Unions cry foul about ‘attack’ on workers’ rights
On Tuesday the government flipped, and on Thursday, Premier Tom Marshall announced the flop.
Premier Tom Marshall speaks to reporters Thursday afternoon outside the House of Assembly. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram
The government is completely reversing a pair of labour relations policies it brought in just two years ago. What’s more, Thursday’s move to strike down a 2012 labour law amendment is an about-face from what Minister Dan Crummell said earlier this week.
In the final day of the House of Assembly spring sitting, the PC party pushed through Bills 22 and 24, two pieces of legislation which will amend the Labour Relations Act to eliminate card-based automatic union certification, and so-called “vote on offer” powers for employers.
Back in 2012, then-minister Terry French announced the two measures as a “balance” after years of consultation and work with unions and employer groups on modernizing the province’s labour laws.
Union organizers had the ability to get people to sign union cards, and if 65 per cent of the people in a workplace signed up, the union could be certified without having to put it to a secret ballot vote.
But two years after the PC party brought in that provision, the PC party decided that a secret ballot vote is of critical importance, and so it introduced legislation to
force every union certification to go to a secret ballot vote every time.
Union organizers say the way the votes are conducted make it possible for employers to intimidate workers into voting against unionization, so the secret ballot makes it harder to start a union.
When Marshall was asked why the government changed its mind, he simply said, “People come and people go. There were new arguments.”
On the other side of the ledger back in 2012, the government brought in “vote on offer” which allowed employers to bypass a union negotiating committee and put one offer directly to workers during collective bargaining.
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But despite being passed into legislation, and being sold as a “balance,” that provision was never enacted, and for two years employers complained that they were being treated unfairly.
On Tuesday, as he was speaking about the elimination of card-based certification, Crummell said the government was still looking at enacting vote on offer.
“Right now, the plan is to do it,” Crummell said Tuesday. Two days later, Marshall announced that the plan changed.
Marshall said, once again, it was about balance.
“We’re doing it because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t believe that the government should be pro-labour or pro-business.”
Both the Liberals and the New Democrats went along with the government’s surprise move. As part of a deal between the three parties, the legislation to reverse the vote on offer decision was passed in a single day — something that is normally impossible in the House.
By the time the day ended, the government was right back to where it was two years ago, except that Unifor union leader Lana Payne posted on Twitter that the government was “attacking workers’ rights” and had compromised years’ worth of good faith consultations with unions.