Bill C-29: Jenny speaks up on respecting workers & the important right to free collective bargaining

On April 29, 2021, the House of Commons debated late into the night on Bill C-29, an Act put forward by the Liberal government to force workers at the Port of Montreal back to work & stripping them of their rights as enshrined in the law. MP Jenny Kwan spoke out against this back-to-work legislation, and delivered a speech in favour of respecting workers and their rights, respecting the collective bargaining process, respecting labour, and urging the government to withdraw the Bill.

Jenny Kwan (NDP) Vancouver East, BC

"Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with my colleague, the member for New Westminster—Burnaby.

At the heart of this back-to-work legislation today is the issue around workers' rights. The right of workers to free collective bargaining and the right to strike are rights guaranteed in law.

Since we are talking about workers' right tonight, it would be appropriate for me to note that today is also the National Day of Mourning in remembrance of workers who were injured or killed on the job. It is essential that employers ensure their workers have a safe work environment. It is especially important at this time, in the middle of a pandemic, when so many workers are risking their lives, whether they are health care workers, cashiers at grocery stores, bus drivers or teachers. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to them and, as part of that appreciation, I will recommit myself to continue to fight to ensure that every single worker in the country has the protection of paid sick leave and that the federal government delivers on this important measure for the protection all of them.

As we are talking about workers' rights, tonight I was listening to the minister's justification on this back-to-work legislation. At one point, the minister actually said that she was not taking sides, that she brought forward this legislation with a heavy heart. Somehow the minister appears to be completely oblivious to the fact that the minute she indicated the government would bring in back-to-work legislation, she took a side. She sided with the employer over the rights of the workers and with that action, she tipped the scale toward the employer in the bargaining process. Gone is the process for free collective bargaining. That is what the minister did when she indicated that the government would bring in back-to-work legislation.

The government is saying that it does not want to do this, but the reality is that it is doing it. It is ignoring the rights of the workers. It will justify this with all kinds of excuses, but let us be clear about what is happening. The unions have expressly said that there would be no job action if the employer walked back on the unilateral decision to change their work schedule. My question for the government is this. Why did it not tell the employer to honour the workers and not change their working conditions and job security provisions? That is in their collective agreement.

When the employer announced that it would not honour the workers' job security provisions, that is when things went off. When it took the unilateral decision to make changes to the workers' schedules, that is when things went off. Instead of telling the employer that it was not appropriate and that it must negotiate fairly at the bargaining table about scheduling, job security and other measures within the collective agreement, the government made a decision to tip the scale by indicating it would bring in back-to-work legislation. That is why we are here tonight. By doing this, the Liberals are sending a clear message to all workers that the government does not have their backs, and it does not. That is where we are at this moment in time.

I have heard members say that this job action from the unions would impact the flow of medical supplies and equipment. The union has also indicated that there is extensive essential service order in place by the Canada Industrial Relations Board and that its members have always abided by that order. That is to say that the workers would not disrupt the delivery of essential service orders involving medical supplies and equipment. That is an important piece for us to all note.

I want Canadians who are watching this debate to also know that this debate is not about money. In fact, the union has indicated that many of its workers are younger workers and many of them are women. I have been advised that a quarter of them are women now. What they are seeking are changes to the work conditions that will ensure a better work/life balance.

If anything, this pandemic has really brought to light for all of us the importance of family, of our loved ones and to ensure that while we work, we have a safe work environment that we can go home to and balance all of these things. Those are the basic things that every single worker wants. Those are the things I know I want for myself as well and for the people I love. That is what these workers are fighting for at the bargaining table.

To negotiate all of that, we need to ensure their rights are respected, to ensure that their right for free collective bargaining is protected. However, the government undermined all of that with this back-to-work legislation. What is even more worrisome is that after all of this the government might think it has solved the problem somehow, but it has not thought ahead of what it will mean down the road with respect to the working relationship between the workers and the employer, and the requirement and need to ensure there are good relations going forward.

By undermining their collective bargaining rights, in many ways we are helping to poison the well, and that is not good for anyone. That is not good for the workers and not good for the employer. It is actually in the best interest of the Canadian government to step away. There is still time. The government can say that this is not the right path forward, that it is going to withdraw the bill. It can still do that.

That is what I find so dismaying. The government wants to pretend that it is friends with workers, that it will honour the rights of workers and then in a heartbeat it brings in back-to-work legislation. That back-to-work legislation will strip workers of their rights, their basic, fundamental rights, which is enshrined in law.

I come from British Columbia and, sadly, we have a sad history of a government that violated the rights of workers over and over again. I remember the situation with health care workers and teachers where the government brought in around-the-clock debates that stripped the teachers and health care workers of their basic rights, the basic right to collective bargaining.

The unions brought the B.C. Liberal government to court and won in both instances, in the legislation against the teachers and against the health care workers. If there is a lesson to be learned here, it is this. We must respect the rights of workers. We must honour them. In this instance, bringing in back-to-work legislation in the manner in which the government has done is so wrong and it is not helpful. The government may want to fool itself by saying it is helpful, but it is not. It cannot say in the same breath that it is somehow friends, allies and supporters of labour while doing this. I actually remember—"

 

https://openparliament.ca/debates/2021/4/28/jenny-kwan-1/

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