Canadian Telecommunications Association President & CEO Robert Ghiz: Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities

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Robert Ghiz, Canadian Telecommunications Association President & CEO
Opening Statement to the Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA)

***Check Against Delivery***

Thursday, April 18, 2024
8:15 a.m. ET

Good morning. My name is Robert Ghiz. I am President and CEO of the Canadian Telecommunications Association. Our senior vice president, Eric Smith, is joining me today. We appreciate the opportunity to appear before you to discuss Bill C-58.

When Bill C-58 was introduced, we expressed our concern that the bill seeks to address a problem that does not exist and, for the reasons given to the Committee by FETCO last week, should not become law. While our position in this regard has not changed, if Parliament decides to pass the bill, it must first be amended to address an issue that should concern all Canadians, including members of this Committee.

Canadians rely on telecommunications services every day, and the security and reliability of networks have never been more important. To quote the Government of Canada: Not only do [telecommunications services] support a wide range of economic and social activities, but they support other critical infrastructure sectors and government services, and are crucial for emergency services and public safety. They are fundamental to the safety, prosperity, and well-being of Canadians.

Il en va de même pour les services de radiodiffusion et de télévision, qui jouent un rôle essentiel pour assurer la sécurité publique au Canada. Ces services sont essentiels pour la population canadienne. En cas de panne causée par des catastrophes naturelles, des actes de vandalisme ou d’autres facteurs, les consommateurs s’attendent à ce que leurs fournisseurs et leurs équipes travaillent sans relâche pour rétablir ces services.

C’est exactement ce qui se passe aujourd’hui.

The prohibition on the use of replacement workers in Bill C-58 would significantly weaken service providers’ capacity to restore services and protect their networks from disruption during a strike or lockout. While some argue that requiring employers and the bargaining unit to establish a maintenance of activities agreement before a strike or lockout will mitigate the negative effects of the prohibition on replacement workers, this viewpoint is flawed.

While section 87.4 of the Code requires the parties to continue the supply of services “to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public”, the Canadian Industrial Relations Board has previously ruled that section 87.4 does not apply to a potential interruption of telecommunications services during a strike or a lockout.

Nor are the limited exceptions to the prohibition on replacement workers under the proposed amendments to section 94 of the Code sufficient to ensure the continuity of telecommunications and broadcasting services during a strike or lockout.

Mr. Chair, I know you are intimately familiar with the devastation Hurricane Fiona caused in Prince Edward Island and its surrounding provinces. Imagine if telecom workers had been on strike when the storm hit our province. Under Bill C-58, the affected telecom providers could not use striking workers with the necessary experience and skills to protect and restore services or hire temporary replacement workers or contractors. This would have been unacceptable to Atlantic Canadians and should be unacceptable to Parliament.

Experts predict 2024 could be one of the most active Atlantic hurricane seasons on record. Climate scientists say they are bracing for what could be another year of devastating wildfires across Canada. Cybersecurity threats are on the rise. Compromising our telecommunication and broadcasting systems’ reliability, resilience, and security in the context of a strike or lockout undermines the extensive and detailed steps taken by the government under its Telecommunications Reliability Agenda.

It also runs counter to Canadians’ expectations that these critical services be there for them when they need them most. While we respect the right to strike, there must be a balance between workers’ rights and the public good.

We ask the Committee to recommend to Parliament that Bill C-58 be amended to ensure that during a strike or lockout, service providers, their employees, and their bargaining units must continue providing services necessary to repair and restore telecommunication and broadcasting services and to perform critical maintenance work.

The amendment would be like one made by Parliament to ensure that labour disputes in the long-shoring industry do not interrupt the movement of grain vessels. We have provided the Committee with wording for the suggested amendment and a couple of other amendments that we ask the Committee to consider. We would be happy to discuss these during the remainder of this meeting.

Je vous remercie de nous avoir donné cette occasion d’exprimer notre position sur ce sujet d’importance. Je serai heureux de répondre à vos questions.