moved that Bill , be read the second time and referred to a committee.
He said: Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise today to speak to Bill . The bill would restore fair public service labour laws that respect the collective bargaining process. It recognizes the important role of unions in protecting the rights of workers and in helping grow Canada's middle class.
Bill affirms the Canadian values of fairness and justice. It combines the government's previous bills and . It makes no substantive changes to the earlier bills; it simply incorporates the adjustments necessary to combine proposals regarding sick leave, collective bargaining, and essential services for the federal public service into one piece of legislation. Merging these two bills into one is an efficient way to restore the equity and balance in our public service labour relations regime that existed before the legislative changes were introduced by the Harper Conservatives in 2013.
In part, Bill would repeal contentious sections of Bill , which was a piece of legislation introduced, without consultation, through an omnibus budget bill by the previous government. Bill C-59 had given the government the authority to essentially ignore the public service labour relations act of the day and unilaterally modify the labour relations law that applies to and protects public servants. It would have allowed the government to unilaterally impose a new sick leave regime on public servants without negotiation or consultation.
On taking office, our government committed to not exercise the powers given to the government in Bill , and now we are following through on our commitment by repealing the legislation itself.
Public servants and their representatives have made their position on the law very clear. They are upset and believe that the law violates their right to participate in a meaningful collective bargaining process.
We agree with the public service that this law brought in changes that were neither fair nor balanced. That is why we are acting to repeal them. Bill also repeals the most contentious changes made to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act in 2013. These include changes that allowed the employer to designate essential services unilaterally, to make conciliation with the right to strike the default process for resolving conflicts, and to impose new factors that arbitrators must consider when making a recommendation or award.
The amendments immediately created an antagonistic labour relations regime and made employer-bargaining agent relations worse. A number of unions even brought charter challenges related to these provisions. We have every reason to believe that such challenges would have been allowed by the courts.
In fact, in 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada struck down Saskatchewan's essential services legislation, which included very similar provisions to the 2013 federal legislation. However, the decision to repeal these regressive pieces of Conservative legislation is not just the legal thing to do. It is the right thing to do. We studied the situation closely. We met with public servants and the organizations who represent them. We recognized that the current situation was unsustainable and indefensible, both legally and morally. As a result, Bill reverses the changes to the act that gave the government the exclusive right to unilaterally determine which services are essential. Rather, the government will work with public sector bargaining agents to both identify and agree on essential service positions.
In addition, under the new legislation, bargaining agents will have the choice once again to determine which dispute resolution process they wish to use in the event of an impasse in bargaining. They will be able to select either arbitration or conciliation with the right to strike.
As well, public interest commissions and arbitration boards will be able to determine for themselves how much weight to give the many factors that come into play when making their decisions, factors like compensation that influence the terms and conditions of today's modern workforce.
This is how the system worked before the amendments of 2013. I look forward to getting back to a collaborative and fair approach once Bill receives royal assent.
Mr. Speaker, this bill will enable the government to keep an important promise it made to public service employees, their unions, and Canadians.
That was our promise to negotiate in good faith with bargaining agents to reach fair agreements that are fair and reasonable for federal employees and for Canadian taxpayers. The facts are clear in terms of the previous government's lack of commitment to bargaining in good faith.
When our government took office in 2015, all the collective bargaining agreements with public servants had expired. In fact, there were 27 collective bargaining agreements with 15 bargaining units. They had all expired under the previous government. Some of them had expired for almost four years. No public servants had collective bargaining agreements when we formed office. We made it clear that we would work with public servants. We would negotiate in good faith. After two years of hard work and good faith negotiations, we have achieved deals that now represent 91% of public servants. Thus, 91% of public servants now have collective bargaining agreements that were negotiated in good faith.
That success in concluding collective agreements was one achieved in partnership. From the public service we worked closely with people like Robyn Benson from PSAC and Debi Daviau from PIPSC. We worked together, not just on areas of economic increase but on other areas where we can improve the quality of the lives of public servants, and work with them to improve the outcomes for the Canadian public, the people we all serve, those of us on the elected level and the public service, the professional public service we have in Canada, which is one of the most effective anywhere in the world.
This act today, Bill , continues our work toward restoring balanced labour laws that recognize the important role of our public service and the unions that represent them. In this system, the employer-employee relationship is more equal, with both parties within our approach having crucial roles in ensuring workers receive decent pay, are treated fairly, and work in safe, healthy work environments.
Restoring a culture of respect for and within the public service has been and is a priority of our government, a culture that encourages federal employees and the government to work together to fulfill our commitments to Canadians. Ultimately, we are all working together to improve the lives of citizens. The bottom line is that Bill will undo the measures that stacked the deck in favour of the employer and against the public servants and the bargaining agents representing them. It also highlights our ongoing commitment to support the Public Service of Canada.
As a society we must never roll back fundamental labour rights that unions have worked very hard to secure. Rather, we need to always ensure that workers can organize freely, bargain collectively in good faith, and work in safe environments.
Members may remember how in January 2016 the introduced legislation, Bill , to repeal two other unfair labour law bills from the previous government, Bill and Bill , and how we voted to support that legislation in the autumn of 2016. Those two bills by the former government introduced a number of contentious measures related to the financial disclosure process of unions and their certification.
Bill , which received royal assent, reversed those provisions that would have made it harder for unions to be certified and easier for them to be decertified. It also amended the Income Tax Act to remove the onerous and redundant requirement that labour organizations and labour trusts provide specific information annually to the Minister of National Revenue. This included information on the non-labour activities, which would then have been made available to the public. We already had laws in place prior to that, which ensured unions are, in fact, financially transparent and accountable to members.
What is more, the contentious measures this legislation introduced were not formulated in accordance with the principles of respectful consultation. This includes, in terms of consultation, the traditional tripartite consultation process among the employer, unions, and governments normally used whenever we consider reforming labour relations. Therefore, the laws introduced by the previous government were deeply flawed and we, quite rightly, moved to repeal them.
My point is that the bill we are considering today is only the latest in a series of actions that demonstrate the government's commitment to bargaining in good faith with labour leaders and public service bargaining agents. This is of tremendous importance, not only to the welfare of our public service employees but to Canadian citizens, whom we all work to serve. Labour unions play an important role in protecting the rights of workers and in growing the middle class. We respect them and the people they represent.
It is public service employees who administer Canada's income support programs, such as the old age security benefit, for instance, that provides seniors with an important source of income. They are the RCMP and the public servants who helped thousands of asylum seekers who came to Canada earlier this year, as an example. They are the people who help fellow citizens displaced by wildfires. They are the public servants who serve Canadians day in, day out, and they come from all walks of life. They offer an incredible range of expertise and experience that the government draws on to ensure the delivery of services to people across Canada, and, in fact, around the globe.
We need our public service employees to be respected for the great work they do. More than that, we also want young people graduating from our colleges and universities to see the public service as not just a great place to build a career but a great place to build a country. I often speak to young people who are interested in entering the public service. Some of them, for instance, are involved in modern digital work and what I explain to them when they are looking at their options is that we cannot give them the stock options that they may receive with a tech start-up, but we can give them something bigger and that is an opportunity to paint on a larger canvas and improve the lives of Canadians. I would encourage all young people to consider spending at least part of their lives in public service, either within the professional public service or at the political level. The opportunity to improve the lives of our fellow citizens is a rare and important one.
To do that, we need to make some fundamental changes to the public service. We need the public service to be less hierarchical. We need to make it easier for people with ideas and ambition to come into the public service to make a difference, and potentially go back out after tackling some specific projects. There is a lot of work we need to do, but I continue to believe that the public service, either at the professional level within the Public Service of Canada or at the political level, remains one of the best ways one can actually improve the lives of our fellow citizens.
Throughout our history, our public service unions and, broadly, our labour unions have been a force of positive change. They have fought to secure the benefits that Canadian workers now take for granted, whether it is a minimum wage or a five-day workweek, parental leave or health and safety regulations. When labour relations are balanced and fair, Canadian workers benefit, but the country does as a whole as well. In fact, the economy does as a whole.
Unions and employers must be on an equal footing when it comes to negotiating wages and other important issues and benefits that come up in the modern workplace. In the federal public sector, federal employees won the right to collective bargaining in 1967. At the time, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson said in Parliament that this right is “rooted in the concept of equity and equality between the government as employer and organizations representing its employees”.
