Madam Speaker, just weeks ago our government indicated in the Speech from the Throne that our priority remains focused on jobs and growth. We also noted that the global economy remains fragile and risks to our recovery persist.
After many months of collective bargaining and mediation, a labour dispute between Canada Post and more than 50,000 employees representing the Canadian Union of Postal Workers urban operations unit has resulted in work stoppage, an event that, if unresolved, could jeopardize Canada's economic prosperity.
Canadians gave this government a strong mandate to complete our economic recovery. It is my view that the Government of Canada must take decisive action now before further damage is done to our economy.
Our government introduced Bill . The measures in this proposed legislation are in response to an extraordinary situation facing Canadian families, workers and businesses.
For many Canadians Canada Post remains a vital part of how we connect to each other, even in this digital age. It is also an important part of small and large businesses across Canada. Reliable postal services aid in putting money in the pockets of families and Canadians in need. They play a role in how bills get delivered and paid on time, and ensuring that parcels arrive at their destinations.
As we can see, there is far more at stake here than just mail delivery or good labour relations between Canada Post and its unionized workers. As a result of this long-simmering labour dispute, this has now become a matter that puts Canada's fragile economic recovery on the line. That is a risk that Canadians do not want to take, nor is it one that they should have to endure. They are counting on the Government of Canada to act and that is why we introduced this proposed legislation.
I will take a couple of minutes to outline the intent of this bill, along with the proposed economic risks entailed by this work stoppage. I will also explain why it is important that we take decisive action now rather than wait any longer.
This act would provide for the resumption and continuation of mail services at Canada Post. It would bring to an end the growing uncertainty that has characterized so much of this dispute for the last several months. The act would also impose a four year contract and new pay rate increases. It would mean a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011, 1.5% as of February 2012, 2% as of February 2013, and 2% as of February 2014. It would also provide a final offer selection, a binding mechanism on all outstanding matters.
Furthermore, in making the selection of a final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and that will 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: first, that the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of the 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 the acceptable standards of service. It is a decisive approach aimed at resolving this labour dispute. While the measures it calls for are not an ideal way of resolving this dispute, it would do what is necessary to safeguard Canadian families, businesses, seniors and workers.
Some might argue that we should wait, that we should let collective bargaining run its course no matter how long it takes. That is unwise. The risks to our economy are too great to ignore. Since talks between CUPW and their employer broke down, our country is now facing a potentially serious situation. Let us be clear about what has happened as a result of this labour dispute at Canada Post.
An integral part of what keeps Canada in business and what puts money in the pockets of many citizens is slowing to a standstill. Ask the small business owners who invoice and get paid through the mail. Ask a company that relies on the mail to issue bills, process orders and receive payments. Ask Canadian publishers and direct marketers whose livelihoods rely on the mail. Ask taxpayers who are waiting for their tax refunds and HST rebates to arrive. Ask citizens in the far north who rely on mail as an essential service of goods, such as prescription eyewear, dental products, drugs, legal documents, and still make payments by mail.
Our citizens cannot afford to be left waiting. They certainly should not be the ones who should bear the brunt of a labour dispute that shows no sign of being resolved through collective bargaining.
As of June 17, the minister received a total of 1,800 letters and email enquiries. Of those, 1,027 requested back-to-work legislation: 692 Canadian citizens; 328 businesses; and 7 charities. The remainder represents 561 employees and 212 citizens expressing concerns.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind stated:
With 70 per cent of its funding coming from donations, more than half of which arrive through the mail, CNIB is now facing an estimated loss of $250,000 in much-needed funding for this time of the year.
The charity has also experienced $30,000 in unexpected costs associated with communicating its contingency plan to clients, donors and library users.
One stakeholder, a leading provider of integrated mail and document management systems, is requesting a rapid intervention of the government to ensure reliable postal services and supporting the view of Canada Post as an essential service.
Many Canadians are beginning to see the repercussions of a work stoppage and are requesting a government intervention for the resumption of postal services.
It has been nearly 14 years since Canada last had a work stoppage at Canada Post. The numbers speak for themselves. A work stoppage could result in losses to our economy of between $9 million and $31 million per week. The work stoppage at Canada Post is expected to have an immeasurable impact on our economy.
Canada's gross domestic product could shrink by up to 0.21% for every day of work stoppage. That means every day more jobs at risk, more productivity lost, more challenges for businesses and more uncertainty for consumers.
Every other avenue has been tried to help bring a full and lasting resolution to this dispute. Parliament must do the right thing and intervene.
The parties have negotiated for direct collective bargaining from October 2010 to January 2011. When those talks stayed at an impasse, a conciliation officer was appointed. The conciliation period was extended into early May and during that time, the conciliation officer met again with the parties. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties.
Unfortunately, despite all of these efforts, an agreement between the parties has yet to be reached.
While the best solution may have been the one that the parties reached themselves, we must do what is necessary to protect our recovering economy and safeguard Canadian families, workers and businesses. We must act now to keep the businesses of Canada moving. That is what this proposed legislation would do.
It is my hope that all members of the House will join me in meeting our shared responsibility to Canadians and give this proposed legislation the support it deserves.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to participate in this debate, but under the circumstances, I am certainly not happy that it is taking place, given the current crisis.
I listened to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development. I asked her why the government's bill sets out a 1.75% salary increase, which is less than Canada Post's offer of 1.9%. Now she is inviting the parties to return to the bargaining table to reach a collective agreement; otherwise, the government will pass legislation. What planet is she living on? Canada Post is saying to itself that if there is no settlement, it will not need to grant a 1.9% salary increase because the government will legislate that it be set at 1.7%. Is that bargaining? In reality, the government has taken away any possibility of bargaining. With its proposed bill, it is interfering directly with negotiations instead of finding a bargaining mechanism.
I understand that people need Canada Post's services and that this is hurting small and medium-sized businesses. I am aware of that and I have been receiving calls about it. But we need to understand what has happened here. Negotiations were under way, but the parliamentary secretary felt that they were taking too long. But sometimes that is what is needed in order for a settlement to be reached. That is how bargaining works. When the two parties come to an agreement, labour relations are better than if the government forces things by passing legislation. That is not the government's role. Let us be clear: many people today do not believe that unions should exist. I invite those people to go to countries where there are no unions, where people are paid minimum wage, which is not the same as it is in Canada. It is a form of slavery. Is that what the government wants?
This bill to force a return to work demonstrates a lack of respect for working men and women who were able to form a union under a statute of Canada. Unionization is a right. Today, the Conservative government is taking away that right. It did the same thing last week with Air Canada after only one day of strike action. The government used the economic recovery as an excuse, saying that it had received a strong mandate from Canadians to do whatever it wants.
Yes, the Conservatives received a majority mandate here in the House of Commons, but they did not in the rest of the country. Only 40% of Canadians said that they wanted to be governed by the Conservatives. I believe it may have even been 39.9% or 39.8%. That is 39% or 40% of 61% of voters. That is not even 100% of voters; it is a mere 40%. Before unions existed, people took to the streets to improve their situation. Workers had to take to the streets. There was fighting in the streets, blood was spilled and people lost their lives to improve their families' situation and to have the right to free bargaining.
So what happened? The government said that this must stop, that it was going to pass laws allowing workers to form unions and negotiate collective agreements. The government said that it was going to give workers the legal right to call a strike, which prevented all the bloodshed in the streets. That is what happened.
Do we want to go back to the way things were? Is that what the Conservative government wants? Canada Post is not going bankrupt. Canada Post made $281 million in profit. Canada Post's most recent financial report is two months overdue. I would like to see the latest numbers. I would like Canada Post to give them to us. Perhaps Canada Post made more than $281 million in profit.
At a certain point, Canada Post employees decided to hold rotating strikes. Employees in Montreal went on strike for one day and those in Toronto, Vancouver, Bathurst and Halifax, for example, each also took their turn at conducting a one-day strike.
Canada Post also decided to deliver the mail only three days a week. The stated publicly on the news yesterday that she did not receive any comments from Canadians while the employees were working only three days a week or when they were on a rotating strike. She received maybe 30 emails on this subject and that was it. There was no problem.
What did the government want? The employees did not want to stage a general strike, so Canada Post, a crown corporation, responded with a lockout. Once the lockout was imposed, the government would decide to force the employees back to work and to take away their benefits. The government is proving this right now, with this bill.
What did Canada Post employees and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers say? They told the government and Canada Post to reinstate and respect their old collective agreement. They asked for their health benefits to be reinstated and said they would go back to the bargaining table without any rotating strikes. They asked that all workers be called back to work. Canada Post refused. I personally went to see the to ask her why the crown corporation was not told to do that alone, that is, to go back to the bargaining table to try to resolve the conflict between the two parties and to reach a collective agreement.
The government refused to tell Canada Post, a crown corporation, to go back to the bargaining table and respect the collective agreement. Was it because the government does not want to interfere with a crown corporation? Yet at the same time, it is introducing a bill that is not good for workers.
