Canada's Original Think Tank

Committee of the Whole on Bill C-89, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services

Committee of the Whole on Bill C-89, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services

Committee of the Whole on Bill C-89, An Act to provide for the resumption and continuation of postal services

Senator Serge Joyal: 

I’ve been listening to you very carefully, and I feel there is a lot of insistence being put on the company and not on the employees when you talk about it either as Minister of Labour or as the Minister Responsible for Canada Post. As Minister of Labour, as much as I understand your terms of reference as a minister, you are there to speak for the labourer, and the labourers are the people. Who speaks for the people, the 50,000 members of the postal service, when you have to approach and solve an issue of this magnitude?

I have heard both of you often talking about the corporation, but who is concerned about the condition of work for the people who devote their capacity, strength, energy and conviction to serve Canadians through the corporation? Could you give us more of your views on that?

Hon. Patricia A. Hajdu, P.C., M.P., Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour: Thank you very much. That’s an excellent question, one that often comes up in terms of my title as Minister of Labour. In fact, my main role is to provide for due process so that there is, for example, federal mediation services that exist and that function in a way that help both parties achieve collective agreements that are negotiated.

I will say, however, that the Prime Minister has recognized there is a need to improve conditions for working people in Canada. That’s why my mandate letter is written in such a manner, which actually some have accused goes too far and treats workers preferentially. I would disagree with those accusations because I agree with the Prime Minister, that in fact, the most vulnerable in federally regulated workplaces do not have adequate protections. That’s why we have implemented things like better work-life balance through the right to request flexible hours. More than that, we have introduced legislated proactive pay equity to ensure that women are paid for work of equal value in a fair manner.

The recent legislation that has been introduced with the Budget Implementation Act that updates the Canada Labour Code in a profound way, in a way that hasn’t been seen since the mid-1960s, provides for basic dignities like paid leave for sick days or emergencies that ensure that people have the ability to have some control over scheduling practices and allows them to have dignified and safe workplaces. These are all things that we have been doing as a government to address the rights of workers, which as you point out, haven’t been considered in this country for well over a decade or longer. So it’s my utmost pleasure and honour to do that work on behalf of workers through the mandate of the Prime Minister.

I would say in this particular situation, my role as Minister of Labour is not necessarily to represent the workers or the employer, but to provide a process that is balanced and fair, and the parties have tools they can use to reach a negotiated agreement, and failing that, to take action that can help move parties beyond an impasse such as the one we see today.

Senator Joyal: Yes, but the legislation — unless Minister Qualtrough wants to add something, I have an additional question.

Hon. Carla Qualtrough, P.C., M.P., Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility: Do you mind, senator? Thank you, Madam Chair.

First of all, I would apologize if I left any impression. I think my answers have been oriented to the business response. I can assure you Canada Post employees and the services they provide are absolutely central to our way forward for Canada Post in this country.

I can give you two specific examples where the new leadership is extremely focused on making sure employees have acceptable environments in which they can thrive and provide the services they do.

I don’t know if you recall the example where a gentleman asked a question at a town hall of the Prime Minister in Winnipeg. It had to do with a situation of what he perceived to be bullying at Canada Post. I met with that gentleman and with union representatives. We worked out a process. We now have a whole system in place.

We also had the union approach us about work conditions related to a very complicated process with respect to overtime. They were providing stories of how employees were experiencing mental health issues at work related to this complicated process around overtime.

Within 30 days, the new chair of Canada Post changed the process, got rid of that particular situation, and we have had extremely positive feedback from the union about her efforts to reorient overtime.

I could come up with more examples, senator. The point is, I can assure you the well-being of Canada Post employees is central to the work we are doing to renew and reorient Canada Post.

Senator Joyal: Thank you. Minister Hajdu, you have mentioned this bill has a better balance than the previous legislation adopted in 2011. As you know, that legislation has been struck down by the court. You might have heard our debate at second reading and my concern in relation to that.

Beyond the general statement you made that this bill is better balanced, could you go through the reasoning the court would follow if this bill is challenged in court, what the court has labelled the Oakes test? That is the three-step approach the court will apply in reviewing the constitutionality of this legislation in relation to section 2 of the Charter, which protects the freedom of expression of employees, the right to freedom of association and the right for unions to strike. Could you go through the legal reasoning strictly based on what the court would follow as a step to reassure us or to convince us that this bill is constitutional?

Ms. Hajdu: Thank you, senator. I’ll leave the courts to do their work. I will tell you we were very informed by the 2015 decision, which is why the legislation is crafted in this way. I will tell you what the key differences are that we have included in the legislation to prevent a similar finding by a future court.

First of all, in terms of the appointment of the mediator-arbitrator, in 2011, the minister appointed the mediator-arbitrator without any recommendation of the parties or any support from any other agencies. In this legislation, I will make the appointment based on the recommendation of the parties or, if no names match, after advice from the chair of the CIRB, to keep the mediator-arbitrator as neutral as possible.

Mediation was not a part of the process in 2011. It is a part of our process in this legislation.

In terms of the process of arbitration, in 2011, it was final offer selection, giving the mediator-arbitrator very little ability to weave through complicated issues. In 2018, the mediator-arbitrator can choose between traditional interest arbitration or final offer selection depending on the situation in front of him or her.

The terms and conditions of the agreement set out in the legislation in 2011 were very rigid and specified wage levels and length of agreement. In 2018, the mediator-arbitrator has the ability to work with the parties to hopefully agree on the terms and conditions, and if not, arbitrate accordingly.

The guiding principles in 2011 were heavily weighted towards the interests of Canada Post. In 2018, as I have mentioned before, we have attempted to make sure the guiding principles are balanced between the needs of both parties.

Finally, we believe the way we have crafted this legislation is in such a way to be deeply respectful of the decision of the court in 2015. That is why this legislation is crafted in such a different way.

Senator Joyal: When Parliament adopts the legislation, we tip the balance in favour of the employers versus the union. There is no doubt about that. The union loses the right to strike. It is their power, in fact, to maintain a level playing field between the employer and the union. In my opinion, any initiative we take in Parliament has to be very mindful that the legislation has to protect the balance of the parties.

I don’t think, in my humble opinion, in this legislation, this question, fundamental to the decision that any court will have to take in relation to its constitutionality, is served by the way the bill is crafted, unless I’m not reading it the way I should be reading it.

Ms. Hajdu: Senator, I would respectfully disagree. I am incredibly proud of the very hard-working public servants that, upon our request, took it very seriously to review the 2015 decision and craft legislation that would not recreate those mistakes. That’s why this legislation —