We are continuing to fight for this right today. The bill being considered today is strong proof of that principle and reflects that. It is strong proof of our commitment to restore a culture of respect for and within the public service. It is proof of the faith we have in Canadians and the positive and uniting values that hold our country together.
I am proud of the work we are doing as a government, and much of the work we are doing as a Parliament in the discussion of these issues, and also of the restoration of positive working relations with the labour unions, the labour movement, and the federal public service. I want to thank all hon. members of the House who have supported and continue to support our efforts to restore fairer public service labour laws.
As parliamentarians, our shared challenge is to continue to work in the spirit of respect and engagement. All of us can do this by supporting Bill . It would go a long way toward recognizing the important role of our federal public service and the unions, the bargaining agents who represent them and protect their rights. It is the right way to show our support for our professional and exceptional public service employees and to recognize the important work they do every day on behalf of all of us in improving the lives of our citizens.
Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise today to share the official opposition's opinion on Bill . As I said a few moments ago during the question and comment period following the speech given by the , we are opposed to this bill. We think that it seeks to please union bosses rather than making public servants a priority.
According to the government, this bill seeks to improve the bargaining process, but we do not think that the government is taking the right approach. We do not think that this bill actually improves the process; rather, it seems its aim is to please union bosses. During the last election, those union bosses were prepared to invest $5 million in advertising just before the election, without any regard for campaign finance laws, just to hurt the government that was duly elected by Canadians in 2011. The political party that was in office at that time, the Conservative Party did what it could to respond, but of course it was at a disadvantage in terms of spending money and accountability. I will come back to that a little later.
Our concern with this bill is that this is payback. It is not the first payback by Liberal government to the union's leader, because we saw it a year and a half ago when the government tabled Bill . Bill C-4 was established by the government to kill two pieces of legislation we introduced when we were in office, which would permit and give more democracy and transparency in the union system.
This Liberal bill is the logical next step for the Liberals, although certainly not for us, and fits in nicely with what the government is doing to thank union leaders for their generous support during the last election campaign. As I was saying earlier, this bill seeks to establish certain bargaining measures. However, make no mistake, the Liberals' real goal here is to make the union leaders happy with the government's position. This falls clearly in line with the Liberal policy to please union leaders.
Almost two years ago to the day, the then minister of labour, an MP from Alberta, introduced Bill . I was the official opposition employment critic at the time so I worked with the minister, together with my friend, the hon. member for . We fought tirelessly against that bill, which sought to annihilate two bills that were introduced and passed by the Conservatives under the previous prime minister between 2011 and 2015. Those two bills, and , addressed democracy, transparency, and accountability of unions.
We Conservatives believe that if workers are to have the respect they deserve, they must be given the necessary tools. This includes asking union leaders to disclose their salaries and financial statements to the public. At the time, it was argued that this was something they could do themselves. However, when a union member pays his union dues, he is entitled to a tax refund. That concerns all Canadians, because it is their money being handed out as tax refunds, to the tune of $500 million.
Union leaders were not pleased that we were asking them to disclose all their expenses and salaries. However, when you have nothing to hide, you have a clear conscience. Of course, their natural allies, the Liberals, opposed the move and pledged to reverse the decision, which is tantamount to doing away with transparency. Thus, one of the first legislative positions of this very government, which boasts about being the most transparent in history, was an attack on union transparency.
This was the first bill that was killed by Bill . The other bill was about democracy inside the union. If workers wanted unions in their shops, we asked to have consultation, but private consultation, a secret ballot. This is the best way to ensure people will be represented. The will of the people will be expressed with a lot of strength under secret ballots.
You will remember, Mr. Speaker, that two years ago you were elected by secret ballot, which is good. Who can oppose secret ballots in the House of Commons? When we elect a Speaker of the House, it is by secret ballot. However, the Liberals do not want to have secret ballots when workers decide whether to create unions in their shops. That is not fair. This is why we were, and still are, the champions of democracy and transparency in unions. Why are we champions of that? First and foremost, the most important people in the workforce are the workers, not the union bosses.
However, that is what the Liberals would do with this bill. The Liberals are on the side of union bosses instead of being the champions of the workers. I can assure the House that we will always be on the side of the workers. The government wants to kill that democracy and transparency.
That is what the Liberal government is trying to do with a series of bills to please union bosses and chip away at, if not wipe out entirely, everything the Conservative government did to enhance union transparency and democracy. That is why we still oppose this bill, which we do not think is right.
I should also point out that the government's approach has been a bit sloppy. Bill is a mash-up of two previously introduced bills, Bill and Bill . Bill C-5 was introduced in February 2016, which is almost two years ago now, and Bill C-34 was introduced in November 2016. The Liberals have extracted elements of both bills and inserted them into the bill we are debating today. Aside from the fact that we disagree with the provisions in the bill, which is no secret, we expected greater diligence from the government on this matter. They are the ones who will have to answer for it, though.
Members will recall the unfortunate statements made almost two years ago when debating Bill in the House. One of the arguments made by Liberal opponents was that the bills we passed, namely Bills and , were backdoor bills. One of the most eminent members of the Liberal caucus, the member for , said this. We know this member often rises to speak. He is vocal in the House, to say the least.
Those were sad memories for me when my friend, the Liberal member for , called the two pieces of legislation “backdoor bills”. They were private members' bills. That is disrespectful. Each and every member of the House is a front-door member. Therefore, when we table something, it is tabled by the front door. There are no backdoor members, no backdoor pieces of legislation, no backdoor nothing. Everything is done by front-door members of Parliament, from whatever party. That is where we stand.
This experienced member's comments were an insult to all his government colleagues who introduce private members' bills, which we Conservatives respect even though we may not agree with them. That concludes my remarks on this bill.
We are very concerned about this bill. We believe that it is important to think of the workers first and foremost. We realize that government officials and, of course, union officials are in the midst of negotiations.
That goes without saying. One cannot negotiate with 500,000 people. We understand that, but those 500,000 people must trust the representatives they appoint to negotiate with government officials. The best way to establish this trust, to strengthen it, to cement it, if you will, is to ensure that there is greater transparency and democracy within unions, and the best way to achieve that is to have full disclosure. Then, if they want to make that leap and establish a union, they can use the secret ballot. That is the best way and the one which can be influenced the least, whether in a positive or negative manner. Unfortunately, this government has directly attacked this principle, which we consider to be fundamental.
In response to my question, the referred to certain financial realities in Canada, but he forgot to mention a few things, particularly when he talked about support for families. The foremost duty of the President of the Treasury Board is to balance the books. Theoretically, he is the government's “Mister No”, the person who says yes or no to government spending. Why did he say yes to the first plan for government assistance for children, when the government forgot to take into account one minor detail, namely, inflation? As a result of this oversight, four years from now, parents will be getting less than they did from our former government six years earlier. Way to go, guys; that is great.
Any junior accounting technician in a company who forgot to calculate inflation would be kicked to the curb. How is it possible that the President of the Treasury Board, whose primary duty, undertaken at the behest of the Prime Minister, is to make sure that the numbers add up, somehow missed this administrative detail, namely calculating inflation? That is pathetic. He should be ashamed of such an oversight.
On another note, we also provided assistance for children, but we had a balanced budget. I am appealing to the President of the Treasury Board's dignity and sense of responsibility. He has a duty to balance the books. This government is running colossal and compulsive deficits.
Two and a half years ago, the Liberal Party campaigned on running small deficits during the first three years and balancing the budget in 2019 when the economy is strong. That was the Liberal promise. Where are we today? This government has created deficits that are two and a half times larger than promised, and worse yet, it has no clue how it is going to return to a balanced budget. Never in the history of Canada, in peacetime, has a government had a strong economy and no plan to achieve zero deficit. It is unacceptable because the deficit leads to debt that will be left to our children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to contend with.
I call on the President of the Treasury Board to tighten the purse strings. He is an experienced parliamentarian who has been serving this country for over 20 years in different capacities and on behalf of different parties. I appeal to his dignity and ask him to tighten the purse strings and especially to send Canadians a clear message that, just because his government has been overspending, does not mean that it will not balance the budget one of these days.