What does this mean for other non-unionized workers who do not support what is happening here? Let us think about that. If Canada had no unions, if they all disappeared tomorrow, we can only imagine the abuses that would take place. Has anyone thought about that? The workers did not want to take away people's right to receive mail, since letter carriers were willing to go back to work if Canada Post would respect their old collective agreement.
I would remind the House that an agreement could have been reached to allow Canadians and our SMEs to start getting their mail again.
I remember when I worked as a miner in the Brunswick mine in 1976. In an 18-month period, six people were killed underground. I remember what we were able to do with the union: change the country's laws to give the families of the miners who got up and went to work in the morning the right to see their family members come home in the evening and to ensure better working conditions in order to prevent miners from getting killed.
Consider what happened at the Westray mine in Nova Scotia, when 26 miners were killed in the mine. The bodies of 11 of those miners are still in that mine today. The company violated every health and safety law. Even when the mine closed, the employees joined the steelworkers' union. They fought by bringing bills here to the House of Commons because under the law, the government could not even prosecute company presidents who were not in Nova Scotia for failing to meet health and safety requirements. We called it the Westray bill, to ensure that these people could be brought to justice. If the union had not fought for the health and safety of the miners, we would not have this legislation that every worker in Canada benefits from today.
I know the people of this country need their mail. We understand that. Postal workers understand that. They are professionals.
We all see people from Canada Post delivering our mail. These people are professionals. They work hard. We just need to look at the conditions they work in. On a hot day during the summer, they are outside with their backpacks delivering our mail. Even during a storm in the wintertime these people bring our mail to our door. We have to respect these men and women who work hard for us. They deserve a pension plan. The new generation deserves to have the same thing our parents and their parents fought for.
The government should not have introduced a bill to take away the workers' rights, their pension plans or their health benefits. The government has no business doing that or getting involved in the way it has.
Canada Post was ready to give a 1.9% increase to its workers, but in Bill the Conservative government is bringing that down to 1.75%. The government is telling postal workers that if they do not want that increase, they should get back to the table and negotiate a contract. And why does the government expect Canada Post to get back to the negotiating table and negotiate a contract when it will get a better one forced by the Conservative government of this country?
I do not know what is wrong with the Conservative government. Why does it hate the workers? Why is it attacking the workers through the bill? Why is it saying that a postal workers' agreement should be compared with those in other industries? I do not know if I sleep on a different planet, but I thought that Canada Post was the only industry in our country bringing Canadians their mail. Who is Canada Post going to be compared to? The United States? Mexico? Is it going to be compared to Brazil? What comparison will the arbitrator make?
If the government believes in workers, if it respects workers, then why is there not even one little paragraph in the bill taking the side of the workers? There is not one paragraph in the bill where the government sides with the workers.
Other workers might be next. Today it is Canada Post, tomorrow it will be somebody else, and it could be those in the private sector too. I say this because the government became involved last week with Air Canada in the same way. Other workers can sit back and wait, because this will happen to them. One day people will say enough is enough.
The government wants to save money for what? It gives big tax breaks to big corporations. We just need to look, for example, at Air Canada. The president and CEO of Air Canada paid himself $7 million and will leave with a pension of $350,000. That is no problem for him. The banks made profits of $20 billion and paid $11 billion in bonuses, yet the Conservatives have given them a break. The Conservatives are running out of money to give their big friends.
I respect the workers. The one thing the government should do is to get out of the negotiations. The government should provide a mechanism for the negotiations and tell the parties to get back to the negotiations, respect the old collective agreement and get to a contract. However, the government does not seem to believe in that. It will negotiate a contract and make sure that the parties do not negotiate one, and it will use the economic recovery as the reason and “take care“ of the workers for Canada Post.
Why? It is because the Conservatives are the friends of big business, not of the working men and women who get up in the morning and build this country. These men and women have the right to receive a pension and a decent living. They have that right. They earned their pension plans. They earned those benefits.
The Conservative government should be ashamed of itself. Yes, it got support. Yes, it is a majority government.
However, did the Conservatives ever tell all workers what they would do with them if they ever got elected? Did we see in their platform their intention to legislate people to work with a lesser collective agreement than their employer would give them? Did they say that? No, according to the union. It is not honest for the Conservatives to do that.
Just give the people free bargaining and the mechanism to do it. That is the way to go.
The government's behaviour is shameful. It is setting a precedent for which everyone will pay dearly. I cannot say enough that I do not understand why the Conservative government hates workers so much or why it is slapping them with a bill like this. I hope that in the coming days, the government will receive motions in amendment, will recognize what the workers do and will be able to find solutions.
Madam Speaker, it is a pleasure to speak in the debate following the comments from the member for , who we all welcome to the House, and, as well, my colleague and friend from , who gave a particularly eloquent and forceful address to the House this morning.
In looking at the legislation and hearing the debate, it is hard to avoid the sense that we are caught in this almost absurd situation where the government's narrative and description of itself is that it alone stands between the Canadian people and chaos. It says that if it were not for the bill, the Canadian economy would be brought instantly to its knees, the fragile economic recovery, which is the phrase the Conservatives use over and over again, would be smashed on the floor to smithereens. It says that this legislation, and this legislation alone, which protects pensioners, workers, charities and all those institutions so important to the country, would provide this protection.
That is the morality play on one side. In response, the Conservatives brought in back to work legislation, but it is back to work legislation with a real difference.
For my friends in the House, and particularly my friends in the New Democratic Party, I do not think there is a government, either federally or provincially of whatever political stripe, whether it is of any political stripe, that has not, at one point or another, had to bring in back to work legislation in order to protect the public interest. I have not heard members of the NDP in opposition ever say that they would consider doing such a thing, but I can assure them that at the provincial level, the NDP governments of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and British Columbia have had to bring in back to work legislation from time to time.
That is not the cardinal sin we are talking about here. No government in the country can ignore the public interest, which is impossible to ignore. Any party that trumpets itself as wanting or aspiring to be a government would recognize that it is not back to work legislation in and of itself that is the cardinal sin. It is how it is done.
This is where the government has allowed its ideology to take hold, to take over and to create legislation that is an affront to the notion of a fair and equal treatment of people in a back to work situation. Let us remember the very basics. The right to organize, to bargain collectively and to withdraw labour is a right that is now, thanks to the Supreme Court of Canada, is a constitutionally protected right in our country. It is recognized as fundamental to the notion of living in a democratic society.
The right to bargain collectively, to create a union and to be able to legally strike is a constitutional right that must be recognized. Yet, because of a public interest greater than this right, or because of a public emergency, the government may decide that it has the right to do what it is doing now. However, if the government exercises this right, it has a responsibility to protect the public interest. As Liberals, we recognize that this right exists in each democratic government. But this right must be exercised intelligently and in a way that respects the rights of individuals and communities.
If the government takes away the right to collective bargaining, it has to be careful how it does it. It has to recognize that it is interfering in an important constitutional right and it cannot be done just any old way.
My colleagues opposite are currently rapt in attention to every word I am saying, though sometimes it is hard to tell. I can see the members shaking their heads from time to time. However, when this right is exercised, it has to be exercised with care.
In this case, it has not been exercised with care, although we on this side recognize that the legislation will be and is popular with a public that is frustrated with a work stoppage and very much wants the service to be resumed. People want their postal service. We understand that. Everybody understands that. We understand there is an inconvenience to the public and not only an inconvenience, as the parliamentary secretary has rightly pointed out, but people are losing money.
Canada Post is losing money to the tune of about $25 million a day. The workers are losing money because they are not being paid and they are not getting their benefits. We also know many businesses across the country, small and large, charities and individuals, are losing money because of this lock-out. There is no question this is taking place.
However, when a government exercises its duty to protect the public interest, it has to do it in a way that is careful and thoughtful because it is taking away an existing right, even if it is popular. We all know that, from time to time, taking away people's rights can be temporarily and in the short term popular. I am perfectly well aware that when we go outside in a scrum, talk to the media and say that we are not in favour of the legislation, many Canadians will shake their heads and ask why not, that it is a good thing, that people will be getting back to work.
It is not a good thing for some very precise reasons. The precise reasons are to be found in clauses 11, 13 and 15 of the legislation. I ask members to turn clause 11 of the legislation and follow along. My colleague from Cape Breton has already talked about this. It is the way in which the discretion of the arbitrator has been entirely tied and fettered by what the government has done. When the right to strike is taken away, usually an arbitrator is appointed whose job is to provide as fair a conclusion as might be reached by an effective collective agreement, if a collective agreement could be reached.
However, in this instance, the government has said that it will appoint an arbitrator, but the arbitrator has to follow all the criteria with respect to comparable postal industries, whatever they might be. There is only one postal industry in Canada of which I am aware. There is a variety of logistics companies and there is a variety of competitors for the post office, but they operate under very different conditions as has already been stated. They have a very different market. They are not providing a service to the general public, which includes everyone, including services that have a great deal of difficulty making money. It goes on to say that the arbitrator will:
—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, taking into account
(a) that the solvency ratio [which cannot be changed]...; and
(b) that the Canada Post Corporation must, without recourse to undue increases in postal rates, operate efficiently, improve productivity and meet acceptable standards of service.
