A private member's bill that would protect workers' health and disability benefits when an employer declares bankruptcy was tabled Thursday in the House of Commons.

The bill, inspired by the plight of former Nortel Networks employees, would amend Canada's bankruptcy laws to give make such benefits "secure" debts, so that employees would become preferred creditors when a company becomes insolvent.

Bill C-487 was introduced by Wayne Marsten, a Hamilton-area NDP MP who tabled a similar bill in November to protect pension benefits.

Lawrence Clooney, a member of a group that represents Nortel employees with disabilities, said if Marsten's second bill doesn't pass, many people will have to rely on tax-funded social services, drug programs and income supplements.

"So in effect, the Nortel executives and their astronomical salary and bonus increases are being paid for by the Canadian taxpayers."

Judy Wasylycia-Leis, NDP MP for Winnipeg North, said calls and letters have been flooding in from people who have lost everything as a result of Nortel's collapse.

"It is such a painful reminder of the work we must do in this Parliament to ensure that people living with disabilities are not sacrificed in the process of businesses going under."

Nokia rebuffed

Nortel, a former telecommunications technology giant, obtained bankruptcy protection in January and has been selling off parts of the company piece by piece ever since.

Late Wednesday, Ontario and U.S. courts approved the sale of Nortel's optical networking and carrier ethernet business to Ciena Corp., despite a request from Nokia Siemens to reject the deal.

Court approvals from France and Israel and certain regulatory approvals are still needed before the sale can be completed.

With files from The Canadian Press