We think that the government should have a minimum plan to balance the budget. Will the government do so in 2019, as it promised? Will it do so in 2045, as the finance department's most recent report indicates will be the case if nothing changes? That would be absolutely ridiculous, but it would be even worse if the government had no plan at all for balancing the budget. Unfortunately, that is in fact the case. This government does not have a plan, and we very strongly condemn it for that. We are calling on the government to, at the very least, determine when it will balance the budget.
The government is turning its back on ordinary workers as it seeks to please its union leader partners and friends.
Ordinary federal employees have been suffering for almost two years now because of the Liberal government's bad decision to give the go-ahead to implement Phoenix. That is today's reality. We are gathered here in the House to talk about a bill that will make union bosses very happy. Meanwhile, unionized workers are still suffering as a result of the Phoenix problem. We have to be very careful here. Our thoughts are with all the heads of households and workers who have been hit hard by the Phoenix pay system problems. Enough can never be said and done to help these people. Canadian workers in my riding and the other 337 ridings have had their lives turned upside down by the Phoenix pay system.
A fact is a fact. The record shows that under the former government the ministers responsible put a kibosh on this project on two occasions. Both in July 2015 and September 2015, the ministers said that the Phoenix pay system should not be deployed because it was too risky. In January 2016, reports suggested not moving forward because the systems were not ready, it still had bugs, and most departmental financial directors recommended putting the project on hold. Unfortunately, on February 24 the government gave the go-ahead. In three weeks and a few hours, Phoenix will have been up and running for two years. A few weeks later, on April 26, the second phase of the Phoenix system was implemented. Nothing was done for 18 months even though alarms were sounding and red flags were raised all over the place. It took the Liberals months to admit that there was a problem.
It is sad that we are creating a bill that caters to union bosses instead of focusing on workers. Workers should be the priority, especially for the , who claims that the government wants to be fair and equitable and says he wants to think positively and work together with the public service. However, today we are debating a bill introduced by the government in an attempt to pander to union bosses, instead of focusing first and foremost on the employees working in the public service.
For these reasons, we are going to vote against Bill , because we feel it caters exclusively to union bosses. In fact, that was the same problem we had with Bill , which attacked and demolished the fundamental principles of democracy and union transparency, principles that we and all workers hold dear. Bill C-62 is the logical but deplorable sequel to Bill C-4, which was tabled by the government almost two years ago now. We can therefore assure workers that we will always be on their side, not on the side of bosses and unions.
Mr. Speaker, I am happy to rise today to speak to Bill , which addresses a key issue for all those who believe in democracy.
The NDP has always defended workers’ rights and the rights of all Canadians in order to ensure that no one is left behind. That is why we believe it is important to continue playing an active role in this debate. Unions are the machinery that make democracy work. They took part in every struggle and are constantly coming up with innovative ideas. They have given workers a voice and a measure of power. I applaud their work and their unwavering dedication, and I want Canada to remain an egalitarian society.
Unfortunately, in the past decade, we have neglected our public servants, violated their rights, and subjected them to dramatic cutbacks and restrictive legislative measures. Today, thousands of employees are still not being paid properly because of Phoenix. Once again, as always, the NDP stood by Canada’s public servants and their unions throughout the process. The NDP would like to see public servants and the government enjoy a relationship based on responsibility, trust, and respect, today and in the future. That is why we are proposing concrete measures to reinstate a healthy working climate and a relationship of trust in the public service.
Among other things, we propose protecting whistle-blowers; granting powers to the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner of Canada; adopting a code of conduct for departmental staff; and restricting the growing use of temporary employment agencies to the detriment of permanent employees.
We are as determined as ever to pursue these important goals. It is not a question of modifying a few policies here and there. We need a real change in attitude. The NDP will continue to demand that the government re-establish a free and fair collective bargaining process in the public service, and that it safeguard acquired protections and rights.
On October 17, 2016, the government introduced Bill , which we are discussing today. Yes, I said 2016. The bill is more than welcome. It is aimed at re-establishing fair framework legislation for labour relations in the public service, and it is raising a lot of expectations. In December 2013, the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act was amended to eliminate the procedures for the choice of process of dispute resolution, including those involving essential services. The NDP vigorously opposed these amendments, which the Liberals are now looking at.
In our 2015 platform, we promised Canadians that we would defend the interests of public sector workers.
It is because of this promise, which we intend to keep, that we are supporting Bill C-62 today. The bill repeals various sections of the two profoundly anti-union legislative measures adopted by the former government, namely Bill and Bill . The Harper government’s first legislative measure attacked by Bill is the former Bill C-59, in particular section 20. The bill unilaterally imposed an inferior system for the management of disability and sick leave on public servants, which was an unjustified and major attack on the rights of public service workers.
That bill also abolished employees' right to good faith bargaining, taking sick leave out of federal public sector collective agreements so that the employer could unilaterally modify that leave outside the bargaining process.
One of the key provisions of current public sector collective agreements relates to sick leave. It gives full-time employees 15 days of leave per year to be used in case of accident or illness.
The Conservatives' Bill C-59 also took away accumulated unused sick leave days and imposed a short-term disability plan on public service employees. To make matters worse, the Conservatives introduced a seven-day unpaid waiting period before employees would receive their short-term disability benefits.
This is unacceptable. The previous government had the nerve to claim that these measures would save $900 million, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
According to a 2014 report by the parliamentary budget officer:
...the incremental cost of paid sick leave was not fiscally material and did not represent material costs for departments in the CPA.
The quotation speaks for itself. It means that most employees who are on sick leave are not replaced, resulting in no incremental cost to departments.
The parliamentary budget officer confirmed that public service employees use sick days at about the same rate as private sector employees. An average of 11.52 days were used in the public sector, compared to 11.3 in the private sector. A difference of 0.2 days is pretty minor.
Division 20 of part 3 of Bill also authorized the Treasury Board of Canada to nullify terms and conditions in existing collective agreements. It gave the employer the authority to override many provisions of the Public Service Labour Relations Act, including the statutory freeze provisions that maintain the status quo during the collective bargaining process.
Members may be surprised by what I am about to say. Under the provisions of Bill C-59, employees would be forced to choose between reporting for work even if they are sick and losing a percentage of the salary they need to survive.
Robyn Benson, the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, denounced these measures. According to PSAC, the sick leave plan for federal public servants is essential, and it must ensure that employees do not have to work when they are sick. That seems obvious to me, and I agree with PSAC.
I worked as a manager in various government and community organizations for 25 years. I managed a number of teams and a hundred or so employees. As a manager and as a member of Parliament, I believe that it is totally ineffective to make employees report for work when they are sick. It is even worse to cut employees’ sick days by more than half.
The second legislative measure of the Harper government addressed by Bill is former Bill , in particular section 17, which radically changes the collective bargaining rules in the public service by giving the government full control over union rights, such as the right to strike and the right to arbitration. Bill C-4 takes away bargaining agents’ right to choose arbitration as a means of resolving collective bargaining disputes, making conciliation the default process. However, arbitration is a valid solution in situations where members want to avoid a strike, and the right to arbitration should therefore be maintained.
Section 17 of Bill also undermines the right to strike by making it illegal to strike if at least 80% of the positions in a bargaining unit provide essential services, as defined by the employer. Under Bill C-4, it is up to the government to designate which positions are essential, rather than working with the bargaining agent to negotiate an agreement on essential services.
This same section 17 infringed on workers' rights in cases where the employer consents to arbitration by requiring adjudicators to give priority to Canada's financial situation in relation to its budgetary policies.
Discrimination complaints filed by public servants to the Canadian Human Rights Commission were simply erased. These measures are unacceptable.
That is why it is time to take action. This sets aside or amends changes that were made to four statutes during the last lost decade when the Conservative government violated union rights. I am referring to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act, the Canadian Human Rights Act, and the Public Service Employment Act.
The NDP always made a point of opposing the former Conservative government's attempts to limit union rights, mainly the public sector workers' right to strike.
We are therefore happy to support the government's efforts to undo the Conservative Party's damage and make Canada's public sector labour code equitable once more. The NDP is also happy to support Bill .