Therefore, the arbitrator is really being asked to do a job, but he or she is being asked to do a job in a very particular way. The arbitrator is also being asked to do a job, not in finding a solution based on judgment alone but, saying that he or she wants the final best offer from either side. Basically we are asking the union to compete with the employer to see who can bid down these rates as low as possible and who can come up with the cheapest possible plan in order to get to the end.
Then section 13 says that we can bargain and in the meantime we can bargain on salaries.
However, subsection 13(3) says that if a salary calculated in accordance or determined under a new collective agreement is not identical to the result of the increases referred to in section 15, to which I will come in a moment, the new collective agreement is deemed to provide for the salary being increased as provided for in that section.
In ordinary layman's terms, what that means is we cannot bargain money. Therefore, we cannot bargain pensions because we cannot affect the solvency ratio in any way, shape or form. We cannot bargain practically anything else because we might be seen to be affecting the overall competitiveness and productivity of Canada Post. We cannot bargain salaries because the salaries will be dictated by this law.
This is not an arbitration process as would be defined by any court or any labour board in the country. This is not an arbitration that is a substitute for collective bargaining and for the resolution of a dispute, by the exercise of raw, economic power, which is the way in which collective bargaining works in our marketplace.
As has already been pointed out by other speakers, section 15 provides for very precise numbers on how much the workers will be allowed to earn over the next three years, backdated to January 31, 2011.
So what does this mean? The arbitration system created by this bill is in no way equivalent to the bargaining process. It is clear in all Supreme Court of Canada decisions that, if the government takes away collective rights or bargaining rights, it must provide an alternative that guarantees that arbitration will be equivalent to bargaining, in terms of the process or maybe even the result.
The law of the Supreme Court is very clear on taking away the right to strike for whatever reason.
For example, in most provinces there is a right to strike that is taken away for police officers. There is a right to strike that is taken away from people who work in fire departments and emergency services. In some provinces, there is a right to strike that is taken away with respect to hospital workers. These are essential services and there are all kinds of laws put in place to make sure that services continue for the public when they are being disrupted.
In some situations governments would not allow a strike. However, in those circumstances governments have a legal obligation to provide a process that is equal to the collective bargaining process. It must be equal in process and in its potential result. This is not just my opinion, as valuable as I sometimes think that is, it is the constitutional law of this country.
I say to the government opposite that this law is not constitutional. Now, we would only find that out in two or three years. However, the government cannot interfere in collective bargaining to this extent and in this way and not provide an alternative that is at least equal in process and result. That has not been done in this legislation.
I think the government understands this and is engaging us in an act of political theatre knowing full well that there are some in the House who will simply play the game in response. They would say ideologically that they are opposed to any interference in the collective bargaining process. They will stand up and go on filibustering to defend the rights of workers in any and all situations pretending that there is no public interest in the provision of the service when in fact we all know that there is. Perhaps the official opposition will take the bait which is being laid before them by the government.
I have listened to the speeches so far and to the commentary that one hears in the lobby about how this would be filibustered until the cows come home to delay the legislation for all time. The members may throw themselves in front of the Mace and do everything possible to delay the passage of the legislation. I would say the bait has been laid and the bait has been taken. It is too bad for Canada that we do not have a pragmatic, practical approach to the resolution of the dispute which is there to be found.
In our party we come at this without any ideological baggage or wanting to prove to Canadians that we alone are standing between them and utter, complete chaos. We do not have any pretensions to that. We believe in collective bargaining. We believe it is an important right. We also understand that it is not an absolute right. There are times and circumstances when the exercise of it, either by an employer or a trade union, can cause damage and harm to the public. In those circumstances there is an obligation to intervene.
In this particular situation it is rather peculiar. The employer, Canada Post, is very profitable, and by the way, it is owned by the government. The government pretends, “Canada Post, who is that?” Well, the government owns and controls it.
I would be astonished if the management of Canada Post did not discuss with the government of the day what its plans were with respect to collective bargaining. It knows that if it does not go well the House would be involved coming back. No management of Canada Post would just lock people out and wait to see what happens. I do not think that is the way the world works and certainly not governments with which I have been familiar. People tend to talk through some of the consequences when crown corporations are involved and engaged.
What would a possible solution to this situation look like?
First, the government could say to the employer, the company it owns, that it does not think a lockout is a very good idea. Also, the company could say to the union that when it goes back there should be no nonsense about rotating strikes.
Before members of the New Democratic Party start nodding too loudly, they might want to listen to what I am going to say.
The government would have to say that there will be no more nonsense about rotating strikes and disrupting service, that it will give the parties time to reach a collective agreement and if they do not, it will then talk about mediation and arbitration, which will not look like this, but it is going to protect the public interest. If after a period of time, the parties are not able to reach an agreement, they will be told to reach an agreement on what they can and then refer the other issues to arbitration.
That is what happened in the Air Canada situation last week.
An hon. member: Sensible.
Hon. Bob Rae: That is a perfectly sensible solution. It is not ideal, it does not assert the ideological interests of anyone over anyone else.
To my colleague from , for whom I have a great deal of respect and, dare I say it, even affection, when he talks about the rights of the workers I say yes, but let us not forget we have to have an efficient Canada Post. We have to have a profitable Canada Post. We have to have an employer that is solvent. It is a good idea to have those things.
We cannot just say we are here for the interests of the workers and we do not give a darn about the state of the employer or the company. If we are going to be fair and reasonable about things, we have to say that we want to protect the rights of the workers and we also want to have an effective and efficient organization that continues to serve the public and does so in an affordable way. Those are all legitimate objectives.
I know my colleagues in the New Democratic Party share those objectives. I just wish that once in a while they would state them more explicitly so people would understand that not every economic movement in the country is a kind of morality play where there are good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats. This is not how the world works.
The post office needs to do well and the workers need to do well. When they cannot reach a solution and it disrupts services to the public, the government has to step in, but not like this. This is not the way to step in. This is a way of stepping in that ensures more ill-feeling and potential conflict as time goes on.
There is a wiser solution to the one that has been proposed by the government. I do not know whether a government that is in this state of triumphal mentality is going to be interested in discussing amendments, changes or ways of improving the legislation, I have no idea. However, I would say to members of the House and members of the public who are listening that there is a better way and we in the Liberal Party look forward to pursuing it.
Madam Speaker, it is obviously very disappointing that we are faced with the current work stoppage at Canada Post. Our government has spent countless hours and resources encouraging Canada Post and CUPW to resolve their differences and to come to an agreement. Mediators have spent countless hours with the parties in an attempt to bring them to some sort of consensus and to form an agreement. Mediators have been employed to do the very same thing. Despite all of the efforts, all of the resources, and all of the countless hours, the parties have not been able to resolve their differences and come to an agreement.
In all cases, the best solution in any labour dispute is one where the parties are able to resolve the differences themselves and come to an agreement on their own volition. That is always the best course. We try to facilitate that by every means that we can to provide the underpinnings, to provide the atmosphere, and to provide the basis for which that can happen.
In this case the government has exhausted every avenue available under the Canada Labour Code to bring the parties together and to assist them to reach an agreement. Despite all of that and all of the resources, it was to no avail. It is clear at this point that the negotiations between the parties have stalled and that some decisive action is necessary. We have decided to act decisively to bring this matter to a conclusion.
That is why this legislation was introduced. It is fair and reasonable. It is an objective way to bring the parties to a resolution of their dispute and resolve their differences. In a case like this, when parliamentarians step in, it is with the view of ending the current work stoppage that is affecting Canadians right across the country.
Whether it be rotating strikes or a lockout, they have consequences on Canadians. We have to look at not only the interests of the parties, whether it is the employer, Canada Post, a government department, and the effect it may have on employees, and the member for spoke about the effect on employees. But a third party is also involved in this dispute and that is the average Canadian. The consequences on many Canadians are significant. There needs to be a way to resolve the dispute, to resolve the differences between the parties in such a fashion that does least hurt to the parties, that does least hurt to Canadians, and does least hurt to the economy.
What is at stake right now is our economic recovery. Our country has so many reasons to be optimistic. We have experienced the strongest economic growth among the G7 countries since mid-2009. We have recovered countless numbers of jobs since July 2009. Things are looking up. They are going in the right direction. All of the job losses incurred during the global economic recession have been recovered. We must protect that recovery.
In order to protect this economic recovery, it became clear that it was necessary to introduce back-to-work legislation in the House of Commons. We need to protect the sustainability of the economic recovery and ensure that injury is not done to Canadians.
Just a few weeks ago our government indicated in the throne speech that our priorities remain focused on jobs and economic growth. We also noted that the global economic recovery remains fragile and risks to our economic recovery persist. That is a reality. That is a present fact.
When we look at what other economies are doing in the world and across our border to the south, we know that any gains are incremental and must be safely guarded and protected to ensure that we go forward with the knowledge that our economy is going to continue to grow and that Canadians will continue to benefit from that.
The legislation we are talking about would bring an end to the work stoppage that involves approximately 50,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers urban operations unit, otherwise known as CUPW, and Canada Post.
