The House resumed from June 21 consideration of the motion, and of the motion that this question be now put.
Mr. Robert Chisholm:
Madam Speaker, I appreciate that intervention.
As I said, members of a university Christian fellowship group were organizing a trip to Kazakhstan and their passports were caught in the mail because Canada Post, the employer, decided to completely suspend mail delivery. One of the trip organizers explained the problem to a postal worker who committed to try to track down the passports and intervene in order to rectify the problem. After his efforts in Wolfville in dealing with members of management, the worker went to union officials in Halifax and they identified where the passports were. After some insistence by the union officials, they were able to get into the postal station and retrieve the passports and get them into the hands of the people who were going to travel to do important work on an important exchange with Kazakhstan.
The point I am making is that the government is introducing legislation that pounds on the rights of the people who work for Canada Post when, in fact, it has been the people who work at Canada Post, the workers represented by CUPW, who have done everything in their power to try, at the same time as putting pressure to get negotiations moving forward, to not adversely inconvenience Canadian citizens and small business. In the case I mentioned, they even went so far as to intervene and make sure people could get their passports that were being held up as a direct result of the employer's decisions.
Again, I say to the members opposite that it was Canada Post that shut down completely the mail service in this country. The government should be directing any action toward the employer to either get rid of the members of the executive who are making decisions that adversely affect that operation or have them change their decision. However, that is not what the government is intending to do.
What the government has in mind is to engage in a direct attack on the rights of working people in this country. As a worker told me last night, workers across the country are not going to stand idly by and watch the government do away with rights which have been fought for so hard over the last century. That is an important thing to remember.
I was in Nova Scotia on June 11. That day is officially known as William Davis Miners' Memorial Day to recognize miners who have died on the job. In 1927, William Davis, in a dispute with the coal company, was shot dead. It is an example of the commitment that workers, women and men, have made in this country to ensure that they have some rights over their wages, benefits and working conditions. That is why unionized workers in this country are so discouraged, animated and angry at the attempt by the government to take away those hard-won rights.
Unions do not only exist to protect the rights of their workers, although if they did, that would be important, and to improve the rights and benefits of the people who are represented by that union. The history of the trade union movement in our country and around the world has been to make an important contribution within its community. Unions have played a significant role in the advancement of women's rights. They have worked diligently and tirelessly to bring forward universal medicare and to support and protect it. They have worked to protect public pensions for all.
The CPP is an initiative unions strove for and supported. Many union workers have negotiated pensions in their workplace, but unions recognize that all workers deserve to have a pension and deserve to live in dignity when they retire. That is why, to this day, we have a proposal coming out of the trade union movement to expand and strengthen the Canada pension plan. It has not asked the government to pony up and put all the money into it. It has asked the government to come up with a proposal, which we have endorsed on this side, that would see the Canada pension plan expanded. It would see the increase of premiums on behalf of the employees and the employers in a gradual fashion that would be sustainable. It would ensure that at the end of the day, once this plan is put forward after five years, people who have contributed for their full working lives would recognize a doubling of benefits from the Canada pension plan. People who are not now covered by the Canada pension plan would have access to that.
Those are some of the important things that unions do in order to support the community, pushing for better occupational health and safety and for an increased minimum wage, a livable wage for all workers, not just union workers. Those are the kinds of initiatives that benefit society and all our communities, and unions have been and will continue to fight for that.
This is important because the initiative undertaken by the government to strip away the rights of the workers at Canada Post is just the beginning. If the government can walk in and unilaterally make changes, which will inevitably change the Canada Labour Code that affects all federal employees, that will be just the beginning.
I suggest that the government is inserting itself in the greater public sector and in the private because it has decided, and it will decide in this case, that these negotiations have gone on too long. It has decided that the conditions under which the collective bargaining positions are being determined are not sufficient. Contrary to the Canada Labour Code and, in fact, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the government is stepping in to make these unilateral changes and, frankly, it is just the beginning.
As an aside, I think the government will have some trouble moving this forward in the court, given what has happened in British Columbia and other provinces, where the Supreme Court has struck down attempts by those provincial governments to insert themselves into the collective bargaining process, basically taking away rights enshrined in the charter, to ensure that workers have the right to assemble and to bargain collectively and freely, without the interference of the state.
We need to recognize these things.
It was interesting when we talked the other day about the successful motion by my colleague from London—Fanshawe to properly fund and raise all seniors out of poverty. We talked about people who had reached retirement age being able to live in some dignity.
Frankly, the disputes that the government has inserted itself into with Air Canada and Canada Post has some considerable significance regarding pension plans. The government members opposite support companies that say they cannot afford the pensions they have freely negotiated with their employees. Therefore, they want to change, dilute or ensure that new employees are not eligible for the same level of pension benefit.
Surely the consequence of that is clear to all members. We are now dealing with 250,000 to 300,000 seniors living below the poverty line because they have inadequate pensions. If we continue to push down the pension levels of working people, that problem will only be exacerbated. What will the government do then?
I believe the government does not think too far into the future other than maybe beyond the next election. In many cases, the people of small businesses in my community support the rights of working people to earn a fair wage and to get their benefits so they can live in some dignity when they are in their later years.
It is important that all businesses recognize that if we continue to allow the government to push down wages and pension benefits, people will be unable to afford groceries, furniture, condominiums, nice apartments, cars, or the goods and services that make our communities work. If we continue to shove everything down to the lowest common denominator, the workers will not have enough money to pay for decent lodgings, for fridges and stoves, or to have their lawns cut, those services that are so important to small businesses, in my community anyway.