We do not support it blindly, however. My job as an opposition MP is to scrutinize the bill and identify elements of it that need fixing. By expressing opposing views, sharing knowledge, and engaging in dialogue, we will come up with ideas to refine this bill and make sure it does everything it is supposed to, and it certainly needs help on that front. That is why I will now take a critical look at the bill's weaknesses.
After all the back and forth on this, Canada's workers deserve an ironclad law that will level the playing field for everyone involved and restore the balance of power. Although Bill C-62 is progress, it is just the first step toward instituting all the measures we want to see.
We should never legislate easy solutions to the problems we face. We have to avoid that. The NDP fought very hard to have the government abolish the previous government's initiative that attacked provisions governing public servants' sick leave. Bill can do that by repealing Division 20 of former Bill on sick leave.
Why is the government concurrently working on a new health regime that has short-term disability provisions similar to those proposed by the Conservatives in the past? That is the first reason why Bill does not allay all of our concerns.
Other points have me wondering. The greatest weakness of Bill C-62 is that it does not reverse all the negative changes made by the former government to our labour legislation. While this bill seeks to restore the rights C-62 stripped from public sector unions under Stephen Harper's tenure, Bill C-62 falls short of addressing some elements of Bills and C-59. I am referring to Division 5 of Part 3 of Bill C-4.
The Liberal government seems to be taking half-measures in an area where expectations are monumental. If we are to truly do away with the Harper government’s anti-labour legacy, Bill C-62 must do better, first by re-establishing the provisions of the Canada Labour Code respecting Canadians’ right to refuse dangerous work, such as changing the definition of “danger”, now limited in scope to situations of imminent threat.
We are also concerned about another point that Bill ignores: the removal of health and safety officers from the process of refusing dangerous work. As it stands now, the employer assesses the safety of the work, and the worker must appeal directly to the Minister of Labour. The minister can simply refuse to investigate if he or she deems that the matter is trivial or vexatious, or that the employee’s refusal is in bad faith. This measure implemented by the Harper government should be permanently struck down by Bill C-62.
Lastly, we believe that we should take this opportunity to re-establish a federal minimum wage and to reinstate the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act repealed by the Conservatives in 2013.
We also need to advance gender equality in the federal public service. That is why Bill should include a proactive federal legislative measure on pay equity in order to counter the effect of labour market forces on women’s wages.
The government claims that Bill demonstrates its commitment to fair collective bargaining for public servants. However, the exclusions to collective bargaining in Bill show that the Liberals have not always defended fair collective bargaining.
The government must commit to eliminating the exclusions in Bill C-7 in order to respect the right of members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to meet and bargain collectively, just as public servants do.
That is why, in light of all the previous explanations, we deplore Bill 's lack of ambition. This lack of ambition restricts the scope of a bill that deserves more than what the Liberals are proposing.
Our disappointment appears to be shared by the national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada. She recently called on the government to do more than simply introduce a bill to correct the Conservative bills aimed at restricting public servants’ bargaining rights.
It is imperative that we continue to work on this bill. We must go much further and take advantage of its full potential. I explained which measures should be retained, which measures need to be taken much further, and which measures should be eliminated. The Liberal government really needs to repeal all of the Conservative measures.
This morning, I heard the mention some lofty principles. If the Liberals wish to follow these principles, they must repeal all of the anti-labour measures the Conservatives introduced. We must take advantage of this opportunity.
We know that this bill was introduced in the fall of 2016, which was quite some time ago. People have very high expectations. The federal public service is dedicated to serving Canadians. We just marked the second anniversary of the problems with the Phoenix pay system. We need to take Bill as far as we can in order to resolve these problems that we have been grappling with for far too long.
We have amendments to propose. I outlined the measures that we want to implement. I hope that we will all be able to work together so that, when Bill C-62 passes, we can all proudly say that we accomplished our mission and that we implemented proper working conditions for federal public servants, working conditions in which they can feel secure. I hope that we can allay the concerns related to the Phoenix pay system and that public servants will have working conditions that will allow them to do their jobs properly.
We know that front-line work is demanding. That is what everyday life is like in some departments. Those employees listen to Canadians who are in difficult situations and who come to them for help or to get the their file sorted out. We are therefore asking federal public servants to do very demanding work.
Here, we pass bills. The next step is to implement them. We need to make sure that public servants feel that we parliamentarians here in the House are collaborating to provide them with the working conditions they need to do their job properly.
Budgetary considerations have been mentioned. All elected officials, at all levels of government, always need to ensure their decisions stay within budget. As I explained, a number of measures cost nothing. As we know, employees who are off sick are not even replaced, so their sick leave does not cost us anything.
For this reason, we are eager to collaborate in perfecting and completing this bill, which will officially reverse the anti-union measures of the past.
Bills and have been languishing on the Order Paper since they were tabled by this government. We hope that merging them with Bill is a sign that the government is finally ready to move forward.
That is why I want to make an appeal, an appeal to set partisanship aside and implement an infallible law that genuinely protects the rights of all workers, an appeal for teamwork and collaboration to make sure the proposed amendments I have presented here can be considered and approved.
Mr. Speaker, I welcome this occasion to rise in support of Bill .
I wish to note I will be splitting my time with my friend and colleague, the hon. member for .
The bill would repeal collective bargaining changes for the public service passed in 2013.
It would also repeal legislation that would have allowed a government to override the collective bargaining process and unilaterally impose a short-term disability plan. Bill does this by combining Bills and .
It is important to note that combining these two bills would make no substantive changes compared to the earlier bills. It would simply incorporate the adjustments necessary to combine proposals regarding sick leave, collective bargaining, and essential services for the federal public service into one piece of legislation moving forward.
I will begin with the contentious changes made in 2013.
Previously, bargaining agents had a say in determining which services were declared essential. However, the 2013 legislation took this away and put the right to determine essential services exclusively in the hands of the employer.
In addition, bargaining agents were no longer given the chance to determine which dispute resolution process they wished to use should the parties reach an impasse in bargaining. Instead, conciliation or strike was established as a default dispute resolution mechanism.
Moreover, arbitration boards and other labour bodies were required to give more weight to some factors over others when setting or recommending appropriate levels of compensation for public servants. These and other changes were made without consultation with our public sector partners.
The government does not support such an approach. We believe that the right of collective bargaining is vital to protecting the rights of Canadian workers, and we believe that effective collective bargaining involves discussion, negotiation, and compromise.
We must not roll back the fundamental labour rights that unions have worked so hard to secure. Instead, we need to ensure that workers are free to organize, bargain collectively in good faith, and work in safe environments. To that end, in January 2016, the introduced legislation to repeal Bills and .
The legislation would remove provisions that make it harder for unions to be certified and easier for them to be decertified. It would also amend the Income Tax Act to remove the onerous and redundant requirement that labour organizations and labour trusts provide specific information annually to the minister of national revenue. This includes information on non-labour activities that are then made available to the public.
As hon. members are well aware, legislation is already in place to ensure that unions make financial information available and are accountable to their members.
Section 110 of the Canada Labour Code requires unions to provide financial statements to their members upon request and free of charge, rendering these additional reporting requirements unnecessary.
The bill before us today is the latest in a series of actions the government has taken to demonstrate its commitment to bargaining in good faith with public service bargaining agents. It fulfills a commitment we made to repeal legislation that had provided the government with the authority to establish and modify terms and conditions of employment related to the sick leave of employees, to establish a short-term disability plan outside collective bargaining, and to modify long-term disability programs in the core public administration. It would also restore the labour relations regime that existed prior to 2013.
It also supports collaborative management-union relations. Unions play a vital role in protecting workers' rights and growing the middle class, and we respect unions and the members they represent.
In the case of the federal public service, I am talking about the people who protect the health of Canadians by inspecting our food to make sure it is safe for us to eat. I am talking about the people who ensure that Canadians have access to safe and effective health products by monitoring everything from medical devices to prescription medications. It is public service employees across this country who administer income support programs, such as old age security benefits, that provide Canadian seniors with an important source of income.
Our public service employees come from all walks of life. They have an incredible range of expertise and experience that the government relies on to provide services to Canadians across the country and around the world.
If we truly respect our public service employees, we cannot support an approach that disregards or fails to respect the right to bargain collectively.
We want public service employees to be proud of the work they do. We want the public service to be a place that attracts our best and brightest minds.
