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.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Power restored for more than 1,300 BC Hydro customers impacted by outage

Outages left hundreds of BC Hydro customers on Haida Gwaii without power on Aug. 9

From the archives of the Haida Gwaii Observer

50 YEARS AGO (1970): Fourteen sea otters — six males and eight… Continue reading

Haida Gwaii libraries resume inter-branch deliveries

Users can once again access materials from entire Vancouver Island Regional Library system

Masks mandatory in Old Massett as Haida Gwaii COVID cases total 26

Old Massett Village Council says curfew will be enforced with community service

All-Islands Protocol Table working to restore Haida place names

List of 12 priority names created; Queen Charlotte, Port Clements councils vote to support changes

QUIZ: Do you know the truth?

In what has been described as a post-truth era, how much do you know about truth and lies?

1 year since a B.C. teen died in a skate park, his family still waiting for charges

Carson Crimeni’s final moments were broadcast on social media

NHL playoffs: Canucks to meet St. Louis Blues in Round 1

Vancouver takes on defending champs beginning Wednesday

Simon Cowell breaks his back falling from electric bike

Incident happened at his home in California

VIDEO: Internet famous Yukon-based bhangra dancer explores Vancouver Island

Gurdeep Pandher spreads joy through dance, forms cross-cultural connections amid pandemic

Unofficial holidays: the weird and wonderful things people celebrate around the world

On any given day of the year, there are several strange, silly or serious holidays to observe

Moving on: Tanev scores 11 seconds into OT as Canucks oust Wild

Vancouver beats Minnesota 5-4 to move into first round of NHL playoffs

Gene editing debate takes root with organic broccoli, new UBC research shows

Broccoli is one of the best-known vegetables with origins in this scientific haze

VIDEO: U.S. Air Force pilot does fly-by for B.C. son amid COVID border separation

Sky-high father-son visit plays out over White Rock Pier

Most Read