Proposed changes to Canada’s labour relations laws strengthen unions at expense of workers
The federal government recently introduced a bill to Parliament that will make the process for establishing unions less democratic and weaken the financial disclosure requirements for already established unions.
Let’s consider each change in turn.
Current legislation requires workers in federally regulated industries to vote through a secret ballot when approving a union as their representative (so-called “union certification”). The proposed changes would return to the old rules where unions can bypass a secret ballot vote and automatically certify if they sign up a sufficient number of workers (50 per cent plus one).
The problem with forgoing a secret ballot vote is that automatic union certification may not reflect the true desire of a majority of voting workers. Without the anonymity of secret ballots, union organizers can pressure workers into supporting union certification. Any dissention or disagreement can become confrontational, especially in cases where unionization is controversial. Even without outside pressure, some workers may be uncomfortable publically voicing their opinion for or against unionization in the absence of secret ballot voting.
A mandatory secret ballot certification vote, which is the norm in most provinces and in the United States, provides the same basic protection of anonymity that all Canadians enjoy when electing politicians.
In addition to making the process for establishing new unions less democratic, the new bill also weakens financial disclosure requirements for existing unions.
In cases where a union is already in place, current financial disclosure rules help make unions more accountable to dues-paying workers—something that has been traditionally lacking in Canada. The proposed legislation now before parliament would return to this traditional status quo.
Although the current disclosure rules never came fully into force, they require all unions (regardless of jurisdiction) to publicly disclose key financial information such as expenditures, revenues, and their financial position. This disclosure makes it easier for unionized workers and interested third parties to gauge the financial health and operations of the union. Research shows that increasing financial transparency contributes to improved governance and reduced corruption.
The current rules also require unions to report details on how much money and time are spent on activities not related to worker representation such as political and social causes. This is particularly important because unionized workers can be forced to pay full union dues as a condition of employment, even if they disagree with the causes that the union is funding. The requirement for unions to disclose how money is spent at least allows workers to more easily (and anonymously) find out how much their union is spending on such causes, helping workers make more informed choices about union representation.
Taken together, the government’s proposed changes will make Canada’s labour relations laws less balanced, strengthening unions at the expense of workers.
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