What will happen then to those small businesses, some of which are now urging members opposite to start putting the strap to working people, hammering away and taking away their rights, their benefits and their ability to function appropriately and live in dignity, or to contribute to their families, their communities and their organizations?
What will the end result be? I ask the members opposite to think about this.
I suggest that in many jurisdictions the balance that has been struck in the Canada Labour Code and the Trade Union Act of Nova Scotia, as well as other statutes dealing with labour relations in the country, is already outweighed by employers. Having said that, the Canada Labour Code has existed for many years and continues to operate.
If the government inserts itself so clearly on the side of the employer to completely tip the balance in that regard, the Canada Labour Code, as we know it, will no longer exist. Why would any federal employer, or any employer that operates under the Canada Labour Code, come to the table in good faith and be prepared to negotiate with its workers? Even in non-unionized situations, why would employers be willing to negotiate a good wage, a fair wage, a good pension plan, a good health plan if they know the Conservative government would be willing to help them out any way it could to shove down their costs and, in many cases, reward inefficiency?
That is another bizarre thing about this situation. Canada Post, because of its workers, has shown itself to be very successful in generating revenues.
We will have the opportunity to speak more about this and I will certainly stand as many times as I can to talk about this legislation.
Hon. Lisa Raitt (Minister of Labour, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, before I commence my speech, I want to pick up on something the member for Dartmouth—Cole Harbour said.
He mentioned Davis Day, which is on June 11, and it is celebrated in mining communities across Nova Scotia. It is a very important day in the culture that I come from. However, it is also important to note that it is a day when a very tragic incident happened. It was the day when William Davis was shot in cold blood as a result of protests at the mines because employees were not receiving wages and, indeed, were being asked to take a further cut.
My take from Davis Day, however, is one that is even more important, which is that it only escalated to that level of violence after the government refused to intervene, even though the families and the men asked it to do so. That is valid. The Government of Canada should intervene when it is appropriate to do so in the public interest.
This government has been given a strong mandate by Canadians to complete our economic recovery. As Canada's labour minister, it is my view that the Government of Canada must take decisive action now before further damage is done to our economy. That is why our government introduced in the House Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services.
After eight months of collective bargaining and mediation, a labour dispute between Canada Post and more than 50,000 employees, represented by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers Urban Operations Unit, has resulted in a work stoppage. It is an event that, if left unresolved, could jeopardize Canada's economic prosperity.
Today I will discuss the specific details of this proposed legislation, but, first, there are some important facts that will help put this extraordinary legislative measure in its proper context.
Canada Post is one of Canada's largest corporations and delivers a service that many Canadians count on. It supports 70,000 full-time and part-time employees and contributes $6.6 billion to our country's GDP. A reliable postal service without interruption is an important part of what keeps our economy running smoothly.
As a result of a labour dispute between Canada Post and more than 50,000 of these employees, the service is now interrupted and at a standstill. However, this labour dispute has been simmering for many months and, now that postal services have stopped, this dispute is having more of an impact on the Canadian public, not just Canada Post and its employees. It could affect the livelihood of many Canadians across the land.
Contrary to the assertions of the opposition, we do not take back to work legislation lightly, but this measure is necessary. All other avenues have been exhausted. This is the right thing to do. There is too much at stake for Canadians and our economy on the whole. We must and we will act now.
I will take a few minutes to outline the potential economic risks entailed by this work stoppage. I will also talk about the intent of the proposed legislation.
As I indicated, a reliable postal service is far more than just personal mail. It is a fundamental part of doing business in Canada and the economic risks of no longer having that service are significant. Canada Post is an integral part of what keeps Canada in business and what puts money in the pockets of its citizens. Many small and large businesses rely on Canada Post to issue bills, to process orders and to receive payments. This is a service that matters.
There are Canadian families waiting for their tax refunds or HST rebates to arrive. There are citizens in the far north who rely on the mail for essential goods, like prescription eyewear, dental products, drugs and legal documents, and there are those who still make payments by mail. They will tell us that there is much at stake in this dispute.
Quite frankly, Canadians and businesses should not have to deal with this kind of uncertainty. They should not be the ones expected to bear the brunt of a labour dispute that shows no sign of being resolved through the collective bargaining process.
Just as important, our economy cannot afford to deal with a postal disruption brought by the lockout. Consider the costs that we are all having to pay. It has been nearly 14 years since Canada last had a work stoppage at Canada Post. A work stoppage could result in losses to our economy of between $9 million and $31 million per week. That means every day, more jobs at risk, more productivity lost, more challenges for business and more uncertainty for consumers.
Therefore I ask the following question. Can we afford to have this happen, especially when Canada's recovery from the recession is really starting to gain speed? I think the answer is clearly no.
As I said, every other avenue has been exhausted to help bring a full and lasting resolution to this dispute. Let me tell the House what has transpired over the last eight months.
On October 4 of last year, the union, CUPW, served the employer notice to commence collective bargaining for the purpose of renewing their collective agreement, the first step in the process. The parties negotiated directly from October 2010 to January 2011. On January 21 of this year, the union filed a notice of dispute and requested services of conciliation from the federal government. I appointed a conciliation officer on January 31 to help the parties reach a resolution. Through February and March, the conciliation officer met with the parties and on April 1 the conciliation period was extended until May 3, 2011 to get us through the general election. During that time, the conciliation officer continued to meet with the parties. As per the Canada Labour Code, the parties were released from conciliation in early May, and on May 5 a mediator was appointed. Throughout the month of May, the mediator from the labour program's federal mediation and conciliation service met very frequently with the parties. Unfortunately, despite all these efforts, an agreement between the parties remained elusive.