The collective agreement covering CUPW and Canada Post expired in January of this year and both parties have been bargaining since October 2010. That is a good number of months. It is not as if the parties just started to bargain a short while ago and we are now introducing legislation. They have been at this since October 2010. They have done their best to bridge the gaps between them. They have done their best to agree on the points they can, and they have come to an impasse. They cannot agree on what remains to be done to bring this to a satisfactory conclusion.
Throughout these months, they have used the resources that the Canada Labour Code provides for. They have used the personnel to bring them along. Therefore, it is unfair to say that there has not been a sufficient period of time for the parties to reason their way through without harm to themselves or the economy. However, there comes a point, when the parties are unable to resolve their differences, that there must be an intervention of some kind that ensures that the impasse is bridged.
I can say that when those talks were stalled or at an impasse, a conciliation officer was appointed. The conciliation period was even further extended until early May and, during that time, the conciliation officer again met with the parties. Throughout the month of May, a mediator from the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service met frequently with the parties. It was not a one-off meeting. It was not just an occasional meeting. It was a concentrated effort to try to resolve the differences and the gaps that existed between the parties.
However, despite all of these efforts at mediation and conciliation, and the meeting with both leaders, the Minister of Labour also used her offices, her person and character to intervene with both leaders to try to bring them to a place where the matter could be settled. However, CUPW announced its intent to strike. Following the announcement, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers began rotating strikes. This then led to Canada Post later locking out union members.
We can see what effect this is having right across our country. Sometimes collective bargaining does hit an impasse. It is something we need to realize, to understand and accept. Employees can pressure employers by walking out. That is a fundamental right and nobody disputes that right. It is enshrined and it is there.
Employers can also bring pressure by locking out workers and trying to carry on business without them. That is something they are entitled to do. The law and the Constitution provides for that. They can do that and they have done that. Notwithstanding the fact that they have implemented these strategies, they have not had a resolve.
I will quickly draw attention to the fact that Canada Post spends about $3 billion a year on goods and services. It contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP. It is not a small matter when those types of services, economies and expenditures are interfered with.
Canada Post has countless industries that rely on its services. Canadian retailers depend on Canada Post to reach their customers. The Canadian magazine industry relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution. Therefore, any disruption does something to its bottom line, to its business and to its customer base.
There is no question that Canada Post offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. My riding represents a number of those. While rural letter carriers are not part of the current bargaining dispute, rural communities are still acutely affected due to the fact that no sorting or bulk distribution of mail is taking place.
In fact, in my own riding of Souris—Moose Mountain, I have received correspondence and calls on this work stoppage. I received a letter from a constituent of mine who I know very well and who is someone who does not always agree with the viewpoint of the current government or the viewpoints that I may have from time to time and is quite able to express those differences in a point of view or opinion. I think what the constituent says in this letter to me captures what many Canadians would like to say and, in fact, are saying from coast to coast.
In this instance, she has written to me urging me for a resolution to this dispute and calling on the government to introduce back to work legislation. Why? This particular constituent owns a small newspaper business and her business is suffering immensely due to the work stoppage at Canada Post. She is calling on this government to do the right thing and to stand up for small business owners who rely on Canada Post to keep their businesses making money.
I will read portions of the letter. She says:
Please add my voice to your growing list of Canadians who want our Canadian majority government under your leadership to pass legislation forcing the CUPW members back to work so that Canada Post can function normally.
She goes on to say:
We own a small newspaper business in the riding of...for Souris—Moose Mountain. and we are unable to mail our newspapers to our readers this morning. ... We have staff employed whom we need, and they need to be employed. We have customers buying ads which help pay for a community newspaper. All of these Canadians are being inconvenienced. Also, if we turn to using alternative methods to distribute our newspapers we risk having our local post office lose profits and possibly become closed.
Those are the realities of what impact this is having on Canadians. She is urging this government to pass legislation that would bring the postal workers back to work so her readers can continue to receive their newspapers. If this work stoppage goes on much longer, it will have a negative impact on her business, as she outlines, and other businesses and her employees. That is a fact. It is something we must not forget. There are not two parties to this dispute. There are many parties to the dispute and there is the best interest of the country that we must keep in mind. That is why we must find a solution where a solution cannot be found by the parties themselves. It must be one that we bring them to, even if it means legislation like the legislation we are proposing before this House today.
My constituent expressed how impressed she was that this government moved forward with back to work legislation for Air Canada and she expressed hope that we would act in like manner with Canada Post. We have, which is exactly why we have acted and introduced back to work legislation to bring this work stoppage to an end.
The same constituent sent me another letter. She wrote:
I had previously contacted each of your offices explaining the hardship that this postal disruption was causing to rural communities and small businesses such as our own.... I want to thank you for listening to Canadians, as I know there were many speaking out in favour of government legislation to end this disruption.
She does not speak to us just for herself, for her business or for her community. She speaks for the broader Canadian right across this country who is being affected by what the parties themselves are imposing on Canadians or a hapless bystander looking at what is going on between the parties and saying that they see no end in sight or any resolve to the impasse, that they would like to see a responsible government take some action to provide the means to bring this to a conclusion so they are no longer hurt, so our economy is no longer hurt and so they can continue to do what average Canadians want to do. They want to work hard, make a profit, spend the money back in their communities and cause our economy to continue.
The constituent writes, “Personally, I believe in the right of union members to negotiate and strike under unfair labour practices”. Nobody is denying the fact that the right exists. Nobody is denying that the right must be protected, but not at all costs. It is not an overwhelming right that takes over all other rights. It has some limitations.
“However, when negotiations drag on”, she says, “to the point they threaten the livelihood of Canadians or the good health of Canadians, then we need a government that will legislate”.
In the legislation that is proposed, it is not legislation that does not allow for some objectivity in terms of what the arbiter must do. It appoints an arbiter for a final offer selection that is to be made by both parties. It says that the employer and the union must each submit to the arbiter a list of matters on which the employer and the union were in agreement as of a date specified by the arbiter, the things with which they are in common, the things on which they have bridged the gap, the things that they say they can do, and also a list of matters remaining in dispute, and a final offer in respect of the matters referred to that are in dispute and then the selection will be made. It is a process that has unfolded to allow for the parties to put their best case forward in that area and then a decision will be made.
My constituent is not alone in her comments, in the way she feels or in her call for the introduction of this legislation. The has been inundated with correspondence from stakeholders and members of the public looking for resolution to this dispute. I am sure if all members were fair with this House, they would say they that too had been receiving calls with respect to this dispute. What is required is a balance in terms of how we approach resolving the issues between the parties in the dispute to the benefit of all Canadians.
Small and medium-sized businesses, especially home-based businesses, are feeling the effects of this postal service disruption and the time has come to protect them.
Charities are also being hurt because they cannot fundraise and donations are being lost. It is a serious consequence. How long do we let it go? The longer we let it go the more difficult it is for them and the more difficult it is for businesses. Therefore, at some point we must say that a reasonable time has passed and now it is time to take action.
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business, CFIB, estimated that small and medium-sized businesses could expect to see a loss of around $200 for each day mail service is interrupted. I would say that in a number of other cases where there is specialized services a loss is even far greater and in excess of that.
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the CNIB, which we heard here today, estimates that its losses may be as much as $250,000 at this time of year because the majority of its donations are received through the mail service. What about the CNIB? What about the things it does? What about its financial base? Who will consider that? Who will take best interests into account? The people in this House, the parliamentarians, the legislators, need to take CNIB's interest into account in this situation and in this dispute.
We have all heard of the effect this has had on live animals that Canada Post had in the system for delivery. Many of those shipments were being shipped by businesses that had no other shipping alternatives and money has now been lost.
Many large corporations have been able to find alternate means of communicating with customers and clients. That may continue even after the strike is over, so there may be some losses to the parties that they do not yet envision. However, small and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on traditional postal services. This work stoppage is crippling for these smaller businesses.
The effects of this work stoppage are far-reaching and the government recognizes that and has responded by introducing the legislation that is before the House now.
The most vulnerable of Canadians are receiving minimal service and it is time to restore full service to all Canadians. Businesses are hurting and jobs are on the line. We cannot allow this work stoppage to continue. We received a strong mandate from Canadians and we need to remain focused on the economic recovery. We are committed to the completion and protection of our economic recovery.
There is evidence that this work stoppage is causing serious harm to small businesses across the country. This government is acting to protect the public interest and the country's economy as a whole by tabling this bill to ensure the resumption and continuation of postal services.
Not only would this bill restore mail services to Canadians who desperately need it, it also includes guiding principles which provide the direction for the arbiter to ensure that Canadian taxpayers are not left with the bill for Canada Post's pension plan.
In closing, it is important to remember that as we recover from our economic downturn, it is more important than ever that we encourage co-operative and productive workplaces. I hope all members will join me in the support of this important piece of legislation.
Mr. Speaker, today we are being asked to approve a motion that would expedite the passage of back-to-work legislation that was introduced only yesterday.
How can this House vote on a process to end the debate that has not even started yet, a debate on a bill that we have not even been able to discuss in our caucus? I suppose coming from the Conservatives, a party where independent political thinking is rarely apparent and never encouraged, that should not be surprising. The muzzles his MPs in his own caucus and tells them what they can say, when and where.
