With Parliament officially re-opened following the federal election, everyone is watching to see whether the many campaign promises made by the incoming Government will be kept. One area that was the subject of more than its share of pledges was labour legislation. After nearly a decade in power, the Conservatives left behind a raft of anti-union laws that the incoming Liberals have vowed to clean up. Based on open letters and other public statements issued by the Liberals before and during the campaign, labour lawyers and workers’ advocates expect to see the following key pieces of legislation either reformed or repealed by the incoming Government:
- What it does: this legislation imposed onerous financial disclosure and reporting obligations on all unions in Canada, well beyond those required of charities or non-profits.
- Campaign promise: As an MP, Justin Trudeau opposed this Bill, going so far as to write to the Senate urging it to reject it. (Notably, the Senate did successfully defeat the legislation once, requiring the Government to ignore the rules of the Senate to finally get it passed.) The Liberals have vowed to repeal this legislation.
- What it does: this legislation changed the rules for certification of federal public and private sector unions, making it more difficult for workers to certify less difficult to decertify. Rather than allowing labour boards to determine that a union enjoyed the support of the bargaining unit based on membership cards, Bill C-525 required a secret ballot vote, while failing to provide the protections necessary to ensure employers could not apply improper pressure on their workers in the lead up to the vote.
- Campaign promise: Trudeau has promised that the Liberals would repeal this legislation.
- What it does: Among the many laws amended by this omnibus bill, the Public Service Labour Relations Act was amended to give the Government unilateral authority over essential services: this means the government can prohibit employees from participating in a strike on the basis that they perform essential duties, a determination typically made by an independent labour board. This law closely resembled legislation that the Supreme Court of Canada had struck down earlier this year on the basis that it violated the constitutional right to strike. Bill C-4 also amended the definition of danger in the Canada Labour Code, making it more difficult for workers to refuse to perform dangerous work.
- Campaign promise: In an open letter during the campaign, Trudeau stated that Bill C-4 “stacked the deck against workers” and promised to consult with public sector partners and “revisit” this legislation.
- What it does: Bill C-59 gave the Government the unilateral authority to extinguish employee sick leave banks from collective agreements and replace them with a short-term disability program. These powers allowed the Government to effectively ignore the collective bargaining process and ensure that it succeeded in securing its primary objective in this round of bargaining. The Conservative Government went as far as to preemptively “book” $900 million in savings in the 2015-2016 fiscal year on account of this change, demonstrating its contempt for the collective bargaining process.
- Campaign promise: The Liberals have publicly opposed implementing a new sick leave regime through legislation, and have expressed their commitment to bargaining with the unions in good faith.
Workers and unions will be watching to see whether the Liberal Government follows through on these campaign promises, and to see what form the more abstract commitments will take. For example, will “revisiting” Bill C-4 mean simply restoring the former essential services regime, or will the Liberals develop a new regime in consultation with workers’ representatives?
Beyond formal legislation, the Government has also promised a more positive approach to labour relations generally. This raises its own host of questions, including:
- Will the new Government depart from the Conservatives’ eagerness to interfere in labour relations through back-to-work legislation:
- Will the Liberals take steps to establish a proactive pay equity regime in line with the 2004 recommendations of the federal Pay Equity Task Force?
- Will the Government protect the right of public service employees to do their work free from political interference?
It will take years to fully assess the Government’s ability to restore trust and respect to federal labour relations. In the meantime, workers will look for early signs that the Government will follow through on the clear commitments it made in its efforts to get elected.
[This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice, which cannot be given without consideration of your individual circumstances.]