Libby defends Canada Post workers’ rights in Parliament

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House of Commons
June 23, 2011

Ms. Libby Davies (Vancouver East, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to follow our member for Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie to speak today to this motion.

I want to say right at the outset that I feel shameful that we are here having to debate this motion regarding back-to-work legislation and that the first order of business that has come from the Conservative government is to force workers back to work and not give them a fair shot and a fair chance at collective bargaining.

I was first elected in 1997, and in December of that year we faced a similar situation of back-to-work legislation for the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. What is ironic though is that at that time it was a Liberal government. The legislation that we are dealing with today is very similar to the legislation that we dealt with in 1997. The same incredible, outrageous fines, $50,000 for union leaders and $100,000 for the union as a whole, were in the Liberal legislation, and the same kind of restraints on the arbitrator that we see in the legislation today. Back then it was also a lower wage that was legislated, a wage restraint, than what had actually been at the bargaining table. It has been ironic to hear some of the Liberal members rise to say how they feel about this legislation when they forget their own history of what they did in 1997. I just wanted to remember that because I was a new member at that time and I remember that debate also went through the night.

I want to begin by thanking postal workers. I think they have had a really rough ride from the Conservative members in the House. They have been vilified, demonized and have been set up as the bad guys when, in reality, what the union and the members of the union want is a fair collective agreement. They do not want to see back to work legislation. They are willing to go back to the table.

Look at the circumstances that are now unfolding. We have a Conservative government that is using a sledgehammer and putting forward legislation, Motion No. 3, that we are now debating, that would actually put workers in such a constraint in terms of any collective bargaining that we might as well say goodbye to collective bargaining.

I want to reference that because some of the Conservative members have said that this is only about this situation, that it’s only about the postal workers, that it does not affect anybody else other than, of course, the various people whose messages they are reading. But the fact is that the back to work legislation affects all workers in this country.

It may surprise members to know that even today Canada is not a signatory to one of the very important International Labour Organization conventions, ILO Convention No. 98, the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention and so, that right is not even enshrined in terms of Canadian practice. Is it any wonder that we see this assault on Canadians workers? What happens to these workers is a signal of what is yet to come. For that reason we should be deeply disturbed and concerned about the legislation and how it would affect other workers, whether they are under a collective agreement or not.

The other issue that we have to be very concerned about is the implication and impact on pensions. Every Canadian is concerned about what is going to happen to their pension system. One of the issues in this particular round of bargaining is the employer trying to change the pension system so that workers would no longer have an assurance of what it is they can expect from their pension when they retire

This is a very basic value to all Canadian workers, again, whether they are unionized or not. For the employer, which happens to be a crown corporation controlled by the government, to run the gauntlet, lay this down and say it’s going to change the pension system is really a warning sign of what is to come.

As New Democrats, we know that we have to fight this tooth and nail with the labour movement, with progressive people in this country, because we can see the signal and we see the direction that the government is taking.

In addition, one of the proposals that the union has had to deal with is facing a two-tiered wage system. Again, this is about an employer now supported by a government that is trying to put in a wage restraint through legislation.

It is pretty outrageous when the government itself tables a proposal in the legislation that would actually decrease the wages that were put on the table by the employer, which in itself would start workers 20% lower than existing postal workers. We can see where this is going.

I find it very ironic that the government says it’s interested in economic recovery and stability on the one hand, but on the other hand everything it is doing is driving wages and working conditions down and making things less secure and more difficult for workers whether they are unionized or not.

These are all elements of this back-to-work legislation. The idea is that this is a one-off piece of legislation and we do not have to worry about it. In the debate unfolding today, which will go on for several days, it will become very clear that there are much broader implications for all workers in this country and it is something we should be concerned about.

Today in the House I tabled two private members’ bills relating to what we call social condition; the recognition that people who are poor and have low incomes face discrimination based on their economic circumstances. I see a relationship between the tabling of those bills and what we are trying to do by removing discrimination from people who are economically disadvantaged or living below the poverty line and what the government is trying to do in this back to work legislation.

The fact is that when public policy goes in a direction that takes away people’s rights, drives down wages and says collective bargaining will not be tolerated, that affects everybody. When unions do well and minimum wages go up, it benefits all workers in this country, including people who are living below the poverty line and struggling on minimum wages, whether it is $8, $9, or $10 an hour, depending on where they live.

These issues are related. We can see that the legislation that will be coming forward after we vote tonight, presuming this motion passes, will have a huge impact not only on CUPW members but on workers as a whole. Those in the labour movement are watching this with very keen interest. They are very concerned about what is taking place.

I noticed that one such union member, Fred Wilson who works at the CEP, noted in a blog on
—the Conservatives have rigged this game completely. The outcome is now determined; there is nothing left for free collective bargaining to accomplish.

I would certainly echo those comments. I feel the sense of shame and distress about the road we’re going down.

The government didn’t have to intervene. We often hear that the Conservatives do not like to intervene in the marketplace. Why is it in this case they decided to intervene on the side of Canada Post? Why is it that they have not said anything about the lockout of the workers that is taking place?

We have heard Conservative member after Conservative member attack the union and those who are trying to get a fair deal with their employer, and yet I have not heard one word from any of those members about what the employer has done. The reality is the government is backing the employer. The government is saying it is onside with Canada Post 100%. Where’s the balance? Where’s the idea that fairness should exist?

We are very opposed to this motion. We are opposed to the process of bringing in closure on the bill that will be before us tonight.

We believe in collective bargaining. We stand for the rights of workers to get a fair deal as outlined by the International Labour Organization. We support Convention 98, as all people in this country should do. We demand that the government respect those rights, and think about the position it’s taking and what it’s imposing in such an unfair and discriminatory manner.