In our caucus, though, we actually believe in the vital role that Parliament plays in the legislative process. We take seriously our role in the deliberative process of the House of Commons which manifests itself in the debate of bills and motions.
All too often with the Conservative government, legislation contains poison pills that are not apparent from a cursory review. I do not need to remind members in this House about the purported economic recovery bill from the last Parliament that included sections gutting pay equity, killing the court challenges program and other provisions that had nothing to do with helping us get out of the current recession.
Asking us to vote on something before it has been adequately debated is simply not on, and for good reason. Here is what a former member of Parliament had to say on the subject:
--if closure can be resorted to in order to implement these rule changes, and can be used so as to alter fundamentally the very nature and role of the House of Commons, then we are in a very sorry state indeed in so far as democracy and freedom are concerned.
Who said that? It was none other than former Conservative leader, Robert Stanfield. Mr. Stanfield was right. It is contempt of our rights as members of Parliament. It is contempt of Parliament as a democratic and representative institution. It is contempt of Canadian labour laws. It is contempt of Canada's signature on UN and ILO conventions. It is contempt of workers' rights in our country.
What is at issue here is the impending legislation that seeks to impose an end to a dispute between Canada Post and the 54,000 members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. It is a bill that diminishes and constrains hard fought for workers' rights, a bill that the NDP certainly has no intention of supporting.
The right to bargain collectively is recognized through international human rights conventions that Canada is a signatory to, yet once again we find ourselves in a position where the Conservatives are violating Canada's ILO obligations and using unnecessary legislation to end a labour dispute.
The government had a choice. As the owner of Canada Post, it had the option of instructing management to resume postal service to the public, get back to the bargaining table and negotiate a lasting resolution to this dispute. That is what it should have done.
Instead, the government chose to introduce back-to-work legislation to show utter disrespect for workers' rights. This is exactly what the employer, Canada Post was waiting for.
Instead of negotiating in good faith, Canada Post Corporation will be provided with a government appointed arbitrator who has clear instructions to side with the employer and roll back rates and benefits that postal workers have struggled to achieve for decades.
Let us have a look at how this unfolded. On June 2, in an effort to persuade Canada Post to abandon its demand for significant concessions and instead negotiate fair solutions, the union began limited, rotating strikes at various locations throughout the country.
Aware of the effects of the service disruption on the public, the union chose action that would minimize the inconvenience to Canadians.
On June 6, the union agreed to suspend all strike activity and continue to negotiate, but Canada Post rejected that offer. Indeed, on the morning of June 14, the said that there was no need for back-to-work legislation because the strike was rotating and mail was still moving.
That evening, Canada Post took the draconian step of locking out all workers and shutting down postal services entirely.
The very next day, the announced that she would give Canada Post the legislation that it had been waiting for. For the workers of Canada Post, this is a profound violation of their right to strike and their right to free collective bargaining, a process that works fully 95% of the time, ending disputes without any type of work disruption.
When the government interferes in that process, it undermines the democratic rights of workers. It is a heavy-handed way of forcing a resolution to a dispute that could have been resolved at the bargaining table. It takes away the level playing field and instead tips the scale squarely in favour of the employer.
I have to say that in this dispute it was particularly insulting to the workers and to all Canadians, frankly, when the decided to speak out and inform the employer that all it had to do was stop the movement of mail and she would introduce a back-to-work bill.
Canada Post heard that message loud and clear, and immediately locked out the members of CUPW.
New Democrats will not support this draconian measure and we certainly do not support the underhanded partisan conduct of the minister.
What we do support is a strong national and public postal system, a postal system that has made $1.7 billion in the last 15 years and paid $1.2 billion in dividends and income tax to the federal government and a postal system that is, by any measure, socially and financially sound. That is right, Canada Post is very profitable and by keeping Canada Post profitable, the postal workers actually save the public money.
While it is true that multinational courier companies regularly lobby the government to deregulate Canada Post and open up the letter market to competition, the truth is Canadians do not support it. The 2008 strategic review of Canada Post reported that there appeared to be little or no public support for the privatization or deregulation of Canada Post. Our NDP caucus stands united with Canadians in opposing any move to deregulate and privatize our national postal service.
Our postal service is profitable and productive. Unlike many companies, Canada Post has increased its productivity in the last two years. This productivity has, in turn, allowed Canada Post to keep postal rates low. Our 59¢ stamp is one of the biggest bargains in the entire industrialized world. People in Japan pay almost $1 Canadian to send a domestic letter. In Austria it is equivalent to 88¢. In Germany it is 78¢. While offering a much more affordable postal system, Canada Post is at the same time making profits and paying substantial dividends and income tax into public coffers.
Canada Post insists that it needs big changes in order to deal with a 17% decline in volume of mail. However, letter volume has only declined 7.2% between 2006 and 2009. Some of that 7.2% decline was due to the economic recession. Figures for 2010 have not yet been released, but volumes are likely to rebound somewhat as Internet purchasing becomes more commonplace. Although volume has marginally decreased, it is hardly the 17% figure that Canada Post is trying to sell us.
I will talk a bit about what is at stake in this dispute, not just for the workers at Canada Post but, indeed, for all Canadian workers. As we know all too well, an injury to one is an injury to all. This is a dispute between the CUPW and Canada Post, but there is a bigger fight going on here. When unions take a risk and stand to be counted on an issue of national importance, all Canadians benefit. It has been 30 years since the brave members of CUPW went on strike for 42 days to take a stand for paid maternity leave, and won. This was a major victory for all workers as the government and other employers were forced to provide the same leave for their employees, not too far down the road.
Today, these honourable union members are taking a stand for future generations. They are fighting against the corporate impulse to race to the bottom. They are standing up for fair wages and working conditions. Canada Post is determined to set a starting wage for new employees at a rate 18% less than that of current employees. For young workers who are just starting out in the working world, many of whom have a college or university education, the message is, “You don't deserve the same salary as your co-workers”. Whatever happened to the principle of decent pay for decent work? The income inequality sought by Canada Post is a slap in the face.
What about sick leave? Canada Post wants to eliminate sick leave for all employees and impose an unfair short-term disability plan. Under this plan, workers would have to apply to a private insurance company if they were sick or injured for more than one week. They want to eliminate short-term sick days and instead force workers to use personal days when they are ill. The existing sick leave plan, where sick days are earned, has been in place and working well since 1968. Almost half a century later, Canada Post suddenly decides the plan needs to be eliminated.
Postal workers are standing up for safe working conditions. Technological change, the modernization of Canada Post and five years of cutting jobs and not filling vacancies has consequences. In the last session of Parliament, I spoke about a woman letter carrier from my riding in Hamilton Mountain who suffered heat exhaustion because of extra hours on the job. Instead of allowing other employees to work regular hours, Canada Post forced its employees to work overtime. Postal workers are being seriously hurt and this practice must come to an end.
Then there are pension issues. Canada Post wants to turn back the clock on employee pensions by increasing the age at which employees can retire without penalty and capping pension indexing at 75% the rate of inflation for all newly hired employees.
In 1981 CUPW stood up for all working Canadians and fought for social benefits, in that case, maternity leave, which Canadians now consider a basic right. The women and men of CUPW are again fighting for the rights of all Canadians working to retire with dignity and respect.
Canadians are worried about their retirement security. Pension plans and retirement savings have been hit hard by this recession. The government has made it clear it has no interest in meaningfully improving the Canada pension plan. Now it is siding with employers in their determination to gut workplace pensions as well.
Pensions are deferred wages. They belong to the employees. Workers often sacrifice wage improvements and other benefits to secure a pension plan that will provide for a dignified and secure retirement.
One-quarter of a million seniors in the country currently live in poverty. It is unconscionable, it is indefensible and it is largely because CPP is inadequate and those seniors did not have a union on their side, fighting for a decent pension.
As the boomers hit their retirement years, fair and adequate pensions are increasingly an issue that matters to all of us. Unless we, as parliamentarians, are happy to preside over the creation of an even more appallingly poor generation of seniors, pensions must be protected and improved.
The attack on pensions by Canada Post and by far too many other private and public sector employers is shortsighted and fiscally and socially irresponsible.
I applaud the women and men of CUPW who are taking a stand by protecting not just their own pensions but the pensions of those workers who will follow. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is determined to protect pension provisions for those workers who cannot yet conceive of the day they will need it. Just as they did when Canada Post denied the maternity leave decades ago, they are fighting for fair working conditions and benefits for all workers of all ages.
Fair wages, sick leave, a safe and healthy workplace and a secure pension are all fundamental worker rights. The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is right to be defending these rights against attacks by their employer, and they have done so responsibly and with dignity.
Even though the law allows them to fully withdraw their labour after 72 hours' notice, they decided to have rotating strikes in an effort to minimize the impact on Canadians. They never stopped providing service to the public. People were still able to use the postal service, with the knowledge that their mail would arrive. Before Canada Post locked them out, only 51% of the population experienced a delay and there was never a full stoppage in mail service.