We need to think about college and university students. We want them to see the public service not only as the perfect place to launch their careers, but also as the perfect place to build a country. All they have to do is look at the amazing things public servants are doing.
Recently, public servants supported the government's goal of helping Canadians achieve a safe, secure, and dignified retirement by working co-operatively with their provincial and territorial counterparts so that Canada's finance ministers could strengthen the Canada pension plan, yes, the enhanced Canada pension plan.
In 2016, they answered the call to help their fellow citizens displaced by the Fort McMurray wildfires.
They worked tirelessly to integrate tens of thousands of Syrian refugees into Canadian society.
When we encourage federal employees to give fearless advice, when we trust them to make responsible decisions, and when we respect them for their skill and expertise, these are the kinds of results that are possible.
Bill is strong proof of our commitment to restore a culture of respect for and within the public service.
I urge all members who believe in the principles of fairness and respect to join us in supporting Bill .
Mr. Speaker, I was a little disappointed with the Conservatives' response to the . My colleague across the way laughs at that comment. I am sure she will take it seriously when I expand upon why I am disappointed.
When Stephen Harper was the prime minister, he sent a very negative message to Canada's labour unions. Whether it was through the front door with Bill C-59 or, and I know some will take objection to this, or through the back door by a couple of private members' bills, they all took swipes at unions and the union movement, underestimating the important and valuable contributions that public and private unions played in Canadian society.
If we want to grow our economy and our middle class, we have to be supportive of the fine work unions do. Today, the Conservative Party is using the old-style leadership of Stephen Harper. There does not seem to be any change. Some might think that is funny, but I do not think Canadians do. I think Canadians see no difference between the current leadership of the Conservative Party and that of Stephen Harper.
I would remind the House that it was Stephen Harper and his ideas that were defeated. When we look at Stephen Harper's policies with respect to labour relations and the continuation of what appears to be the Conservative policies today, I am not encouraged. I am disappointed that the Conservatives will vote against this legislation.
Let us remember what is at the core of the legislation. We are repealing some changes that were made through Bill . Bill C-59 was highly offensive legislation that was brought in by Stephen Harper. We know that organized labour resisted it and saw it as offensive legislation, as did we when we were the third party in the House. In fact, labour organizations were taking the Government of Canada to court. After the legislation received royal assent, public unions were withdrawing from negotiations.
The Conservative Government of Canada did not even blink. It felt, for whatever reason, that it wanted to pick a fight with our public servants, at a great cost. Unions were pulling out of negotiations. Organized labour was taking the government to court, not only in Canada but to international labour courts.
When we came to office, we inherited that the type of labour relations. After the last federal election, 0% of federal employees were under an agreement with organized negotiating units. Today, after just two years of good faith negotiations, 90% of our federal workers who are under negotiating units now have collective agreements in place. It went from 0% to 90%. Tens of thousands of workers today finally have an agreement, compared to 0% in the Stephen Harper era when the Conservatives did not respect the importance of our civil servants.
I have heard others talk about Canada's civil service. I have the deepest amount of respect for the fine work it does. I have recognized that in the past, and at times it needs to be reinforced.
International public service agencies, in other words, public servants from around the world look at what Canada is doing and how we foster a very healthy public service. I have had the opportunity to meet with many individuals in other countries. They are envious of the professionalism of our civil service, how corruption is marginalized, how services are provided, and the relationship between politicians and civil servants. I really appreciate that relationship and the professional nature of it.
I am sure all MPs will acknowledge how much we depend on those civil servants to provide the many different services that are of utmost importance to all Canadians. When we talk about our civil service, or public service, sometimes it is good to put a face on it, the public servants we deal with on a day in, day out basis. Canadians need to understand and appreciate that they touch virtually every aspect of our lives.
We can talk about the Canada Revenue Agency. We often hear about the importance of dealing with tax fairness. The government has invested well over a half-billion dollars to look at ways to recuperate taxes from individuals and corporations trying to avoid paying them. Who are the people driving that tax recovery? In good part, they are our civil servants.
One of the branches that either I or my constituency office works with on a daily basis, Monday to Saturday, is the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. We have dealt with a number of civil servants, who play an important role. Every year, hundreds and thousands of new residents come to Canada. That is no easy feat. This year, I believe we will receive in excess of 300,000 new landed immigrants. We have a civil service that can handle those types of numbers, and do it in a very professional manner.
We have social programs. I often talk about some of the fine work that has been done, whether it the work of the , or the minister responsible for human resources or seniors, work such as increasing things like our guaranteed income supplement. We have the old age supplement, or OAS, program. These senior pension programs are all administered by civil servants. We have many other programs of a social nature. We have civil servants who are responsible for working with many other jurisdictions, provinces, and so forth to deliver the type of health care system Canadians want and deserve.
There is a change in government and through that we have seen real change with labour relations. I am very proud of that. I am very proud of the fact that we have an understanding that in order to grow our economy, a benefit for all citizens, we need to invest in our public service. Part of that is re-establishing a relationship of respect, which public servants can expect from this government. We value the immense work and contributions they make to the everyday quality of living for all Canadians.
I hope to expand on this if I get a question or two.
Madam Speaker, I am always pleased to take part in the debate in the House. First, I would like you to know that I will be sharing my time with my hon. colleague, the member for , who is a strong champion of Canada’s two official languages. I thank him for the exceptional work that he does for us and for the Constitution.
Today, we are discussing Bill . My Liberal colleague spoke about the big difference between the Conservatives and the Liberals. That big difference is the code of ethics. The Conservative Party could never be accused of not behaving ethically. One of our ministers had such respect for ethics that she had to resign over a $16 glass of orange juice. If some people across the way find that funny, maybe it is time they asked their to reimburse taxpayers for his trip, which was deemed illegal by the Ethics Commissioner. Maybe the man I see laughing on the other side of the House should read all the newspapers published this week.
If the Liberal government opposite truly wants to defend public service workers, it should begin by putting an end to its outrageous expenses. When the Prime Minister travels and 400 bottles of wine are purchased on the aircraft, the taxpayers pay for that. It makes no sense. Whether Conservative, New Democrat, Liberal, Block, whatever else, it is unacceptable to make taxpayers pay for 400 bottles of wine on an elite trip on a government aircraft.
It is also unacceptable that the , who was found guilty not two, not three times, but four times by the Ethics Commissioner, refuses to answer questions in the House and repay taxpayers. It is outrageous.
Then, there are the two omissions in Bill . While we debate this bill, thousands of workers are still without pay because of Phoenix. There are members here who are prepared to provide evidence to show that, beginning in 2016, giving the green light was deemed counterproductive. It was not us who did it, it was the Liberals. They have been in office for two years and they have spent two years accusing others and refusing to assume their responsibilities.
Accordingly, I will obviously be opposing Bill for two reasons. First and foremost, I am much closer to ordinary workers than union leaders who fill their own pockets. We still do not know where that money goes, and that bothers me. It also bothers me that people across the House claim to be great defenders of workers and then table this type of bill that aims primarily to thank the unions for spending so much money to defeat the Conservatives in the last election. In my opinion, this is a terrible bill, as it serves to thank the friends of the party in office, a party with so many friends that new lists keep popping up, whether on the subject of marijuana or these abhorrent unions.
This party is becoming truly vile. We are used to it since Gomery; this is nothing new.
I will get back to Bill . If the Liberals truly want to help people, if it is really in their DNA to help average people, maybe it is high time that they solve the Phoenix problem.
People have come to my riding, Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d’Orléans—Charlevoix, because they work for the federal government in the neighbouring riding of and have not been paid for eight or nine months. People who have been overpaid have also come to see me. They are trying to return the money, but they do not know where to go, because no one will answer their questions. There are actual people living through this every day.
As the member for Beauport—Côte-de-Beaupré—Île d'Orléans—Charlevoix, I will not support Bill because it goes against ordinary people, the middle class, and it helps the big union bosses more than average people. For that reason, I will be voting against this bill.
Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to speak in this august House for the first time in 2018. We were elected in 2015 and here we are in 2018 already. Life goes so fast. I would like to wish all of the citizens of Beauport—Limoilou, many of whom are tuning in today, a very happy New Year, health, prosperity and happiness. I am very happy to have seen them throughout Parliament’s winter break and during door-to-door events and various activities, including the Christmas gala at my constituency office. I thank them for attending in large numbers.
