part. Wait a minute. We have these skilled workers responsible for the trains in Canada. We have safety issues to the point where derailments are doubling and we are now putting populations at risk. We have a corporation that thinks its top boss is doing so well that he deserves $56 million a year to provide such fine derailments.
What is most aggravating about this situation for many of the workers and certainly for the union is the process. I mentioned earlier the final offer selection, the means that the government has put on the table, is not fair.
There are ways to settle disagreements and labour disputes that do not involve only two parties. It is not unusual to have a mediator play a role or a conciliator play a role and sometimes the parties will agree that they are so stuck that they need help. Often, to break the log-jam, they will send it to an arbitrator, make their case and then live by the decision. There are two main ways of doing that, interest arbitration and final offer selection, but there are others.
The difficulty with the one chosen here is that it is usually done where it is mainly money in dispute. One can bring in all the market comparisons, similar job comparisons, market studies and other collective agreements and one makes the case and then the arbitrator makes a ruling on what he or she thinks is fair.
However, in this case, this is where there are two complete offers on all the outstanding issues. The arbitrator picks one and that is it in its entirety or he picks the other one. It is win-win or lose-lose situation. It is not the best. If we had to go down a road that involves another party, would it not make sense that the process would be one that both parties want, not just management? We know management wants this. We know that the United States owners of CN want this but this is not what the workers wanted. All they want is fairness, so at the very least the government could have put in an interest arbitration.
Why does it matter so much? To come back to the bill that I was waving and saying that it was pretty thin but that it has great power, guess who gets to appoint the arbitrator? Is it the union? No. Is it the customers? No. Is the farmers or small business? No. The government appoints the arbitrator. The government gives all the power to the arbitrator. The government is on the side of its friends in big business. We know that. Somehow the government expects that the workers at CN and their families are supposed to believe that somehowm through all of thism they will get a fair shake. We do not see it.
Hunter Harrison, the CEO, made $56 million in 2005. He has made more than that since then I am sure. He gets $9,000 bucks an hour. The skilled CN workers, by an industrial average, make decent money. They have a lot of responsibility and have had a lot of training. Depending on their seniority and the job they do, they can make between $70,000 and $90,000 with some overtime. That is a decent wage, but it is not $9,000 an hour. However, it is certainly not too much. If my daughter is on that train, I want to ensure there are skilled workers who are focused on the job, who feel valued, who know they are professionals and are treated that way. That is the kind of person I want taking care of the safety of the trains, not people who feel they are being shafted at every turn by management, supported by their own government.
At the end of the day, this is wrong for the workers. Ultimately it is wrong for CN because it will allow it to continue to deny important maintenance money and other health and safety money as it focuses on the bottom line, not to mention ensuring that it clears at least $56 million so it can take care of the CEO.
The process chosen within this rather draconian bill does not even offer a crumb of democracy or fairness by picking a process that the union could at least live with even if it did not want it. Instead, it went with the final offer selection.
There is nothing here for the workers at CN except the spectacle of their own government turning on them, joining management on the other side of the table and denying them their democratic right to negotiate a fair wage for the work they perform on behalf of both their employer and Canadians in terms of the safety of the rail system in this nation.
It is a bad bill. We are proud to stand here and oppose it. It would be better if the government would take it back, fix it and bring real democracy, real choice and a final resolution to this, which would pave the way for a successful CN and a successful job creation world where people would feel safe. The bill falls far short of that.