April 1, 1903 (9th Parliament, 3rd Session)


Hugh Guthrie



This is a Bill the main provisions of which were incorporated in a Bill which I introduced last session, but which, owing to the lateness of the date when it was introduced, was not read a second time. It is a measure for the purpose of safe guarding the interests of workmen and employees of railway companies which under existing legislation are somewhat jeopardized. During the recess I have received considerable information on the subject and have incorporated some new provisions in the Bill which I introduced last session. The grievances which the Bill seeks to remedy may be classed under three heads. Railway employees object that they are now, in many instances, compelled to become members of insurance and benefit societies merely as a condition or an incident of their engagement. They complain also that having regard to the amount charged against them by these societies, the amount of insurance which they receive in case of accident or death is entirely inadequate. I believe, however, that the main cause of their complaint is that on becoming members of such societies, they forfeit their common law rights in the case of injury resulting to them through the negligence of the company or their fellow-servants. I am free to admit that the law is not very clear upon the question of the liability arising out of the relations of a railway company to its employees in cases where particular contracts have been entered into between them. In the case of the Grand Trunk Railway, which employs something like 25,000 members. the company has formed, under the authority of special Acts of parliament, a benefit society to which their employees are

bound to subscribe. On entering the employment of the Grand Trunk Railway, they are bound to join that society. One of its by-laws or rules, to which objection is taken,, is by-law No. 15, which provides that in the event of accident from whatever cause the railway company shall be exonerated from all liability. Last year I understood that the Grand Trunk Railway was the only company which imposed such a condition on its employees. A good deal of litigation has arisen over that provision, both in Ontario and in Quebec, and probably also in other provinces. In the case of Holton versus the Grand Trunk Railway, tried in Hamilton, it was decided by the court of first instance that by-law No. 15 was an absolute bar to recovery by the employees. That case went to the Court of Appeal, but no decision was reached upon that particular point, as the decision of the first court was maintained upon the question of contributory negligence. In the province of Quebec the question was also brought into court in a case against the Intercolonial, which has a similar in- surance or provident society and a similar by-law. Tlie Exchequer Court held that the widow of a deceased employee could recover, but on appeal to the Supreme Court this finding was reversed. The Supreme Court of Canada held that a similar condition to that imposed by the Grand Trunk [DOT]Railway was effective and protected the government of Canada from liability in case of accident. I admit that such findings, while they may be strictly in accord with the statute law of the country, are entirely opposed to the' trend of all modern legislation, which is to give greater protection to the employees, and in the case of accident give him or his representatives proper redress where the accident occurred through the negligence, either of the company itself or his fellow-servants. The Bill that I have now introduced provides, not that there shall be any bar to the contracting out of liability, but that if any attempt be made by an employee to contract out of his common law liability, that contract shall be subject to the supervision of the court and shall not stand unless it can be shown that it was made upon proper consideration and is, in the mind of the judge, a reasonable contract. The Bill secondly provides that it shall be optional with an employee whether he become a member of such benevolent or insurance society or not. The Bill further provides that those workmen or employees, who are at present members of such societies, may upon reasonable notice withdraw from them. Fourthly, it provides that the provisions of this Bill shall apply to government railways. I make this provision because in the new Railway Bill introduced this session, there is a provision that it shall not apply to government railways.

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