Is it not ironic that while the was introducing legislation to order CUPW members back to work, members of the union were already on the streets working, volunteering their time to ensure the delivery of Canada pension plan, old age security and child benefits cheques, as well as provincial social assistance cheques in Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and the Northwest Territories, ensuring that our most vulnerable Canadians were not impacted by their employer's decision to lock them out.
I know my time is running out. However, before I wrap up, I will like to read into the record a commentary that was written by James Clancy, National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees, a union which, at this time, is running a campaign entitled “All Together Now”, reminding us that we are all in this together. This is our future, our children's future and our grandchildren's future.
The commentary states:
Back in the day, post offices were the heart of communities. People would go there to receive mail from afar, settle bills and accounts and, most likely, catch up on the on-goings in the neighbourhood.
Our postal service has been a central part of our country since it was first introduced by the federal government in 1867. It has been a shining example of a valuable public service--one that is often overlooked and, certainly, underappreciated.
Designed to serve the common good, it connects Canadians to each other as well as the global community.
It’s affordable. No matter where you live in this vast landscape, the cost to mail a letter is the same for everyone. Do you really think the costs are the same from Iqaluet to Edmonton than from Ottawa to Kingston? But when we pool our resources, it works.
It’s accessible. Despite more recent service delivery cutbacks, every community has access to postal service. Mailboxes are the furniture of our city streets. Post offices can be found in every town.
And it’s accountable. Since the establishment of the postal service, it’s transformed into a crown corporation of the federal government. The CEO of Canada Post is appointed by the Minister responsible for Canada Post. As citizens, and voters, we have the ability to contribute to the vision and direction of this service.
For these reasons and many more, I am urging all Canadians to pay attention to what is happening in the current round of bargaining between Canada Post and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW).
It’s not just about wages and working conditions, although both are important, it’s about the future of this public service, one that benefits each of us, our families and our businesses.
There are some important choices being made during these negotiations. Canada Post has the choice to continue on its old path, with a singular focus on postal delivery as though the world and the way of doing business hasn’t changed dramatically over the last decade or more. Or it can look to the future, to see the opportunities and get back in the game.
To be able to compete in this recovering economic climate, we need to see that the leadership of Canada Post are up to the task. For sure, Canada Post needs to modernize. And, thankfully, it is looking to update its operations; years of under-investment in equipment and facilities require this to happen.
But what we are hearing about is the company’s strategy to use modernization as a Trojan horse to gut the workforce. Canada Post plans to invest $2 billion in new machines and work methods but eliminate 7000 jobs.
This doesn’t make any good sense. One of the best assets of a national public service is the investment in a well trained workforce. If we’re going to see any innovation, we’re going to need these people more than ever!
The real question now is whether or not Canada Post is up to the job to be the innovator the country needs. There is a massive opportunity for CEO Deepak Chopra to make a transformative shift in our postal system. Now is the perfect time for Canada Post to open itself to the future, to invest and expand.
All we have to do is take a look at what is happening around the globe to see how other countries are dealing with similar problems. They are expanding and reinvesting. Expansion of services will allow Canada Post to share the benefits of its modernization with the public by preserving and improving postal services and employment opportunities. Service expansion will help generate the much-needed revenue to keep enriching and enhancing products and the level of service for all Canadians.
Banking, expansion of parcel delivery, using current retail outlets to offer more services, as well as reinstating more door-to-door delivery so that every Canadian is provided with the same level of service are other well-founded and time-tested examples that Canada Post can adopt.
And these ideas are exactly what CUPW is proposing in negotiations. The union is not bargaining for the status quo. It is bargaining to create a solid and profitable corporation--a modern post, powered by the people--to serve the best interests of Canadians for decades to come--
It’s this kind of forward-thinking that, our postal system, and our country needs.
We need to support CUPW in its efforts and make sure Canada Post is listening.
I am proud to say that all members of the NDP caucus will be standing in solidarity with the workers of CUPW. I urge all members in the House to join us and stand up for the values and principles on which our country was built. It is a vision of Canada that is worth fighting for.
Therefore, Mr. Speaker, I move:
That this question be now put.
Mr. Speaker, this is the first time I have risen in the House this session and I want to take the opportunity to thank my constituents in the riding of Prince Albert for their support again in this election. It was a hard-fought battle and I really appreciate their support.
Today I rise to support the legislation introduced by the . Bill will protect our economic recovery and help the CUPW and Canada Post Corporation come to a lasting settlement.
Our government would prefer the two parties to resolve their issues and come to an agreement on their own. The best solution is when an employer and a union can come to a solution themselves. In fact, over 90% of labour negotiations in Canada are settled without ending in work stoppages. Failing an agreement, our goal is to be fair to the 50,000 urban postal workers while taking into account the welfare of all vulnerable Canadians and small- and medium-size businesses that depend on regular postal service.
Canada Post plays a significant role in Canada's economy. It spends about $3 billion a year on goods and services, thereby supporting an additional 30,000 jobs in the economy. It contributes $6.6 billion to the country's GDP and directly employs over 70,000 full- and part-time employees. A prolonged work stoppage could have some really negative effects on our economy.
Canada Post's three most important business lines are mail, parcels and direct marketing. The direct marketing sector represents $1.4 billion of Canada Post's revenue. During the economic slowdown or downturn, this sector suffered severe financial losses. A prolonged work stoppage would impact the sector by preventing large Canadian retailers from reaching their customers. This could result in decreased sales, which could translate into reduced employment.
The Canadian magazine industry would also be severely compromised, as it relies on Canada Post for most of its distribution.
Canada Post offers an essential lifeline to Canadians in rural and remote areas. Even where rural letter carriers are not necessarily affected by the current bargaining dispute, rural communities could still be affected as there would be no sorting or bulking distribution of post to rural communities for delivery.
People with disabilities have transportation and accessibility barriers that may affect their ability to receive goods and services. Shopping online and catalogue shopping still rely on the postal service to get goods from sellers to buyers.
I have received letters from constituents. It was interesting to receive a letter before the lockout and one afterward from the same constituent, which I would like to read for the record. The letter before the lockout read:
Please Sir, if there is anything you can do to stop this strike, I would really appreciate it. I am a small business owner here in Prince Albert, SK. We literally ship and receive 100's of packages every month through Canada Post. This strike could shut us down affecting my own single income family, my sister & family and my parents. We pay between $6-$13 to ship through Canada Post...to ship the same package through UPS/Canpar, etc is between $33-$46. This would put us out of business.
I urge you to please do whatever is in your power to stop this strike from going forward.
After the lockout, the same person sent me a letter, which read:
I would just like to say that I'm incredibly disappointed that Canada Post was allowed to lock out the workers and especially with no notice to the Canadian public. While I was not in favour of the CUPW strike, I did feel that at least they gave the public notice and mail was still flowing even if it was slower. Canada Post stated that they would decrease to 3 days a week delivery, but then suddenly dropped all deliveries. This was completely unfair to the Canadian public and businesses. They should not have been allowed to do this with no notice whatsoever. I have a lot of mail stuck in the system now that I would have shipped other methods. I am incredibly disappointed with how Canada Post has dealt with this. The CUPW was at least working to not interrupt all of the Canadian public & businesses. It was Canada Post who did that. For this reason, I am very disappointed. I would hope that this policy would be looked at into for future reference. It should not be legal for a crown corporation to completely shut down business.
Here we see someone who has actually been impacted by the slowdown and the shutdown. Here we see what can happen to a small business when all of a sudden it does not have the service. That is why we have to look at what the minister has done and move forward quickly to make sure that we do not lose these jobs, people and small businesses. Some of the most vulnerable aspects of our economy could be affected by a prolonged work stoppage.
The Canada Labour Code has been built on labour legislation and a policy that promotes the common well-being and rights of employers and workers. It does this through negotiations of terms and conditions of employment and the constructive settlement of disputes.
Since the Conciliation Act of 1900, the labour program has had a mandate to help prevent and resolve labour disputes. Canadian labour relations have benefited from neutral third parties who conciliate, mediate and arbitrate. That was the case in the recent CUPW and Canada Post dispute.
The collective agreement covering all units of approximately 50,000 postal workers expired January 31, 2011, despite the fact that the parties have been bargaining since October of the previous year.
A conciliation officer was then appointed and met with both parties throughout February and March. The conciliation period was extended from April 1 to May 3, 2011.
On May 5, a mediator was appointed, and throughout the month an officer of the labour program's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service frequently met with both parties. Despite all this work, a work stoppage is now in effect.
We can let events control us until the economy goes into a tailspin, or we can take decisive action on behalf of Canadians. This is what the legislation proposes to do.
First of all, it puts an end to the growing uncertainty around Canada postal services. The act also imposes a four-year contract of new pay rate increases. This will mean a 1.75% increase as of February 1, 2011, a 1.5% increase as of February 1, 2012, a 2% increase as of February 1, 2013, and a 2% increase as of February 1, 2014.
It also provides a final offer selection, a binding mechanism, on all outstanding matters.