We need to take decisive action now. Canadians deserve no less.
This act provides for the resumption and continuation of mail services at Canada Post. First, it brings an end to the growing uncertainty that has characterized so much of this dispute in the last several months. As well, consistent with the recent settlements in the federal public service, it imposes a four-year contract and provides new pay-rate increases. The pay outcome will be a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011; a 1.5% increase in February 2012; a further 2% increase in February 2013; and a further 2% increase again in February 2014.
The act also provides for final-offer selection, which is a binding mechanism on all matters still in dispute and outstanding. Furthermore, in making this selection of a final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by general principles that take into consideration the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and that provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure both the short- and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation. It also takes into consideration the need to maintain the health and safety of the workers and to ensure the sustainability of their pension plan.
More specifically, the terms and conditions have to take into account two things: first, that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of a new collective agreement; and second, that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service. It is a decisive approach and it is aimed at resolving this labour dispute.
In the absence of solution that is crafted by the parties themselves, which we have spent many hours trying to achieve since the rolling strikes of June 1 and which we would have preferred to see, this proposed legislation takes the steps that are necessary to safeguard our recovering economy and to ensure that Canadian families and businesses do not wind up suffering as a result of a dispute they had no part in creating.
Our government has put procedures in place to ensure the efficient delivery of services and benefits to Canadians, such as the use of courier delivery, early release of some benefit payments and in-person delivery through regional Service Canada centres. These are things we needed to do to ensure that Canadian citizens are still served by the Government of Canada during this postal stoppage.
However, by introducing this proposed legislation, we are not taking sides in the matter. What we are doing, and what all parties in this House have a responsibility to do, is working on behalf of all Canadians because that is what they expect of us. We are showing leadership in this matter. That means taking decisive action to keep business in Canada moving.
In conclusion, I would reiterate that we are taking extraordinary measures. We are doing so because no workable solutions have been found to resolve the dispute at Canada Post. Parliament has an obligation to respond in turn and we have to act in the best interests of the country. Canadians, quite frankly, deserve much better than delays or excuses or random rhetoric. They have a right to expect that Parliament will do the right thing to protect our economy and to ensure that the business of Canada keeps moving.
I would ask all members of this House to join me in meeting our collective responsibility to Canadians and support this proposed legislation.
Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton—Canso, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague from Bourassa in the debate today.
We had the chronology from the minister, but one thing she did not identify or point out was the political chronology that paralleled the negotiations through the last number of months, that being the fact that we were approaching an election during those contract talks. We had the election and now the minister is certainly buoyed by the fact that she is in a majority situation and the Conservatives will deal with it like they would have liked to deal with it a number of months ago. Their fingerprints are all over the final outcome of this labour dispute.
We do not doubt in any way, and certainly the government members have said time and time again throughout the course of this debate, that it is important to get Canada Post workers back to work. They have said that businesses, charities and individual Canadians are being inconvenienced. The opposition parties do not dispute that.
I had the opportunity to speak with a number of the striking workers in Sydney this past weekend. CUPW members had made it perfectly clear that they were willing to go back to work. They wanted to go back to work. They had a meeting with Mr. Chopra. They identified three particular points, one of those points being that they would go back to work under the past collective agreement. They would be willing to go back to work under those terms. However, the corporation knew full well that it was supported by the government and that the government, in tabling legislation, would reinforce its position, its seat at the bargaining table. He asked, “Why would we do that? We will get the legislation coming forward from the government and we will maintain this lockout”. Let us be perfectly clear, this is a lockout. It is not a strike by CUPW. This is a lockout by Canada Post.
The workers wanted to get back. They were content to go back under the terms of the last agreement. They were willing to do that. We in the opposition understand that. Government members portray it like this is a nefarious plan to really jig up Canadians by not delivering cheques or not providing services. Anyone who has been in any strike before, whether it was on the union side or on the management side, knows that strikes are absolutely no fun.
I remember as a student working with Nova Scotia Power Corporation and being a casual member of the pool. We were members of CBRT & GW. In the work term one summer there was an information picket and we were out on the picket lines for a couple of days. The first day was a little bit of fun. It was almost jovial the first couple of days, but I was a student and all I had to worry about was putting a few bucks together to go back to school the next year. But by day two, day three, people really started to feel the impact. They had to provide for their families and a tension is created because those people had to go back to work in that environment again. There is a tension created through the course of a labour dispute that does no benefit. There are strikes which have taken place and the scars still remain from past union-company management disturbances that take years and years to heal.
CUPW workers offered to go back. They wanted to go back, but again, the company maintained the lockout. That is why we are in the situation we are in today.
I shared with my colleague from Halifax earlier that union-management negotiations and collective bargaining follow their own path.
Today the nurses at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax signed off on an agreement that should be ratified. Their past contract lapsed in October 2009.
The last CUPW agreement finished on January 31, 2011. That is not a long time. Both Canada Post and the union should be encouraged to sit down in good faith, agree on what they can, sign off on what they agree on, and then take outstanding issues to arbitration mediation. That would make more sense than what is being rammed down the throats of the workers right now under this legislation.