It is unfortunate that the member across the way has left, but in February 2016, the Gartner report said quite clearly that the Phoenix system had major problems and should not be implemented. The report also featured some important recommendations that would have allowed us to avoid the considerable problems now facing public servants, if only the Liberal government had shown as much wisdom as we have, and followed those recommendations and if it had not given the project the green light in February 2016.
I would like to respond to certain allegations by my Liberal colleagues today, but I must first say that Bill is an outright abdication by the executive for electoral gains. In 2015, we Conservatives were forced to call an election four months early because the major unions in Canada would not stop making electoral expenditures day after day, week after week, to help either the New Democratic Party or the Liberal Party, because those parties had apparently given them what they wanted. They absolutely wanted to defeat the Conservatives and were spending millions of dollars on advertising against us on television, on the radio and in print media. That is why it was the longest election in Canadian history. We were honourable and we had to respond to those daily frontal media attacks from the unions. We therefore triggered the election campaign to be able to use electoral funds ourselves to respond to those attacks.
Without even realizing it, the member for accurately described this bill when he said that his government is working hand-in-hand with the major unions. He could not have said it better. With Bill , the government is not only abdicating its responsibilities to the benefit of big union bosses, who claim to be great leaders who want to protect workers, but it is also returning the favour to the major unions that supported the Liberal Party in 2015 to bring down one of the best governments in the history of Canada. In 10 years, the previous Conservative government got Canada through the biggest economic crisis in world history since the Great Depression in 1929 and 1930. In short, it is shameful that these unions interfered in an election campaign without the support of their members.
Furthermore, I am fed up of hearing our colleague from portray himself as the paragon of universal virtue, as if the Liberal government was the only one to have good intentions and to work for the well-being of public servants, for Canadians and for humanity. It is completely ridiculous. Every Canadian government, be it Liberal or Conservative, works for the well-being of this country. Will they one day stop harping on about these platitudes, telling us that Conservatives do not work for the well-being of all Canadians or all of humanity? It is utter nonsense, and I am starting to get really fed up. It is extreme arrogance. We respect public servants, and that is why we had two objectives when we introduced Bills and .
First, we wanted to ensure the sustainability of public service pensions. If there is one thing we can do to show respect for our public servants, who work very hard for Canada, and keep the government apparatus running smoothly, it is to ensure that, when the day comes, they will retire with honour and dignity, and have access to a sustainable, vital pension that really exists.
When we came to power after the era of Paul Martin and the Liberals from 1990 to 2004, we had to face the facts. Not only had millions of sick days been banked, be we could foresee some major deficits in the public service pension fund in the following decades. Together, both of these things threaten not only existing pension funds as they now stand, but also access to these pension funds for any public servant retiring in the next 10, 20, 30 or 40 years.
We have so much respect for public servants that we made difficult decisions for them. They are not the executive, the government is. We made decisions to ensure that they could retire with dignity when the time came. That was Bill . There was also Bill to promote democracy in labour organizations and unions in Canada.
This House is one of the most democratic in the world, if not the most democratic. Is it any wonder that we did everything in our power to further promote democracy within unions?
It is unfathomable that one of the first things the Liberals did after arriving on Parliament Hill was to try to repeal the provision of Bill C-525 that allows for a secret vote at union meetings. There are sometimes thousands of people at union meetings. There is intimidation. There is strong-arming. Things get rowdy. Not all Canadians have the courage to voice their opinion, as they may be afraid of being bullied. Have we not been talking for weeks and months about the many types of bullying in Canadian society? In the world of unions, there is bullying. It is no secret. It is a huge factor.
We were working not only for public servants, but also for workers. We wanted to give them a secret ballot so they could vote transparently and without fear of recrimination to determine the direction of their union leadership and the decisions made.
With the Liberals, we are dealing with a party that is completely blind. It is blind to the sustainability of pension funds in the public sector and sometimes the private sector. It is even blind to the sustainability of insurance for seniors in Canada. We made a decision that I found to be very interesting as a young man. I am now 31 years old and was 27 at the time. We decided to raise the age of eligibility for old age security from 65 to 67. That was probably one of the most courageous decisions for an OECD country, for a G7 country. It was clearly something that needed to be done.
When he was a Bay Street tycoon in Toronto, the wrote a fantastic book in which he said that this was exactly what needed to be done and that Mr. Harper’s government had made a very good decision.
The member for should set a better example for all his colleagues. He should stop being arrogant, truly work for public servants, resolve the problems with Phoenix, and stop claiming he has the moral high ground.
We worked for workers with Bill to give them a secret ballot. We worked with public servants to ensure the sustainability of their pension funds with Bill .
I will close by saying that Bill is an abdication by the executive in favour of the major unions. The purpose of this bill is to reward them in order to obtain electoral gains in 2019.
Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to stand in the House today and speak to Bill . This legislation and the subject matter with which it deals is not only important to me as a parliamentarian and a legislator, but also professionally. I was fortunate enough to spend 16 years working as director of legal resources for Teamsters Union Local 31, where I represented workers and the union in all facets of labour relations and human resources. I am well aware of the very strong need to have fair and balanced labour legislation in this country.
To that end, New Democrats are very pleased to see this legislation introduced and will be supporting the government as it moves the legislation through the House. As with all pieces of legislation from the Liberals, it is not exactly what we would like to see and it does not go quite far enough, but it definitely goes a large distance in re-establishing that balance in Canadian labour law that Canadians by a large majority want to see.
Specifically, Bill is aimed at repealing two blatantly anti-labour pieces of legislation that were introduced by the former Harper government. That was division 20 of Bill and Bill . The first of these, the former Bill C-59, sought to unilaterally impose an inferior disability and sick leave management system on public servants, an unwarranted, unjustified, and significant attack on the rights of public sector workers to freely and collectively bargain their benefits. Bill would have drastically changed the rules for collective bargaining within the public service, giving the government full control over union rights such as the right to strike and the right to arbitration. The government would have also determined what positions would be considered essential, again, unilaterally.
The New Democrats fought vigorously against the government's attempt to introduce that legislation in the previous Parliament and we have fought vigorously in this Parliament to repeal the Conservatives' move to take those regressive steps.
To examine these provisions in a bit more detail, a key provision in the collective agreement of any worker, and in particular public service workers, is sick leave, which allows full-time workers, in the case of the public sector, 15 days per year of leave for use in case of illness or injury. The previous Conservative government was determined to unilaterally change that provision regardless of the wishes or desires of the majority of employees whose benefit it was, by reducing the number of sick days from 15 to six; eliminating entirely all accumulated banked sick days, in other words, wiping out accumulated benefits that public servants had accumulated for years; and imposing a short-term disability plan for federal public servants.
I pause here to say that many people in workplaces in Canada do have short-term disability plans. Others have accumulated sick days and each of those systems has its pros and cons. The point, however, is that in a unionized environment the way to come to a determination about what those benefits are is through collective bargaining. It is the employer and the union sitting at a table engaging in free collective bargaining and doing the inevitable trade-offs so that they come to a negotiated settlement. It is not by one side, in this case the employer, bringing down the unilateral hammer to impose its will on the other side regardless of the wishes or interests of the other side, but that is what the Conservatives did in the last Parliament.
The previous government also claimed that this change would save $900 million despite evidence to the contrary. According to the 2014 parliamentary budget officer:
...the incremental cost of paid sick leave was not fiscally material and did not represent material costs for departments in the [core public administration].
In practice, of course, the PBO found that most employees who call in sick are not replaced, resulting in no incremental cost to departments. The punitive reason given by the previous Conservative government, that it would save money, once examined by an independent officer of Parliament, was found to be completely unsubstantiated.
I am going to pause here and just say there is something else the previous Conservative government said would save about that same amount of money, and that was the introduction of the Phoenix pay system. The Conservative government laid off, I think it was approximately 800 or 900 payroll workers across this country in the federal civil service, and instead bought a computer program that was developed by an outside private contractor. It then concentrated a much smaller workforce in New Brunswick to handle payroll issues for the entire country.