Furthermore, in making the selection of final offer, the arbitrator is to be guided by the need for terms and conditions of employment that are consistent with those in comparable postal industries and that will provide the necessary degree of flexibility to ensure the short- and long-term economic viability and competitiveness of Canada Post, 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: (a) the solvency ratio of the pension plan must not decline as a direct result of the new collective agreement, and (b) 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 has been nearly 14 years since the last Canada Post work stoppage. Every avenue has been explored to help bring a full and lasting resolution to this dispute.
In the absence of a solution reached by the parties, something that was clearly hoped for, the proposed legislation will bring quick resolution to the dispute. It will safeguard our economy and ensure that Canadian businesses and vulnerable Canadians do not suffer.
Our government has taken steps to ensure the efficient delivery of federal services and benefits to Canadians. We have reserved courier services, set up the early release of some benefit payments, and provided in-person delivery through regional Service Canada Centres.
We are doing this because Canadians want leadership. As parliamentarians, we have an obligation to act on behalf of Canadians.
We need to keep our economy working and build on our recent gains. We must maintain the momentum. Let us support the proposed legislation and bring peace to Canada's postal services for the months and years to come.
In my riding it is very important that we see this dispute come to a settlement. In talking to farmers or small businesses or people in small towns, a lot of their invoicing, a lot of their billing is actually done through the mail. When they cannot send a bill, they cannot get paid. They cannot pay their supplier. It is a domino effect that needs to end.
The only way this can end is through this proper legislation. I encourage my colleagues to support it. Let us get on with doing the business of the people of Canada and let us get these two parties back to work.
Mr. Speaker, I have been here since this morning, listening to both sides of the debate. It has become very clear to me at this time that some people, particularly on the other side of the House, probably need to take a course on labour relations. What I am hearing right now is that, for our fellow citizens, we should force the employees back to work immediately.
People need to understand the essence of the problem. At present, a crown corporation has decided to impose a lockout based on indirect advice from the . Whether we are talking about a crown corporation or a private company, the economic power is always on the side of management, which has a business to run. The union, however, represents its members, who are trying to provide for their families. Parliament has adopted the Canada Labour Code, which sets out rules for both sides but which limits the employers' power in order to ensure greater equality in the balance of power when it comes time to negotiate. These negotiations are absolutely essential since they provide a good balance of power so that a fair agreement can be reached.
That is, for the most part, why Canada has unions in the first place. We know very well that in non-unionized companies, the workers do not even have the minimum protection provided by law. The regulations tend to favour management, especially when it comes to salary.
In the past, the crown corporation and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers enjoyed more or less equal power. We now have a government with a slim majority, for which less than 60% of Canadians and 20% of Quebeckers voted. The President and CEO of the crown corporation felt completely at liberty to impose a lockout so that the government could then intervene, once again in favour of management, placing the employees in an absolutely untenable situation.
Let us not forget that collective bargaining is based on good faith. The union was prepared to keep its pressure tactics to a minimum to allow the mail to continue being delivered. It demonstrated flexibility and was even willing to renew its previous collective agreement until the parties could agree on the outstanding issues. Canada Post would not listen, and after the interfered in the process, bargaining in good faith went out the window yet again and was completely forgotten. The corporation obviously wanted the government to intervene from the start and gave it the means to do so.
What bothers me a great deal about this back-to-work legislation is that it sends a clear message to all the other Canadian corporations, big and small. They are essentially being told that they just have to arrange for a lockout, create an impasse and the government will come to the rescue by giving them the tools to reduce the power of the unions and crush the workers. It is a bad message for all Canadians, especially those the people across the way represent and we represent.
Let us be clear. If we allow this power to be transferred to the employer, not only for Canada Post, but for all corporations, then we are minimizing the power of the workers. This could lead to reduced salaries for unionized workers and workers in other economic sectors. We will end up in an even worse situation than we are in now, where real salaries have not really changed at all since the free trade agreement was signed with the United States in 1988.
At present, Canadian workers earn, on average, about the same amount. Their purchasing power has not increased, even though the gross national product—what Canada produces and posts as profit—has increased considerably since that time. Once again, this bill sends a message that the workers will have to be satisfied with crumbs while the power of management will continue to increase, without regard for negotiating in good faith.
This bill shows a lack of respect, especially for the negotiation process, Canada Post workers and all Canadian workers, whether or not they are unionized.
The members opposite claim that it is for the sake of the economy and that we must not endanger the current economic recovery. This economy does not consist solely of business and private enterprise. It cannot be measured by profits alone. It must also be measured by purchasing power. Canada Post workers are consumers, and any reduction in their purchasing power, whether in the public, parapublic or private sector, has repercussions in the other sectors. In the end, contrary to what the members opposite would like us to believe, this bill will not help the economy, but will instead hurt the rest of the economy.
In my opinion, this bill is fundamentally unfair. If the government wanted to take advantage of the power that comes with a majority of the seats, it could have done so in a way that was much less unfair to Canada Post employees.
This bill has to do with forcing workers back to work and with arbitration. This means that a single person chosen by the government will decide on the offer that best meets the needs of Canada Post. We can already guess which offer will be chosen. But this bill also imposes an income scale that was not negotiated and, as mentioned by some of my colleagues, is lower than the employer's final offer.
I remember that the latest offer made by the employer was an increase of 1.9% in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and 2% in 2014. I also remember that the inflation rate is currently 3.3%. That is much lower than the increase in the cost of living, and this final offer will result in decreased purchasing power for the workers. Not only did the government decide that this was unsatisfactory, but it also included an income scale in the bill that is even lower than that in the final offer. The bill offers 1.75% for 2011, 1.5% for 2012 and 2% for 2013 and 2014.
I heard the hon. member for say that this bill was fair and reasonable for the two parties. Once again, if the government wanted to impose a bill using the majority it was granted by a minority of Canadians, if it truly wanted to propose a fairer bill, if it wanted to force a return to work that would benefit both parties, it could have chosen other options.
As I mentioned, the union at Canada Post was prepared to agree to renew the collective agreement. That could have been included in this bill. The government could have chosen to put an end to the lockout without affecting the right to strike. Before the lockout, people were still receiving their mail. The union used part of its right to strike to put some pressure and force Canada Post to return to the bargaining table.
The bill could have put an end to the lockout and ensured that all Canadians would receive their mail again, without affecting Canada Post employees' right to strike. That was not done.
As I mentioned, the government could have chosen not to interfere with salaries. The government chose not to do that.
The government also could have eliminated the orphan clauses. These clauses mean that a new hire at Canada Post would earn up to 18% less for doing the same job as a unionized employee who has been there for a certain number of years. Orphan clauses have been criticized in Quebec and in Canada for being fundamentally unfair and for violating basic rights. But the government decided not to prevent Canada Post from going in that direction. The bill could have done so, but it does not.
The bill also could have resolved the issue of pensions. There are some very profound differences on the pension bargaining table. Canada Post wants to put an end to the current plan, but still make it available. This would mean a defined benefit pension plan for existing employees and a defined contribution pension plan for new employees. Once again, that is something fundamentally unfair and dangerous for workers. The difference should be clear. Defined benefits provide economic security and provide an adequate income during retirement. Retirees are then able to spend this money and keep the economy going.
What the government is saying to new, younger workers at Canada Post is that the previous generation had it easier. It was not so easy, because that generation had to fight for those rights. The previous generation would have all of these benefits, but the new workers would be forced to subscribe to a defined contribution pension plan. At the end of the day, all of the financial risk would fall on them. They would have to pray that, when they retire at the age of 60 or 65, it is not in the middle of a recession so that they are not forced to work until they are 65 or 70 in order to receive their full pension, which would be lower because of the economic crisis. That is the difference.
With a defined benefit pension plan, the employee knows how much they will receive upon retirement, based on the number of years of service and the salary earned. The defined contribution system puts all the risk on the new employees' shoulders. These employees are dependent on the ups and downs of the financial market and they will have to pray that there is not a crisis when the time comes for them to retire.
The government is proposing a bill that sides with the employer. It could have proposed something better. It could have encouraged the two parties to settle this. The postal union was ready to renew the previous collective agreement. The union showed a willingness to bargain in good faith, accepting that technological adjustments will be needed to help Canada Post face the future. The union was clear on the fact that it would be necessary to restructure Canada Post, just not in the one-sided manner that has been proposed.
It is often said that there is less mail. My colleague from British Columbia said that there is slightly less mail than before but that the difference is not that significant. According to the numbers, mail volume has dropped by 7% since the economic crisis began—mostly because of the economic crisis—compared with about 11% for hours worked. That means that our workers have been more efficient in terms of productivity. That brings me to another point that was brought up by the government and the third opposition party and its leader. They seem to be saying that we are against profits.
Canada Post made $281 million in profits and paid out up to $2 billion in dividends to the Canadian government. That is good because it benefits the overall public and Canada Post, which can use those profits to reinvest, restructure, move ahead and renew itself. But do not forget that some of those profits do not come just from selling stamps.