The workers were having rotating strikes and getting attention to their issues, but Canada Post went forward with the lockout and that caught some people by surprise.
The fact that the government has come forward with this type of legislation should not be a surprise to anybody, because we have seen this movie before. We saw the action taken by the government during the Air Canada strike. Air travellers had numerous opportunities to take other flights to get around this country. Even with this private corporation, the government felt obliged to bring forward back-to-work legislation. The government did that to a private corporation, so none of us should have been surprised when the government presented back to work legislation once Canada Post locked the workers out.
I think the common view in this chamber is that Canada Post would not have proceeded had it not been given some indication by the government that it would present back-to-work legislation. We would be naive to think that Canada Post did not have that in its back pocket before it went ahead with the lockout.
Coming forward with this legislation is equivalent to someone with a broken wrist walking into the doctor's office expecting it to be put in a cast, but instead the doctor cuts it off at the elbow. The government has done exactly that by presenting this legislation. Rather than encouraging the parties to get back to the table and bargain in good faith, the government has pushed that all aside. It has cut off the arm at the elbow.
It is obvious that this legislation is loaded on the side of Canada Post. With the final offer arbitration, the government has handcuffed an arbitrator who will have to find a resolution that is fair to both sides. We just need to look at the salaries in this legislation. Canada Post had offered far greater than what is being offered in this legislation. The government felt compelled to send a message out to organized labour in this country that workers' rights are no longer going to be respected, it is back to work and this is what they are going to get. It is unfair. This legislation is not fair. Other avenues should have been pursued before the government came in with a hammer, before it cut the arm off at the elbow. Shame on the government for this particular piece of legislation.
Hon. Denis Coderre (Bourassa, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, ironically, 14 years ago I took part in this same debate, but there were significant differences: after two weeks of strike action by Canada Post postal workers, the Liberal government of the day wanted to introduce back-to-work legislation. That is obviously when an arbitrator is appointed. However, unlike what we are seeing today, the arbitrator spoke to both the employer and the union. A binding agreement was reached. Having an arbitrator makes the decision binding. It ends the strike and people return to work.
I would say, for the benefit of the thousands of people watching us on television, that a number of things are going to happen today. First, since the government has a majority, it will not matter who tears their shirt over this; the bill will pass. Then, the official opposition will tear its shirt and engage in what we call a filibuster: it will take all the time in the world in order to look good to the workers and the union. The opposition will have done its job, but the bill will pass nonetheless.
I think we must take this opportunity to help people understand what is really happening and how dangerous this bill is. This tactic is often used by this government. It is important to remember that we are not just talking about Canada Post. The government showed its true colours in the case of Air Canada; in less than 24 hours, the government was ready to introduce a bill. It was a warning. That means that, as of now, the government no longer believes in bargaining power. The government no longer believes that employees and unions can sit down and talk with management. The government is on management's side and that is that. There are no more collective rights.
What is troubling is the way this bill is being introduced. I want to talk today about respect because, as the hon. member for Laurentides—Labelle said earlier, the government is also starting to label: unions are bad and management is good. The bad guys are the greedy employees who have a very big collective agreement and who, when it comes right down to it, are well paid. Does the government need that? Now, it is going to try to make the public believe that this bill is important because some people are losing a lot of money and others are not receiving their cheques, etc.
Can we put things into perspective? The Liberal Party believes that we must take a pragmatic approach. Yes, it is true that Canada Post is an essential service and is linked to an economic reality. However, it is also important to understand that, unlike 14 years ago when the strike lasted two weeks, this time the workers were not on a general strike but, rather, a rotating strike. Service was still being provided. It was the employer itself that decided to reduce the number of days that the mail would be delivered: three days a week rather than five. In addition, according to the union—and this information must still be verified—a little bit of mail was being set aside. This made it more difficult to deliver all the mail. Then, after 12 days, Canada Post declared a lockout.
The problem is that Canada Post is owned by the government . It is a crown corporation. I refuse to believe that the Minister of Labour was not speaking directly to Canada Post's management. In summary, this whole situation does not really hold water.
The Canadian public must understand that, yes, the mail is an essential service; yes, the mail must be delivered; yes, there are economic considerations, particularly in rural regions. We understand all that.
To demonstrate the good faith of the Canada Post workers, I note that some people were to receive their cheques last week. They received them because the postal workers did deliver social assistance cheques, for example, and cheques for seniors. That shows that there is some element of good faith in this situation.
What exasperates me in this kind of debate is that everything is black or white. Unfortunately, the NDP is dogmatic, with its all or nothing approach. We heard the member for Acadie—Bathurst who was fit to be tied. We are also fit to be tied, but he should watch his blood pressure.
Even on the Conservative side, just now, there was a member who did not understand that in the Canada Labour Code there is a right to stage rotating strikes. Things are not going well.
That is why this debate is important: people have to understand how things work.
What I find even more disrespectful, as a Quebecker and a French Canadian, is that with the NDP's symbolic obstruction and the way the Conservative Party is proceeding, it has been decided that even though June 24 is the national holiday of Quebec, Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, we are going to sit anyway. The national holiday is being treated as something of no importance. I agree with the Bloc, as I mentioned this morning, that we could have adjourned. If we believe Quebec is a nation, we should respect the Quebec nation. I do not see why we would sit on that day. In any event, let us not panic; on the 24th, there is no mail delivery in Quebec, and so we would not have received any, in any event. At some point, we have to have some principles.
