Speech and questions in the House of Commons on June, 23, 2011, concerning the Resumption and Continuation of Postal Services Legislation

Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet (Hochelaga, NDP): Mr. Speaker, since this is my first opportunity to do so, I would like to say thank you very much to the constituents of Hochelaga and wish them a happy national holiday, this June 24. It is not by chance that I am wearing a blue shirt today.

I have a large constituency. It is diverse but, at the same time, it is very much like a village. The name actually comes from an Iroquois village, Hochelaga. I see a lot of neighbours helping each other in the village. There is a lot of imagination. As I was saying, it is diverse. There are middle-class people, but there are also very many people living in poverty, unfortunately.

I firmly intend to listen to them, to address the situations they bring to me as best as I can and to protect their rights. What are the rights of ordinary people? We talk a lot about ordinary people. The following are some examples: decent housing, that goes without saying; access to healthy food, that is where it all starts. In short, they have the right to a decent life.

The government is saying that it wants to protect ordinary people—that same term again—by forcing the Canada Post workers to go back to work. It seems to exclude postal workers from the ordinary people category.

The government is also accusing the opposition of wanting to protect these workers, Canada Post workers. These people are cousins, sisters and neighbours. Everyone here knows people who work at Canada Post. These are ordinary people. They are no different from the rest of the population, except for the fact that they are lucky enough not to have to go alone before their boss to ask for a day off to, for example, accompany their child on a school trip. Indeed, it can be intimidating to have to meet one's boss alone to ask him for things like that.

Why do postal workers enjoy that benefit? It is because they got together and they have a body to represent them, namely their union. What do those bad union people do on a day to day basis? We, workers, spend 33% of our time at work. Come to think of it, that is a lot of time. One third of our day is spent at work. The union is there to ensure that the environment in which we spend all that time is adequate.

What do union people do when a new collective agreement must be negotiated? First, union members democratically appoint a negotiating committee. A vote is held. So, a choice is already being made by members. The committee then makes inquiries, asks questions to members and sends questionnaires. It does all these sorts of things to see what improvements could be made. Then, it prepares a document listing all the demands and submits it to members. Again, there is a vote. This is a democratic process. Moreover, and this is important, members are asked to set priorities. They are asked what is most important to them and how they will react if the committee does not succeed in getting one thing or another. So, when the committee enters into negotiations, it already knows what the members' priorities are. It then sets out to negotiate those priorities, while knowing what members are prepared to accept or not.

The Conservatives also often accuse us of hurting ordinary people and small businesses by opposing the back-to-work legislation. Let us clarify things once again. Some workers were engaged in rotating strikes. The mail was still being delivered. Some employees were prepared to deliver cheques to retirees and to people on welfare. Again, the mail would have been delivered. However, the employer ordered a lockout and the mail could no longer be delivered. It is not workers who are preventing the mail from being delivered, it is the employer. The employees even said they will return to work if the employer puts an end to the lockout.

I am now going to deal with a few demands. Canada Post wants different working conditions to apply to new employees. For example, someone who is hired next month will earn 18% less than someone who was hired last month.

Let us say that I work at a job and the person next to me does exactly the same work.

I was hired in July, while the other person was hired in May or June. I will earn 82% of the other person's salary for doing exactly the same work, even though he has held his job for just a month or two less than I have. That is discriminatory and unfair.

Moreover, new employees are often young people who are joining the labour force. It is already hard for young people to support their families, but it is going to be even more difficult.

Let us now talk about salary increases. Canada Post has offered 1.9%, 1.9%, 1.9% and 2%. The government has lowered these increases to 1.75%, 1.5%, 2% and 2%. Meanwhile, between 1997 and 2010, the CEO's salary increased by a yearly average of 2.2%. If we include performance bonuses, we get 3.8% on a $600,000 salary. That is significantly more money than 1.5% or 2% on an annual salary of $35,000 or $40,000. So there is a great injustice here.

This is a government that, in my opinion, uses its majority for disgraceful purposes. That is why NDP members have decided to spend the night in this House, and that is why those who are from Quebec are not with their constituents to celebrate the national holiday. We have principles and we are going to stand up for them to the very end.

Mr. Claude Gravelle (Nickel Belt, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank the hon. member for Hochelaga for the almost perfect speech that she delivered here today.

We often hear government members say that small businesses are suffering because of the lockout. I wonder if the hon. member for Hochelaga could tell us what the government can do to prevent small businesses from suffering because of this lockout.

Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet: Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for his question. The answer is very simple, and that is the answer that I am going to give to any government member who puts that question to me.

We have to end the lockout immediately. Cheques and bills can be delivered. People can receive the documents they need and everything will be fine. That is how we could help small businesses: by ending this lockout immediately.

Hon. Leona Aglukkaq (Minister of Health and Minister of the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the member made reference to ordinary people who live at the poverty line. The member should know that this lockout and the delay in passing the back-to-work legislation are causing personal hardship to many people in remote, isolated communities of Labrador, Makivik region of Quebec, Kuujjuaq, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories. There are many seniors who wait for their pension cheques. They live cheque to cheque to buy food. There are other people in the communities who depend on Canada Post to ship their products like milk or diapers or what not.

What does the member say to those individuals who depend on Canada Post for their daily livelihood about the delay in passing the back-to-work legislation?

What does the member say to those individuals in those communities in Canada?

Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet: Mr. Speaker, I already said it and I will say it again. When the rotating strikes were going on, some mail was being distributed. Despite being involved in rotating strikes and considering other action, postal workers were still prepared to deliver cheques to pensioners and to social assistance recipients.

Now, because of the lockout, there is no mail at all. Therefore, I would tell people living in the north to ask the government to put an end to the lockout, as I just said. That is very simple.

Mrs. Cathy McLeod (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of National Revenue, CPC): Mr. Speaker, first of all I have to thank my staff in the office who are getting many telephone calls and emails from people who are very concerned. I think the opposition is really trying to belittle the impact these rolling strikes have had. I do have an email and it is quite lengthy and I will not actually read it into the record, but I think you need to recognize that when there is a threat of mail not being delivered, it changes what is happening with businesses, with invoices and with charitable returns, so a rolling strike is essentially the same as a complete strike.

I think I would like the member to acknowledge that perhaps rolling strikes do have a very significant impact on the business of this country, on small businesses and on our charities, and that rolling strikes are not something we can say were not important and were not impactful.

Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet: Postal workers have already said that if the employer ends the lockout, they will immediately go back to work. So that would be the solution. It is always the same answer to the same questions.

Mr. Jamie Nicholls (Vaudreuil-Soulanges, NDP): Mr. Speaker, I would like to ask my hon. colleague if the Prime Minister is being disrespectful by choosing to be in Thetford Mines to celebrate our national holiday and asbestos today—a clearly partisan choice—instead of being here in Ottawa to defend his own bill.

Ms. Marjolaine Boutin-Sweet:I just heard that. It is very surprising. It is quite shocking, especially since I cannot be in my riding, through which the Montreal Saint-Jean-Baptiste parade will pass today. I find it very, very unfortunate.