It comes from better investments. It also comes from the fact that the employees are more productive. The productivity of the Canada Post employees should be reflected in a compensation system that translates into higher incomes and salaries. That is not what we are currently seeing. We get the impression that these people think we are against making a profit. That is not true. We want Canada Post to continue being profitable, but we also want the employees who are making Canada Post profitable to be able to benefit from those profits, to be able to share in the benefits of a good organization and greater productivity.
That is not what is being proposed in this bill, which imposes a salary scale that is lower than what the rate of inflation might be. We will have a bit of time left to debate these issues later.
I would like our friends in the government to take a bit of time to try to explain to me why they feel this bill is so important at this stage, when the bargaining could have continued and the union could have kept up its rotating strike, which had a limited impact. The hon. member for was talking about his constituents who had been deeply affected by this. I think that Estevan and Weyburn in his riding had not gone through a rotating strike yet. There had been no impact on his riding yet.
I would like to know why this was the only avenue they had to offer. Why not simply remove Canada Post's right to resort to a lockout, and allow the union to continue doing what it was doing? Why was it necessary to offer wage increases that are lower than the ones that were offered by the employer? I need to know. I need to understand why. No one has explained it to me yet.
I would like to know why the government has given itself the power to force employees back to work under this law? Why did it not use this as an opportunity to stop Canada Post from imposing two different pay scales, one for existing employees and another for new employees, regardless of the work they do? New employees' salaries are going to be reduced by 20%. Why could a provision not be included in a bill that is supposed to be fair and balanced? Why could the government not prevent the crown corporation, Canada Post, from forcing employees to sacrifice a long-standing right, for which they fought hard and into which they have been paying for quite some time? Why could the old system not continue? The union itself proposed leaving things as they were and using a separate mediation process to address the employer's questions and concerns and making the necessary adjustments.
Why is the crown corporation not prohibited from forcing employees to contribute to a defined contribution plan rather than a defined benefit plan?
These are all questions that I would have liked to hear addressed this morning, but the only thing I am hearing, and pardon me for saying so, are the same platitudes and the same old rhetoric about the economy. Yes, the economy is important to Canadians, but we also need to think about the contributions made by the workers, most of them unionized, and the non-unionized workers who will be affected by these salary reductions. This will also push down wages, which will have a negative impact on the economy.
I would like to have some answers to these very important questions by the end of our debate. Until we get some answers to these questions, I think the NDP's position is clear.
Mr. Speaker, our government is introducing in the House Bill . This bill will provide as well for an impartial arbitration process to finalize the terms of a new collective agreement.
Our government agrees that employers have a right to freely negotiate collective agreements. I am sure that all members of Parliament are of the same mind on this fundamental principle of labour relations in Canada. The current federal system governing labour relations puts the emphasis on mediation and conciliation and is generally effective at resolving the disputed issues in labour agreements.
In these negotiations, though, we have done everything possible to resolve the outstanding issues but our efforts have been in vain. The parties still have not managed to find a basis of agreement, and under the circumstances, we must consider the repercussions of a work stoppage in a broader context.
No one is happy to see people forced back to work, but we are living in unusual times that require us to take action. We must act quickly to avoid a lengthy interruption of postal service, which is an essential cog in the Canadian economy at a time when the economic recovery is still fragile.
Before speaking about the economic repercussions of this work stoppage and our responsibility to act—as several of my colleagues have done today—I would like to share some basic information about the dispute and explain how the process has led to the situation in which we find ourselves.
The negotiations between Canada Post and the members of the Urban Postal Operation unit of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers started in October 2010. The collective agreement governing nearly 50,000 postal workers expired on January 31, 2011. After more than eight months, the parties have failed to reach an agreement despite the efforts at negotiation, conciliation and mediation.
On May 30, the union gave the employer strike notice effective June 3. On that date, the Canada Post employees began their pressure tactics by launching rotating strikes. The Minister of Labour has played a proactive role from the beginning. On several occasions, she tried to bring the parties together in order to restart the negotiations. Despite all her efforts, the employer and the union have not managed to reach an agreement. On June 15, management declared a lockout, thereby putting an end to the rotating strikes. Since then, postal service has been paralyzed.
We therefore find ourselves in the very unfortunate situation of a work stoppage in which the employer and the union have not managed to reach an agreement, and their positions remain very far apart. This is not only unfortunate but very concerning. Canadians from coast to coast are quite anxious about the consequences for the economy and the effects on them. They feel caught between management and the employees. All Canadians are affected and penalized by this labour dispute, whether in regard to their companies or families or to seniors all across the country, including in Lévis—Bellechasse et les Etchemins, or whether living in urban or rural areas, because Canada Post plays a key role in our society.
We all remember the 1997 labour stoppage at Canada Post lasting two weeks. At the time, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business estimated that the stoppage had cost small and medium-sized businesses $200 million a day.
Even though the postal service has lost ground since 1997 to technologies like email, fax as well as electronic billing and banking, small and medium-sized businesses still rely heavily on the postal service for billing and processing orders. By May 18, when the federation released an open letter to the management of Canada Post, the federation and its 108,000 small and medium-sized businesses were already sounding the alarm.
They said, over a month ago, that they were concerned about continually rising costs at Canada Post and their impact on SMEs, which they say will push even more businesses to look for alternatives for their mail and will have a negative impact on Canada Post.
They went on to add that “for other small businesses, a lengthy mail interruption may negatively impact their firms”. Consider magazines, newspapers and other periodicals, for example. A majority of their circulation depends on the postal service provided by Canada Post. During a postal interruption there are no other practical and viable ways to distribute those publications.
This means that the periodicals industry will be hard hit if this postal interruption lasts any longer. And this is not the only example. A prolonged work stoppage would have negative repercussions for many other industries and segments of the public, whether it be our families, our seniors or our veterans. Some businesses are on high alert and are calling on the government to live up to its responsibilities.
Receiving cheques and accounts payable and delivering customer invoices, as well as sending and receiving important documents, are all disrupted by this dispute. Canada is barely starting to show signs of recovery after the economic crisis that hit the entire world hard. We are in a good position, thanks to the stability of our banking system and the extremely positive impact of our government’s economic action plan, and our economy is indeed continuing to grow more rapidly than the economies of the other industrialized countries.
In fact, we have had 2.9% growth this year, and growth is estimated to be 2.6% next year. But it is still fragile. We are facing a number of challenges, including major budget cuts, not to mention that the global economic recovery is moving slowly and there continue to be risks in the markets.
Canada is not on an island, and is not immune to the fluctuations and crises taking place in other parts of the world. We cannot allow ourselves to rest on our laurels. At this stage, we have to do everything we can to stimulate economic growth and job creation. That is what we have undertaken in the Speech from the Throne. We have said very clearly that our government “will continue to focus on jobs and growth”.
A lengthy interruption of postal services could counteract all the efforts made, not only by our government but also by our businesses, our associations, our community organizations and all Canadians, to promote the recovery and strengthen the foundations of our economy.
The figures speak volumes: it is estimated that each week Canada Post employees are on strike represents losses of $9 to $31 million for the Canadian economy. Each additional day of lockout causes significant commercial and financial losses for Canada.
The parties have had ample time to reach an agreement: over eight months. It would be irresponsible for us to allow matters to take their course at the risk of the situation becoming poisoned and this work stoppage going on for a long time.
The Canada Labour Code applies to federally regulated employees in key economic sectors. Part I of the Code deals with the rights and responsibilities of employers, unions and the Minister of Labour in the collective bargaining process, specifically when parties are unable to resolve their differences.
Ideally, the parties will be able to prevent and resolve issues in dispute by themselves. However, a deadlock may arise during the bargaining process and result in a labour dispute with implications that are extremely damaging to the national economy. When this kind of situation arises, Parliament has a duty to act, as it has in the past when similar situations have occurred.
In the past 60 years, our Parliament has used this instrument 32 times. Under the legislation we are proposing, a four-year collective agreement may be put in place. This new collective agreement would include wage increases phased in over the four-year period. In addition to ensuring the immediate resumption and continuation of postal services, the bill we introduced yesterday would make arbitration the method for resolving issues that remain bones of contention between the parties.
The onus will be on the arbitrator to choose between the final proposals made by union and management. It should be noted however that this legislation in no way prevents the parties from continuing the bargaining process and reaching an agreement, which is what occurred in 1997. Our government lives up to its responsibilities and is pressing both management and labour to reach an agreement.
The bill specifically provides that parties may agree to enter into new collective agreements at any time. It is our fervent hope that the parties continue to negotiate to resolve this conflict before the arbitrator has to step in and make a determination.
Lastly, the act would come into force 24 hours after royal assent, thereby giving workers an opportunity to fully acquaint themselves with the requirements and implications of the legislation. This is an exceptional measure that has come at a time when economic recovery is still fragile. I can assure the House that this decision was not made lightly, as I have made clear. We are aware, however, that there is no benefit to delaying the process and that Canadians expect our government to live up to its responsibilities. We are determined to take the necessary steps to protect the interests of Canadians and of our economy.
In closing, in order to safeguard our economic recovery and the well-being of Canadians, I would encourage all members of the House to support our government’s actions to put an end to this dispute, thereby ensuring the resumption of regular mail services throughout the country.