That being said, it is unfortunate to see a bill offering employees a lower wage than what the employer had offered in the first place. We have an arbitrator who is essentially being held by the throat and told what he has to impose, how he is going to achieve it, that it is either the employer’s package or the union’s package. The way things are working, I would find it very surprising if the union’s package were accepted. We are on a very slippery slope in Canada. At some point, the issue is one of rights and values.
Certainly if there had been a general strike for two weeks in the same circumstances as the strike 14 years ago, the situation would be different. After two weeks of a general strike, the bill could have given the arbitrator some latitude and the binding authority to look at both sides of the coin and pick some things from each side. When there is an arbitrator, there are losers on both sides, the employer’s and the union’s. I have seen enough examples in my lifetime to know that. But in this case we get the clear impression that the dice are loaded.
I think it is really very sad that we find ourselves in this situation. The government is going to try to tell us how awful it was during the Liberals’ time, and that this government believes in the economy. We believe in the economy too. In 1993, when we took power, the Conservatives had left us with a $42 billion deficit, and we balanced the books, as my former leader Jean Chrétien said. And now we have another deficit.
It is odd; Canada Post is earning a profit. They cannot pick and choose. The hot topic concerning the economy this fall will be the future of pension plans for those who have them. Look at what is going on with the City of Montreal and others. All collective agreements are being reopened. There is something going on with pension plans. Furthermore, young people are entering the labour market. They will notice they do not have the same working conditions and will perhaps not have any pension plan.
Bullying tactics, like the action being forced down our throats, will not solve anything. They are simply sweeping things under the rug. It looks good, people return to work, but the problems will still be there. The government could have been more creative and respectful of collective rights, while still respecting individual rights, by creating appropriate legislation. I hope that the minister will want to make some amendments.
As a member from Quebec, I will not be here on June 24. If we are still sitting on June 25, I will be happy to return, but out of respect for Quebeckers and French Canadians, I will not be here on June 24. If there is something on the 25, we will be here. We believe that we must have just as much respect for French Canadians and Quebeckers as for workers.
The Liberal Party has a pragmatic approach. I congratulate and thank my colleague from Cape Breton—Canso, our labour critic. He has shown how different our approach was compared to the NDP's and the Conservatives'. At some point, any government, regardless of the political party, will introduce back-to-work legislation. There must be a balance to help the general public, but we must not ignore the fact that workers also have rights and that, above all, they deserve decent working conditions.
Ms. Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Justice, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak in support of Bill C-6, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services.
This bill would bring an end to the work stoppage involving Canada Post and about 50,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Urban Operations Unit, or CUPW.
As my fellow members know, the government has used every tool available under the Canada Labour Code to bring the two sides together, without success. This legislation would end the strike. It would impose a four-year contract and new rates of pay. The legislation also provides for final offer selection, a binding mechanism on all outstanding matters.
Furthermore, in making the selection of a final offer, the arbitrator would be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and that would provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of the Canada Post Corporation, maintain the health and safety of its workers and ensure the sustainability of its pension plan.
The terms and conditions of employment must also take into account that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a result of the new collective agreement, and that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.
The best solution in any dispute is always the one that the parties reach themselves. It is always better when employers and unions can negotiate contracts at the bargaining table without the need for Parliament to intervene. We have come a long way since the 1920s.
No member of this House is pleased about having to vote on this kind of legislation. However, it is absolutely vital that we do intervene. Parliament must act. In a moment I will talk about what is at stake for our national economy, but first I will take a little time to summarize the events that brought us to this point. I will start with some background on this dispute.
Canada Post is a crown corporation that employs more than 70,000 full and part-time employees. Every business day, Canada Post delivers approximately 40 million items. That adds up to 11 billion pieces of mail every year. Canada Post has to be reliable and efficient and offer services at a reasonable price if it is going to keep its customers. It also has to generate revenue and control expenses, like any other business.
For its part, the union, naturally, wants the best possible deal for its members in terms of salary and working conditions. The dispute between Canada Post and CUPW relates to the renewal of collective agreements covering some 50,000 postal workers, plant and retail employees, letter carriers and mail service couriers. The latest collective agreement expired on January 31, 2011.
Negotiations for a new agreement began in October 2010. Major and complex issues had to be addressed at the negotiating table, including the introduction of a short-term disability plan and Canada Post's interest in moving toward a two-tiered wage approach.
On January 21 of this year, the parties informed the Government of Canada that they had reached an impasse. The Minister of Labour immediately appointed a conciliator to help the parties resolve their differences. When no progress was made after the initial 60-day conciliation period, it was then extended by another 32 days.
A solution was still not forthcoming and on May 5 a mediator was appointed. Throughout the month of May, an officer from the labour program's federal mediation and conciliation service met frequently with the parties.
Despite this lengthy process and the breadth of federal government support, on May 30, CUPW gave 72-hours notice of its intent to strike. On June 3, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers started rotating strike action and, on June 15, 2011, the employer declared a lockout.
I heard the member opposite talk about what our minister and our government have done with respect to this matter. This gives a very good idea of the lengths that have been gone to over many months to attempt to resolve this dispute in a different way.
The postal workers have been without a contract since the end of January of this year despite many rounds of bargaining. The two sides have been unable to close the gap between their positions. It is unfortunate when employers and unions cannot find a way to reach settlements that are in their mutual interest.
