Mr. Speaker, we keep unearthing all these little treasures hidden deep in the bowels of Bill C-38 that we did not even realize were being snuck into this omnibus bill. Now we know why they were put there and their significance.
Bill C-38 repeals the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. This is the construction fair wages act for the federal jurisdiction. For 100 years, we have been fighting for fair wages and working conditions for the construction industry. It is an industry with a transient workforce. Contractors and the like can exploit desperate working people in the construction industry if we do not have regulations that prevent them from doing so. This legislation took wages out of competition so that contractors would win their jobs based on their merits, skills and productivity, not on their ability to find cheaper labour because, by virtue of the fair wages act, it was agreed that it does not benefit anyone.
We have a quaint expression where I come from that “fair wages benefit the whole community”. It is virtuous to have a well-paid, consuming, middle class. It is good for the economy. Driving down the wages of Canadian workers is in no one’s best interest. Members would know that the federal government is one of the largest consumers of construction industry services in the country. This act applied to any construction project contracted by the federal government, including military bases, prisons, ports, banking and telecommunications. The Canada Labour Code, which is the federal labour code, applies to all of those including projects that go across provincial borders. What comes to mind when we think about large projects that might span interprovincial borders are pipelines. We have unearthed now that deep within Bill C-38 the federal government has eliminated the fair wages and working conditions that are found in this act. It has completely eradicated that.
The act also states that contractors, whether unionized or non-unionized, have to pay the prevailing wage. This is usually determined by the Minister of Labour by consulting in that area what a normal prevailing wage would be, not the union scale but somewhere in the same living-wage ballpark. As well, it sets the hours of work, including that no construction worker has to work more than 48 hours without time and a half overtime.
All of that has been eradicated. Now, a contractor can bid on one of these federal jobs and post a job notice saying “Wanted: Carpenters, $8 an hour, 84 hour work week, straight time”. No one will apply for that job, which opens the door to the other side of the coin, to mix a metaphor.
The other side of the coin is that the government has changed the laws for temporary foreign workers again by virtue of recent legislation to the point where a contractor can get temporary foreign workers within 10 days. Where do they come from? They are not some unemployed guys in Bangladesh who notice a job opportunity in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Rather, they come from international labour brokers who are peddling crews of temporary foreign workers all over the world for construction projects. We call them labour pimps. Unfortunately, many of the workers working for these international labour brokers are working in a form of bonded servitude for substandard wages with substandard living, health and safety conditions. Not only are they exploiting those temporary foreign workers, they are also driving down the wage and industry standards of Canadian workers by virtue of these contractors who will undoubtedly win every job.
I know construction. I am a journeyman carpenter. I spent my whole life in construction. I used to be a representative of the carpenters’ union. I know the margins that construction contractors play with. There is only 2% or 3% between this bid and that bid. It is very competitive. Contractors who bid a job by pricing out labour at 20% and 30% and 40% lower than their competitors will win every job, every time. They will drive down the prevailing wage, because those other contractors will now have to start bidding lower if they are to ever win a job.
To whose benefit is it to drive down the fair wages of Canadian workers? Let me point out a secondary problem this raises. How are we going to attract bright, young men and women into the building trades if the normal wage is now going to be $8, $9 or $10 an hour instead of the $20 or $30 that it is now? Try feeding a family on $8, $9 or $10 an hour. Nobody in his or her right mind is going to go into that industry. We are going to have temporary foreign workers all over again. This is a recipe for undermining the integrity of the construction industry. I believe it is set up specifically to enable the construction of interprovincial pipelines, which used to be subject to these fair wage standards. It is going to create an open door for contractors to avoid paying fair wages to Canadians and these things are going to be built with temporary foreign workers.
Let me provide a recent example. Unfortunately, the pulp mill in Gold River, British Columbia closed down due to normal market forces. The pulp mill was sold to China. Instead of hiring locals to tear down the pulp mill, the 400 men and women who worked there all their lives and knew every nut and bolt in the place, the mill owner applied for temporary foreign workers. The permit was granted. I have a copy of the application. It asked if the mill tried to find Canadians to do the job. The answer was yes. It asked for the reason it did not hire those Canadians. The answer was that the price was too high. Therefore, it brought in crews of guys from India, who sleep six to a hotel room, to tear down the pulp mill while Canadian workers were outside the fence looking in, wishing they had another 12 weeks so they could get a pogey claim at least.
These temporary foreign worker permits are being given away like party favours at Conservative Party conventions to anybody who asks for them. Now the rules have been changed to make it a 10-day turnaround. A company posts an ad in the paper saying carpenters are wanted for $8 an hour, no overtime, no benefits. Nobody applies for the job. Within 10 days, that company has a crew from an international labour broker pimp who is going to provide all the manpower for that job.
Another example is the Winnipeg international airport. Winnipeg is very proud of its airport. Why is it that unemployed Canadian carpenters were outside the fence watching a crew of temporary foreign workers build that airport? It is simple. It asked the government for it. The crew consisted of 80 guys from Lebanon. The last job they came from was in Latvia, where they built another big concrete job. These guys are moved all over the world because it is cheaper than paying Canadians a fair wage. Companies would rather pay foreign nationals, not landed immigrants but foreign nationals, our wages. They are eating our lunches and those jobs should be going to Canadians.
As if there were not enough to criticize in Bill C-38, the government has just repealed the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act. It makes one wonder what kind of a government is opposed to fair wages for Canadian workers. How many trusting blue-collar workers look to their government for support, not to undermine their living conditions? In its zeal to smash the unions, the government is dragging down the standard of living for the largest-employing industry sector in the country: the construction industry.
I know who is behind it: the merit shop contractors. They are regular and frequent visitors in the PMO. They went to the PMO and said, “It would be really great if we could win all the jobs. We win some of the jobs now, but it would be great if we could win all the jobs”. The government asked, “How can we help you?” They said, “Just eliminate the Fair Wages and Hours of Labour Act and then we can offer whatever wages we want, with no restrictions and no controls”.
It used to be that companies had to pay employees time and a half after 48 hours when they should have been paying them time and a half after 40 hours, but that was not good enough. Now they do not have to pay time and a half at all. Minimum wage is the only prevailing wage now, and I mean the provincial minimum wage, on these projects. It is destructive and counterproductive.
It is in nobody’s best interest to ratchet down the wages and working conditions of Canadian workers. It is bad for the economy. The government says it is doing these things because it is good for the economy. What is good for the economy are well-paid, consuming, middle-class workers who are buying cars, houses and jeans for their kids, not people who are driven into the poorhouse by their government.