At that time the Conservatives, with their ideological mantra of privatization and smaller government said we would save money. How did that work out? Here we are, three or four years later, and the federal public payroll system is in utter chaos. Hundreds of thousands of public servants have had errors in their pay, have not been paid at all, or have been overpaid. Any time a federal public servant changes their status, whether they move up a category to fill in for someone on a temporary basis or to take a promotion, their pay inevitably gets completely confused.
We now know that it will cost somewhere in the billions of dollars to repair this colossal, irresponsible undertaking. Conservatives always try to convince the Canadian public that they are best managers of the public purse. I hope Canadians remember this. Here are examples where the Conservatives made moves, punitively, to save money that ended up costing taxpayers billions of dollars and implementing decisions that actually made the situation worse.
I am going to pause here for a moment. I want to talk a little about unionization. My friends on the Liberal side of the House are standing up and strenuously advocating for the right to unionize. I heard my friends in the Conservative Party asking what stops anybody. In this country, what stops people from unionizing is the law.
It is currently the law in Canada that employees who work on Parliament Hill are prohibited from unionizing, by law. There are certain groups that have always been prohibited from being certified at labour boards, people like articling students in law firms, interns in hospitals, and other groups. However, on the Hill, successive Liberal and Conservative governments, for decades and decades, have made it impossible for MPs' own staff to unionize.
When Canadians watch this and see Liberal and Conservative MPs stand up and say that they believe in unionization and the right to free collective bargaining, one might ask why they do not believe in that right for their own employees.
The New Democrats, in contrast, have recognized this right by voluntarily recognizing a union to represent the employees of members of Parliament here, and have done for decades. We have signed successive collective agreements that give superior wages, superior benefits, superior job force protections, and safer workplaces, because New Democrats have voluntarily extended the benefits of unionization to our staff.
I say it is time for the Liberals and Conservatives to jump into the 21st century. I call on them to repeal that law that prohibits their own employees from applying to a labour relations board and being certified.
I also want to talk generally and philosophically about different approaches to our economy, and where workers and legislation like this may fit in. It has been my experience, and it is my assertion, that the best performing economies in the world have three features. They have strong, responsible governments, strong business communities, and strong labour movements. All three of those factors come into play and I believe are key foundational elements of not only strong economies but just societies.
One only has to think of countries like Norway, Sweden, Germany, or any of the European countries that, year after year, top all metrics and measures of happiness and prosperity. When we look at what the core features of those countries are, it is always those three features: a strong democratic government, strong business communities that are innovative, and strong labour movements whose rights are respected. That is why this legislation, which seeks to undo some of the most egregious anti-labour and anti-union initiatives of the previous Harper government, is so timely and overdue.
I want to talk a bit about what this legislation would do for essential services. I think everybody recognizes that there are some jobs in society that are just so essential to the safety of the public or the functioning of our society that we accept there are some limitations put on the right to strike. However, the mechanism of determining who those people are and in what numbers is left to negotiation between the parties and, ultimately, to an independent third-party arbitrator at a labour board if there is disagreement. What the Harper government did, and what this legislation seeks to change, is that it allowed the employer to unilaterally determine who is essential and in what numbers, again tilting the balance of the management-labour relationship completely in favour of the employer and upsetting years and years of established labour tradition and law in this country.
This legislation would also fix a problem where the previous legislation sought to undermine workers by limiting the opportunity for unions to refer differences and collective agreement disputes to arbitration for ultimate resolution. All in all, I am pleased to see this legislation come forward. I am pleased to see legislation that, once again, puts some respect back into the public service so that the federal government, of whatever stripe, Liberal, Conservative, New Democrat, Green, it does not matter, is compelled to treat the civil servants of this country in a manner that is fair and respectful.
Many features go into a democracy. It is not just about putting a piece of paper in a ballot box every four years. There needs to be an independent judiciary, a non-corrupt police force, a free and diverse media, an informed electorate, and a professional civil service. The civil servants of this country perform an invaluable service, not only to the people of this country and the taxpayers who pay their bills, in delivering the services that people need, but they play an integral role in upholding our democracy, because governments come and go but the civil service stays. It is its job to professionally serve the government of the day and faithfully administer and execute the policies that the government, which is democratically elected in our country, may choose. Therefore, treating those employees with the upmost respect, respecting them as workers, respecting their ability to engage in normative collective bargaining in this country, is a principle that must always be respected, and this legislation would do that.
I congratulate the government for bringing it forward and New Democrats will support it wholeheartedly.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be sharing my time today with the hon. member for .
I am very proud to speak to Bill . I congratulate the for listening to Canadians and introducing this important legislation. I would also like to thank the NDP's labour critic, the MP for , for her excellent work in supporting the bill.
When the former Conservative government chose to go after public sector workers' bargaining rights, it was certainly not a surprise. Conservatives are long-time opponents of democratic institutions like collective bargaining and freedom to associate. They see workers as a resource to be exploited and potentially thrown away, not deserving of fairness or respect.
The NDP fought the Conservatives when they introduced legislation to rob bargaining rights from our public servants, and we promised to work to restore those rights. Today, we are helping to keep that promise.
Still, for the Harper government to attack public servants' sick leave provisions, of all things, was shocking, and in the end, self-defeating. It is well established that workers who have sick leave protection will stay home when they get sick, and conversely, workers without sick leave will go to work, spreading disease among their co-workers. There is a cost to having a sick workforce. That cost, lower productivity and lost services, is higher than the cost of paying a worker to stay home.
A 2016 study quoted in Business Insider magazine said that evidence suggests that paid sick leave is tied to increased job stability and employee retention following illness, injury, or birth of a child, increased worker productivity, decreased worker errors, decreased accidents or injuries on the job, and when used to augment maternity leave, paid leave increases healthy babies, maternal health, and the duration of breast feeding, while also decreasing infant mortality.
That is why 128 nations around the world have paid sick leave for all workers, not just public servants. In fact, Canada is one of the few nations that lacks such a provision, putting us far behind many industrial and even non-industrial nations. According to the Center for Economic and Policy Research only three countries, the United States, Canada, and Japan, have no national policy requiring employers to provide paid sick days for workers who need to miss five days of work to recover from the flu.
Many states and cities in the U.S. have the same legislation as is in place in Europe. In Europe, the debate is not if a country should have mandated sick leave, it is how much the government should pay out, and nations compete to show they have not fallen behind.
I have a personal story. In my riding of Kootenay—Columbia, one of my staff was sick before Christmas with that flu and cold that was going around. She was off for six days. When she came back to work, she expressed how fortunate and pleased she was to have sick leave coverage included in the union contract. If we look at what the Conservatives had proposed, which was a maximum of six days of sick leave, it would have used up all of her sick leave before the year really even got going.
My daughter, Kellie, works in Vancouver at a private company where it is 90 days before employees get sick leave. She was sick last week, and in the end, will have very little money to cover her bills coming up over the next week or so. Sick leave is very important certainly to our young people, and having that in place is critical to both their job satisfaction and their financial security.
Sick leave is not the only provision the government is putting back into our public service labour laws. Conservatives also took away basic bargaining rights by giving themselves the power to unilaterally define essential services. This meant that public sector unions lost their biggest tool in negotiations: the right to strike. When an employer is not worried that their workers may walk off the job, they have little reason to negotiate fairly. The International Labour Organization, which is an agency of the United Nations, published a statement of principles concerning the right to strike. It said:
Without freedom of association or, in other words, without employers’ and workers’ organizations that are autonomous, independent, representative and endowed with the necessary rights and guarantees for the furtherance and defence of the rights of their members and the advancement of the common welfare, the principle of tripartism would be impaired, if not completely stripped of all meaning, and chances for greater social justice would be seriously prejudiced.
A similar provision in the province of Saskatchewan was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2015, with the court saying:
The right to strike also promotes equality in the bargaining process. This Court has long recognized the deep inequalities that structure the relationship between employers and employees, and the vulnerability of employees in this context.
While strike activity itself does not guarantee that a labour dispute will be resolved in any particular manner or that it will be resolved at all, it is the possibility of a strike that enables workers to negotiate their employment terms on a more equal footing. What would be the result of taking away democratic and fair bargaining mechanisms? It would be a workforce that has little reason to stay, little reason to succeed. It is a policy that defeats itself and hurts all Canadians, so I am pleased to see the government repeal this provision.