However, the reality is that sometimes collective bargaining fails. When that happens, the parties have several options. They can jointly request that the Minister of Labour appoint an arbitrator. Employers can also bring pressure to bear on the union by locking out workers and trying to continue business without them. Workers can pressure the employer by withdrawing their labour. All of those options are of course legal as long as certain conditions are met.
Under normal circumstances, the Government of Canada does not intervene in labour disputes of this kind. We respect the right to free collective bargaining, which includes the right to strike or lockout. Parliament will stand aside as long as the people most affected are the parties to the dispute themselves and there is no threat of serious harm to the national economy or public health and safety.
When employers and unions choose a course of action that has serious consequences on the country as a whole, this situation changes. Parliament can no longer stand aside. Parliament may then decide that the right of the parties to exert pressure through a strike or lockout has to be weighed against the rights of all Canadians in all provinces and territories.
The losses caused by a shutdown of postal services are not borne only by Canada Post and its employees. They are borne by hard-working Canadians and their families across the country. Jobs are at stake and businesses are on the line. Whole sectors of the economy will be affected and the ripple effect will reach everywhere.
Bringing in back to work legislation is always a difficult decision, but in this particular case we feel we have no alternative. We must do what is necessary to keep Canada and the Canadian economy running. That is the strong mandate we were given in the last election.
We need to consider what a strike means in the mail order sector. By definition, these businesses depend on reliable postal services. They could hardly exist without them. Many of these enterprises are mom and pop operations run out of someone's home. Not all of them can afford to switch to courier services. If the strike continues, many small businesses will go under. As all parties in the House have been expressing support for small businesses, they should support this government initiative.
This is not speculation. Interestingly, my notes have me saying that I am sure everyone here remembers the mail strike of November 1997. However, mindful of many young parliamentarians, I would say that everyone over a certain age perhaps remembers that mail strike of 1997. It lasted for 15 days and many small and medium-sized businesses suffered or went under.
Reliance on postal services has diminished somewhat since 1997 due to the advent of the Internet and the increased use of faxes, email, electronic billing and electronic funds transfers, but small and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on postal services for billing and order fulfillment. A work stoppage at Canada Post is hitting small and medium-sized businesses much harder than large corporations.
Again, if the opposition members are determined, as they have stated, to champion small business, I encourage them to proudly support the legislation.
Is it fair that hard-working Canadian entrepreneurs are held hostage by a postal dispute? Small- and medium-size businesses are engines of growth, and every day they make a significant contribution to Canada's recovery from the recession, a recovery, by the way, that is still fragile.
The 15-day strike in 1997 did a lot of damage. The strike we are now experiencing could cost our economy a lot more. I will give some figures.
Members of the House may not be aware that directly or indirectly Canada Post contributes $6.6 billion to this country's GDP. We know that past mail strikes have had a crippling effect on the economy in a very short period of time. Can our economy afford such a heavy blow when some sectors are still struggling?
The Canadian direct marketing industry, for example, suffered serious financial losses during the economic downturn. How would it cope with a prolonged postal strike?
What about the Canadian magazine industry? Those businesses have no practical cost-effective way to get their product to customers in the absence of postal service. For them, this postal strike could be nothing short of a disaster.
I could go on and on. If we do not do something soon about the postal strike, Canadian businesses will suffer. They already are. Canadian consumers will suffer. They already are. People who just want to communicate with family and friends will suffer.
I have a couple of examples of emails that I have received from constituents in my riding. One of them, which is addressed to me, says:
|| Canada Post does definitely affect the economy! A good portion of Canadians many of them Seniors, and the disabled, rely on Canada Post to deliver cheques, bills, bank statements, etc. Without the mail, they are stuck.
Another email came from a resident of Vancouver, B.C. I assume she thought that this might fall on deaf ears with her Liberal member of Parliament. She wrote in the subject line “I really need your help”, and said in the email:
|| I live in Vancouver, BC, I have a big problem, my young sister is going to marry on 01 of July this year in Mexico, in 15 days. My husband and I appl[ied] for visas to go to Mexico. Citizenship and Immigration Canada [says that] you need to send an Xpresspost from Canada Post to receive your documents faster. After 20 days of waiting they are all ready but I have a stranded envelope in a Canada post office in London, Ontario...with the passports and visas [for] my daughter, my husband and [me]. For the decision of putting down the labours in Canada post, I'm going to lose the opportunity to see my family and go to my sister's wedding. I have very important documents that are going to Mexico my country. Please help me to receive this envelope. I hope you understand....
She also said:
|| I really care about the problem between Canada Post and the CUPW but they really need to think of mine too.
We cannot do everything, even in this modern world, by email. For the sake of all Canadians, we must act now and pass the legislation. We must not wait until jobs are lost, until businesses start closing, and until the damage is too severe to be repaired. We must act now.
I hope all members of the House will join me in supporting the legislation.
Mr. Thomas Mulcair (Outremont, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, sometimes debate influences a government’s actions and also public perception.
If Canadians initially had the impression that the Conservatives were a heartless and untrustworthy bunch who flouted human rights and freedoms, well, the government's actions are now giving credence to this perception.
If there is one area where good faith must prevail, it is labour relations. The Supreme Court has told us that labour relations are guaranteed by the charter because they constitute a subset of our economic rights, our freedom of expression, and our freedom of association.
What have we seen over recent weeks from this Conservative government? Why does Canadians’ mistrust of the Conservatives now appear justified?
