Scab-hating 101: Labour Minister Harry Bains celebrates the opening of a new “labour studies” department at Simon Fraser University, December 2017. (B.C. government)

B.C. VIEWS: Going back to the disco era of labour relations

NDP may remove restrictions on school strikes, union sign-ups

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains has quietly released his independent panel’s report on “modernizing” the Labour Relations Code.

This being an NDP government, the key question is whether they try to recreate the 1990s or go back farther to the disco era, where what’s good for unions was believed to be good for everybody.

Reality has moved the other way, with a steep decline in private sector unionization. The disco ball still glitters mostly for B.C. public sector employees, who remain 65 per cent unionized even as private sector union participation has fallen below one quarter.

It will go lower. In addition to disco, the 1980s was notable for the rise of globalization. Outsourcing business services, dismantling barriers to movement of goods, capital and people, and round-the-clock competition among global business creates a need for more work flexibility.

Bains didn’t have much to say about the Labour Code recommendations. His staff cancelled a scheduled interview, and when I stopped him in the corridor, he talked about needing yet more consultation before commenting. This is after three labour lawyers took submissions for months from the various interest groups.

They made a couple of contentious recommendations. One is to remove essential service restrictions on public school strikes, except for delivery of provincial exams to grads. (Hands up everyone who thinks teacher unions don’t have enough power or attention.)

Two of the three panelists recommend keeping the secret ballot in union certifications. The third, representing unions, said the sign-up of union cards is enough. There’s no evidence that “some employees join trade unions due to peer pressure,” she wrote.

It wasn’t so much “peer pressure” as thinly veiled threats that greeted me when I first joined an industrial union back in 1979, and was instructed not to work too fast. Since then I’ve never seen employer coercion, just lots of union thuggery, from the bombing of replacement mine workers to teachers putting up illegal pickets to block unaffected government employees from going to work.

The return to a 1990s-style union monopoly on public construction was the main topic in the B.C. legislature last week. The B.C. Liberal opposition invited members of excluded unions and the contractors who work with them, and don’t want to be forced to submit to restrictive terms imposed by U.S.-based building trades.

A young woman spoke about getting the chance to become a welder. A superintendent, carpenter by trade, talked about the restrictive “craft lines” that famously ran up the labour costs on the Island Highway when he worked on it. These kinds of featherbedding, overtime-padding tactics are what the NDP is determined to bring back.

Tom Sigurdson of the B.C. and Yukon Building Trades assures me that requiring a labourer to run a concrete vibrator for five minutes while carpenters stand and wait is for safety. Sorry, but I’ve run one of those on a non-union site. Safety is a concern there too, along with efficiency.

Sigurdson, Premier John Horgan and Transportation Minister Claire Trevena insist that the building trades monopoly is necessary because that’s the only way to increase the number of apprentices. Members of the Christian Labour Association of Canada, the main target of the NDP exclusion policy, say they are in the top three in apprenticeship training.

This defence of inefficiency extends only to projects funded by taxpayers. In the rest of the world, competition will make short work of anyone who tries it.

Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press Media. Email: tfletcher@blackpress.ca


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Fire ban back in effect for Northwest Fire Centre region

Starting May 24, both Category 2 and Category 3 prohibitions will be in place

This summer Masset RCMP will give positive tickets to youths

More than a dozen community partners are involved in encouraging good behaviour once school is out

New Seven Sisters replacement confirmed

Mental health facility will have 25 beds, up from 20 in current facility

Terrace hospital’s business plan approved

Health Minister’s announcement opens door to construction phase

Convicted animal abuser to return to B.C. court May 21

Catherine Jessica Adams is facing a breach of probation charge

B.C.’s fight to regulate bitumen through pipelines to go to Canada’s top court

BC Appeal Court judges found B.C. cannot restrict bitumen flow along Trans Mountain pipeline

Scheer says it would take Conservatives five years to balance budget

Scheeraccused the Liberal government of spending $79.5 billion of previously unbudgeted funds

B.C. man, 30, arrested for driving his parent’s cars while impaired twice in one day

The Vancouver-area man was arrested after officers caught him driving impaired twice in one day

New airline regulations bring compensation for tarmac delays, over-bookings

Some of the new regulations will roll out in July, while others are expected for December.

More than half of Canadians support ban on handguns, assault rifles: study

Divide between rural and urban respondents in latest Angus Reid Institute public opinion study

Spring rain needed as B.C. sees one of the lowest snowpack levels in 40 years

Snowpack levels in B.C. recorded on May 15 were similar to those in 2015 and 2016

Theresa May to quit as party leader June 7, sparking race for new PM

The new Conservative leader will become prime minister without the need for a general election

B.C. man who fell off cliff returns there to rescue eagle from vulture attack

Nanaimo’s James Farkas, who broke his hip in a fall, saves eagle on same beach months later

Raptors beat Bucks 105-99 to move within 1 game of NBA Finals

Leonard scores 35 as Toronto takes 3-2 series lead over Milwaukee

Most Read