Before our government colleagues pat themselves on the back too strenuously, however, I must again remind them about the terrible state of negotiations, currently, for many of our public servants. As I have said in the chamber before, Canada's border security officers have been without a collective agreement now for almost four years. These officers, who protect our nation from smugglers, illegal arms, and drugs and who provide compassion and aid to returning Canadians and refugees alike, are being treated with disrespect by the Liberal government.
I have quoted before from a letter I received from a border security officer who lives in my riding of Kootenay--Columbia, and I will repeat that now:
It is further hoped that that current Liberal Government will engage in good faith bargaining and rightly recognize that the CBSA, along with its hard working employees, are indeed legitimate Law Enforcement Officers employed by a legitimate Law Enforcement Agency. All told, we are only seeking what a reasonable person would consider fair and just, and trust that the Liberal Government will come to the same conclusion.
Like the border security officers, RCMP officers are suffering under the neglect of the government. It is losing members to provincial and municipal forces, where they receive better pay, better equipment, and better treatment. It takes incredible commitment, and I really commend any officers who stay with a force that cuts their benefits and will not keep up with critical equipment and training needs or offer them the respect they so rightly deserve. RCMP members are forbidden from taking their grievances to the public service labour relations board, and they are forbidden from engaging in negotiating tactics such as strikes.
Finally, let us look at our own Parliamentary Protective Service officers. Every day we come to work on Parliament Hill, they are here to protect us, to greet us, and to put themselves between members of the House and those who potentially wish to harm us. On top of that, they provide assistance to our visitors and to tourists, Canadians who want to come to this place out of pride and respect. Sadly, the Liberal government is not treating our House of Commons security personnel with respect. The government has refused to negotiate in good faith, and we are once again seeing these officers wearing green hats with a banner that says “Respect” to protest their treatment.
My NDP colleagues and I will support Bill , as we have always supported fair and democratic workers' rights. This legislation, however, does not solve all the problems created by the former Conservative government, nor does it answer the urgent need for the Liberal government to return to the bargaining table with its law enforcement and security officers, a problem that is quickly creating a crisis across this nation and one the Liberals can solve by respecting fair negotiations everywhere.
Madam Speaker, I rise today to speak to Bill . I have heard some good feedback on this.
What struck me this morning were some of the statements made by the member for . He is a good friend. I really respect the person, but obviously, we have different ideas. He made statements about union bosses and union leaders and about the Liberals just saying “thank you” because some of the unions were putting money in and campaigning against the Conservatives in the last election. I want to say that I totally disagree with that. The unions were campaigning against the Conservatives, yes, but they were also supporting anyone who could beat the Conservatives, and that was because they have a very bad reputation for taking away gains from labour that people have fought for all their lives, and they wanted to make sure that those people never got back in power until they got their act together and started to respect what labour could do.
We are pleased that the government is finally moving forward to repeal legislation based purely on a backward ideology that forces public servants to go to work sick and that totally undermines the principle of collective bargaining. We have to ask what took the Liberals so long to bring this bill forward. What took them so long to act? Of course, this is a question many Canadians are asking more and more often about the current government. Why are the Liberals not keeping the promises they made during the election, and why are they so slow to act or are not acting at all?
The list of broken promises is far too long to list in the time I have today, but we all know about the Liberals' failure to support electoral reform, their failure to restore door-to-door postal delivery, and the failure to keep the promise to make government more transparent. We also know about their failure to support pay equity legislation, anti-scab legislation, and measures to increase retirement security. One of their most shameful failures is the unwillingness to protect workers' pensions.
We have heard over and over again expressions of sympathy from the and his for Canadian workers, like those at Sears Canada who have lost severance and termination pay and health care and life insurance benefits. They now face reduced pension benefits.
Canadians need and expect more than their sympathy and their shallow talking points. They need action. They need the government to change Canada's inadequate bankruptcy and solvency laws. We have shown the Liberals how this can be achieved, but still the government fails to act or move to protect millions of vulnerable Canadians. As my friend from is fond of asking, when is the government going to put the protection of Canadian pensions ahead of Bay Street profits? It is a very good question and a question millions of Canadians would like to know the answer to.
Let me come back to Bill . New Democrats want to undo Harper's anti-labour legacy and build a fair framework for collective bargaining. We welcome the introduction of Bill C-62, which would formally put an end to measures introduced by the former government. We know that the government Bill and Bill , both introduced last year, have been languishing on the Order Paper since their introduction. We hope that their being amalgamated into Bill C-62 means that the government is finally ready to move forward.
Bill would reverse the attacks by the former Conservative government on the collective bargaining rights of federal public service employees, and it should be passed without delay. This bill would repeal the power given to the government to remove sick leave from federal public service collective agreements so that it could be changed unilaterally, outside of the bargaining process. The bill would also restore some of the changes to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act affecting collective bargaining, which the Conservatives had included in one of their budget implementation bills in 2013, such as those affecting the designation of essential services. New Democrats rallied against the Conservatives' agenda to curtail public service workers' right to strike. The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act was amended in December 2013 to remove the choice of dispute resolution being available to essential services.
In our 2015 platform, we promised Canadians we would stand up for public sector workers in light of the lost decade of Harper's union abuse. Supporting this bill makes good on that promise. A respectful relationship with the public service starts with safeguards to free and fair collective bargaining, not stacking the deck in favour of the employer.
Bill is aimed at repealing two blatantly anti-labour pieces of legislation introduced by the former Harper government: division 20 of Bill and Bill . The first of these sought to unilaterally impose an inferior disability and sick leave management system on public servants, which was an unwarranted and significant attack on the rights of public service workers.
Bill would have drastically changed the rules for collective bargaining within the public service, giving the government full control over union rights, such as the right to strike and the right to arbitration. The government would have also determined what positions would be considered essential.
A key provision in the collective agreements of public service workers is sick leave, which allows full-time workers 15 days per year of leave for use in case of illness or injury. The previous Conservative government was determined to unilaterally change this provision by reducing the number of sick days from 15 to 6, eliminating banked sick days, and imposing a short-term disability plan for federal public servants.
The previous government claimed this change would have saved $900 million, despite evidence to the contrary. According to the 2014 parliamentary budget officer's report, “the incremental cost of paid sick leave was not fiscally material and did not represent material costs for departments in the core public administration.” That means most employees who call in sick are not replaced, resulting in no incremental costs to departments.
Under the Conservative legislation, workers would have been forced to choose between going to work sick or losing pay for basic necessities. Its legislation would eliminate all accumulated sick leave for public servants, reduce the amount of annual sick leave to 37.5 hours per year, subject to the absolute discretion of the employer, and institute a seven-day waiting period without pay before people could access short-term disability benefits.
I want to comment that, because I come from a union background. I served the union for 36 years. We had that seven-day waiting period also, and we made great gains. We proved to the company that having a waiting period of seven days would bring in workers who were sick, causing other workers to be sick, which actually caused a downturn in production because there were not have enough workers on the job to produce the machinery. Therefore, doing that was a step backward.
Both the NDP and the Liberals committed to reversing the changes during the last election. Bill would repeal the offending legislation, thus restoring sick leave provisions to public servants for the time being.
Bill would also revoke some of the more offensive Conservative legislation, including: giving government, as the employer, the right to unilaterally define essential services instead of negotiating an essential services agreement with the bargaining agent; undermining the right to strike by making it illegal to strike if at least 80% of the positions in a bargaining unit provide essential services, as defined by the employer; removing the bargaining agent's right to choose arbitration as a means of resolving collective bargaining disputes, making conciliation the default process, and undermining the workers in cases where the employer consents to arbitration by requiring arbitrators to give priority to Canada's fiscal circumstances relative to its stated budgetary policies. It also removed discrimination-based complaints by public servants from the jurisdiction of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. That to me is a shame.
While we fully support Bill , we also know there is more to be done to dismantle the Harper government's legacy of anti-labour legislation. Some of those measures include restoring the Canada Labour Code provisions pertaining to the rights of Canadians to refuse dangerous work. That was gutted by the Harper government, a right that everybody wants when they go into a workplace. Too many deaths have happened, and it should not be determined by the employer. The Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act should be reinstated, bringing forward pay equity legislation, as well as the federal minimum wage, bringing Bill back to the House of Commons, and respecting the right of RCMP members to associate and bargain collectively.