Let us consider the government’s concrete actions, and the response we have heard here today. To begin with, this is a crown corporation. The government owns the corporation on behalf of all Canadians, and it has the last word when it comes to what Canada Post Corporation does. Throughout the bargaining process—with the government on one side, and employees and their union representatives on the other—everything was going along swimmingly. There were a number of attempts by the employees—legitimately and according to their rights—to voice their point of view through rotating strikes, for example, which did not significantly affect service to the public.
That was one way for the employees, who had the right to strike, to say that the bargaining process had gone off track, and to give us a sense of the steps they intended to take to make management see reason.
What happened then? The very same Canada Post Corporation, owned by the government, locked out its own employees. They locked their doors, with the employees on the outside. The government, through one of its own bodies, a crown corporation, has shut its employees outside and is keeping them there. Then they turn around and look at the situation they just created and pretend to be surprised, saying, “For God’s sake, this cannot go on like this. Look, these people have stopped working.” That is how one of the Conservative backbenchers just put it.
“We have to bring these people back to work”.
Those creeps, those things, as if they were not citizens endowed with all due rights, which they are exercising in a calm, practical way under legislation duly passed by the House of Commons. That is what we are talking about here. These are people who exercised a right guaranteed by legislation passed by this House. Not content just to trifle with this, showing their usual bad faith, the Conservatives are going so far today as to tell us that they are not only going to throw these people out but they are going to lock the doors and come up with a solution to the problem they just created themselves by throwing these people out. Special legislation will be passed to deprive them of their rights, even though those rights are guaranteed under the Charter and in legislation passed by the House of Commons.
This is not a new way of doing things. My colleague from Vancouver East already showed us how the very same thing was done in 1997 by a Liberal government. It was very interesting the other day to hear certain leading lights of the Liberal Party pretending to be outraged by the tactics employed by the Conservatives when they are a carbon copy of Bill C-34 passed by a Liberal government in 1997.
Governments change but the tactics remain the same. When it comes to showing respect for working people and their rights, what the Conservatives are doing is clearly in line with all the social and economic policies of the Conservative government. It is as if we were in the early 1980s, in the Reagan era with the air traffic controllers. What could be better for a government of the far right than to flex its muscles at the expense of working people, look at its Reform Party base and say, “Finally you can see why you supported us from the beginning. We will put working people in their place”. The Conservatives will do that, even though the bad faith is as obvious as it is right now.
It is the Conservatives who are imposing a lockout, bolting the door themselves, throwing everybody out, and saying how terrible it is that these people are not working anymore. But it is the Conservatives who locked them out, and now because they are not working any more, the Conservatives want special legislation to force them back to work. The funny thing is that the Conservatives are even going so far as to copy from the Liberals’ legislation the part where the Liberals lowered the salary offers already on the table. Several of my colleagues, including the hon. member for Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, asked about this. But as we all heard, there was no answer.
They cannot answer because this makes absolutely no sense. If the objective is to settle a dispute between an employer and its employees, they would have at least put on the table what the two parties had already agreed on. But no, the Conservatives are rubbing salt in the wounds of workers who were just locked out and telling them not only that they are the bad guys for getting locked out, but also that they are being punished and getting less than they managed to agree on with the employer. They are being told they should have been happy with the crumbs they had been offered. Now even the crumbs are being taken away, because they did not appreciate the fact that their employer is a good employer and they should have accepted whatever they were offered. So it is their fault.
To understand what a mistake this is, both economically and socially, one only has to look at everything the Conservatives have done over the past five and half years since they came to power. This is part of their right-wing ideology, which is at odds with the impression they like to give, since they always talk about families and future generations. In reality, however, all of their actions have been harmful to future generations, no matter what rhetoric they like to spew.
Let me put this into context. As this time, by eliminating all guarantees of a decent pension, the Conservatives are dumping a huge social debt on future generations. Who is going to pay for the people who cannot afford to meet their own needs once they retire? Future generations will pay.
What has been happening since the Conservatives have been here? They are in the process of leaving future generations with the most significant environmental, economic and social debt in our history. These three elements are interconnected and constitute the three pillars of sustainable development. This bill and all the Conservatives' actions are the antithesis to sustainable development. What they are doing is not sustainable.
Let us take a close look at what their approach to developing our natural resources means. Take the oil sands for example. They have decided to take everything they can immediately and export the jobs. A pipeline like Keystone exports 16,000 jobs to the United States because we do not have what it takes to do the processing and refining here. We are exporting crude. With the Keystone pipeline alone, we are exporting 16,000 jobs to the United States without internalizing the environmental costs. Cost internalization is one of the basic principles of sustainable development. We are leaving it up to future generations to clean up the soil, water and air that we are polluting with the way in which the oil sands are being developed. The Conservatives likes to exaggerate things and say that we are against the oil sands development. That is not true. We are against the way in which the oil sands are being developed because it is disrespectful of future generations. As a result of this failure to internalize the environmental cost, we end up importing an artificially high number of U.S. dollars since the cost has never been included. This artificially high number of U.S. dollars is raising the value of the Canadian dollar, which, for a while now, has exceeded the value of the U.S. dollar.
Such a high Canadian dollar makes it increasingly difficult to export our manufactured goods. The result is that, since the Conservatives came to power in January 2006, Canada has been experiencing what economic textbooks and writings refer to as the Dutch disease, named after what happened in the Netherlands in the 1960s. The Dutch were thrilled to discover large offshore gas deposits. It was a windfall. It was going to be good for the economy because everyone was going to buy gas from them. They were right, except that this occurred before the euro. Every country in Europe had its own currency. The Netherlands used the guilder, which began to shoot up in value because everyone was in fact buying gas from them and other countries' currencies were coming in. The value of the guilder spiked and completely destroyed their manufacturing industry.
Statistics Canada has indicated that we are experiencing exactly the same thing here in Canada right now. Our manufacturing industry is being gutted. Since the Conservatives came to power, they have been gutting our manufacturing industry because they are not applying the basic principles of sustainable development. The Conservatives will deny it and say that they have created so many hundreds of thousands of jobs since the crisis began. And that is true. However, they are replacing jobs in our manufacturing industry with jobs in the service industry, which are often part-time and insecure. I do not wish to take anything away from someone who works in a shopping mall and sells clothing for $12 an hour, but someone who worked for GM, which used to be on the west side of the Laurentian Autoroute in Boisbriand before it became a mega-mall, earned enough money to take care of a family. That person also had a pension to live on after he or she retired. Simply put, what the government is doing is replacing these well-paid jobs that had retirement pensions—and this is yet another attack on retirement pensions—with lower-paying jobs in the service industry that do not give employees enough money to take care of their families and, of course, do not provide them with retirement pensions.
The government is responsible for sustainable development every time it makes a decision. It must look at the environmental, economic and social aspects of a problem. If basic environmental principles are not respected, there is a negative impact on the economy. We have lost hundreds of thousands of jobs in the manufacturing sector. The social issue is that hundreds of thousands of people will retire without enough money to live on. What will happen? They will have to be supported by the government. Who will the government be then? Today's young people. They will be stuck paying for these people because we did not abide by the basic rules of intergenerational equity, our obligations to future generations.
That is exactly the philosophy that is on the table today. The government is going after not only existing benefits, but also wages and working conditions. I urge everyone here to speak to a letter carrier, with someone who delivers the mail, with someone who does that job. They have been pushed to the limit. There is nothing left to squeeze out of them. Hours of work, working conditions, occupational injuries: everything will get worse because from now on, they must sort for themselves as they go. What they are being asked to do is unbelievable. But the government, still riding the same general wave that they created themselves—an anti-worker, anti-union one—says that it is no big deal, that they can surf the wave and that the public will support them. That is a lesson they learned from Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s. The more you go after the unions, the happier you make a certain segment of the population, particularly the Conservatives' base. They are playing this game for the benefit of their Reform base.
They have never delivered anything. What is being left for future generations is very serious in terms of the economy. They are simply gutting the industrial and manufacturing sector. Look at what they are doing with the largest deficit in history. The largest deficit in history has been delivered by the Conservatives. They just beat the record set by the Mulroney Conservative government. They hold the deficit record and yet they claim to be such great managers of public assets. We saw that again this week.
Auditing services within the government ensure, on our behalf, that government spending follows the rules. When it came time to trim excess fat from the government, where did they start? With the 92 people who audit and monitor government spending. How on earth are we supposed to monitor spending when they fired the people who monitor that spending? It is absurd, but that is where the Conservative logic leads.
They are telling us that there are serious issues with government spending and that cuts will have to be made. It is funny: since these same people—who claim to be such wonderful public administrators—came to power five and a half years ago, the annual rate of inflation has been about 2%. Plus, government spending has increased at three and a half times the rate of the cost of living. Did you hear that? Annual spending has increased by 6% to 7% each year since they came to power. Now—and this is similar to what they are doing to postal workers—having created the worst deficit in history, never having managed to control government spending, they are saying that it is terrible, that there is a deficit, that there is waste, that public money is being thrown out the window, and that this needs to stop.
Can we have a reality check here? They are the ones who have been running the country for five and a half years. Every time they say that public money is being wasted in government administration, they are criticizing themselves. They are the ones who have been managing this money for five and a half years. They are the ones who are responsible for the situation they are currently criticizing; however, that will not stop them. They are unable to take an honest look in the mirror. They are convinced that they are always right about everything.
It is no different here today. The government's only problem is when they are asked clear and specific questions. They are never able to answer them. The system for negotiating working conditions must be based on good faith. How can they justify the fact that they are the ones who locked the doors? How can they justify their complaints that the employees are not working when they are the ones who locked out the employees?
They do not have an answer. We are asking them how they can make an offer that is not as good as what management was prepared to offer, if the system is in fact based on good faith and if they are not playing a political game.
At the beginning of my speech, I said that the right to negotiate working conditions, the right to join forces with other workers to negotiate working conditions, and the right to collectively withdraw the offer of work in accordance with the law when the collective agreement has expired and all other conditions have been met are rights that are guaranteed under our Charter of Rights and Freedoms and recognized by courts across Canada.
There was initially some indecision in this regard, particularly in terms of the RCMP's right to unionize, but all these issues are currently being upheld by the courts. These rights are a subset of the rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I am thinking of our freedom of association, our freedom to work with others to ensure that these same rights are respected and our freedom to speak out when those conditions are not met.
The moment the government enters into the negotiations, a major conflict of interest is created. When that same government controls the employer and the tools through a majority government in the House, it is a complete conflict of interest. The basic obligation to demonstrate good faith in all negotiations is even more important when this clear conflict of interest exists.
Rather than rising above the fray, the Conservative government is playing a shamelessly partisan game. That is why the New Democratic Party, which has always understood the role it plays in defending the rights of workers, will stand up and do everything in its power to stop this despicable and draconian bill from passing.