Bill 16, Labour Relations Amendments Act
This bill will significantly change collective bargaining rules in Manitoba and tip the scales in favour of the employer, disenfranchising workers and their unions. It is clear Premier Brian Pallister is taking a page out of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s book, who makes undermining workers’ labour rights practically his full-time job. He wants to punish the public sector unions who challenged his unconstitutional bill – and won.
This June, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Joan McKelvey ruled that Bill 28, The Public Services Sustainability Act, violated Manitobans’ charter right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Justice McKelvey stated the 2017 bill, “left no room for a meaningful collective bargaining process on issues crucial to union memberships.” PSAC Prairies was a part of the Partnership to Defend Public Services, the coalition of Manitoba unions that challenged Bill 28 in court.
Instead of listening to the court ruling, Premier Pallister gave Manitobans Bill 16, The Labour Relations Amendments Act. The name sounds harmless enough but unfortunately it is anything but. Pallister has learned nothing from the June ruling and instead has chosen to engage in a petty and cynical attack on working people and their unions.
Since this bill makes changes to The Labour Relations Act, these changes will affect how working people can unite through their union for things like better pay, benefits, and working conditions. There are extensive changes in this bill and we could not include everything. To help you understand how Bill 16 may impact you and your loved ones, here are the main takeaways.
Making it easier for bad employers to fire striking workers
Currently, an employer has the right to refuse to reinstate a worker after a strike if that worker is charged and convicted of a criminal offence for misconduct. Under Bill 16, the requirement of a criminal conviction is removed, enabling an employer to fire a worker based solely on their assessment of “just cause.”
Withdrawing labour (a strike) is the last tool workers have in labour negotiations when workers do not feel respected by their employer’s proposals at the bargaining table. The previous provision was clear cut and protected workers from bad employers looking to retaliate against striking workers, strike leaders, and union organisers. This change leaves workers vulnerable if they decide a strike is necessary.
Additionally, punitive strike firings can significantly worsen labour relations and prolong labour-management conflict after a work stoppage.
Making it easier to decertify a union
Bill 16 reduces the threshold for triggering a decertification vote from 50% to 40% and for a displacement vote from 45% to 40%. Meaning, when 40% or more employees petition for decertification or displacement of a union, the Manitoba Labour Board will hold a secret ballot vote of all employees. A simple majority of 50% +1 will determine the outcome.
This change comes on top of Bill 7, The Labour Relations Act, which banned card check certification, making it more difficult for workers to join a union. Therefore, workers who want to join a union must go through a two-vote process – once by signing a union card and then again through the secret ballot vote – resulting in a longer, more difficult process that allows more time for bad employers to interfere and intimidate workers.
So it is more difficult to join a union and easier to decertify or displace a union. It is not difficult to see the goal of Pallister and his government and it doesn’t include help for working people.
Making it easier to reject union certification
This is a bizarre change that again makes it more difficult for working people to join a union. Under Bill 16, when the Manitoba Labour Board is determining the threshold for union certification at the time of the application, they must base their assessment on the “regular and anticipated” number of employees. Anticipated?
If the number “regular or anticipated” employees is assessed as greater than at the time of the certification application, then the union’s application can be delayed or dismissed outright, extending the process or forcing workers to start from square one. This helps bad employers by giving them more time and opportunity to interfere and intimidate workers against unionization.
This change to include “anticipated” employees is particularly important in certain sectors such as construction, where the employment numbers fluctuate significantly, and in the context of COVID-19, where many businesses’ current employment numbers are much lower than before the global pandemic and Canada’s economic recovery will not happen overnight.
No notice to workers for an upcoming technological change
Currently, employers are required to give workers 90 days notice of a technological change that would affect how workers do their jobs or would threaten to displace workers’ jobs. As technology rapidly evolves and integrates itself into many aspects of our lives, this provision is very important to help people adapt to the new requirements of their job or to give people time to look for alternative work. Bill 16 completely eliminates this duty for employers.
Eliminating Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
Now this amendment is nonsensical. ADR is a made in Manitoba solution that avoid lockouts or strikes from dragging on for months and months. Currently, either party – employer or union – can request binding arbitration to settle a dispute after 60 days. ADR is not mandatory but it is an important tool available for resolving disputes.
This change by the Pallister government completely removes this option in labour negotiations, against the explicit request of the Labour Management Review Committee (LMRC), a decades-long committee comprised of labour and employer representatives.
ADR reduces the length of lockouts and strikes in two key ways. First, it provides an incentive for parties to be reasonable at the bargaining table and try to reach a deal through negotiations, rather than risk a less favourable outcome imposed by a third-party arbitrator. Second, it reduces the lengths of lockouts and strikes by allowing either side to trigger binding arbitration to end a lockout or strike after 60 days.
ADR is good for workers, employers and Manitobans as a whole. It begs the question, why would Pallister and his government remove such a helpful and universally supported tool?
Targeting Public Sector Unions
To be clear, union organisations are funded exclusively by members and receive no public dollars whatsoever. Despite this, Pallister and his government have taken it upon themselves to interfere in the financial affairs and membership relations of public sector unions – the same unions that challenged the constitutionality of the government’s wage freeze legislation (Bill 28) and won. Coincidence? We think not.
Under Bill 16, public sector unions will be required to obtain independently audited financial statements and provide a copy to every member of the union, whether they requested them or not. Now this one is straight out of Jason Kenney’s play book, who has the same requirement of unions in Bill 32 in Alberta.
This does not seem to actually be a problem since the Manitoba Labour Board has not received one complaint from union members in the last 10 years – a literal decade – concerned about access to their union’s financial statements. The reality is union members can already access their union’s financial statements whenever they want. All a member has to do is make the request.
Public sector unions in Manitoba are concerned about the same consequences as unions in Alberta. If employers get a copy of union financial statements that could compromise collective agreement negotiations for workers. There is no way an employer should know how much money is in a union’s strike fund but with thousands of copies of a union’s financial statements being released, the probability of an employer getting their hands on a copy is extremely high.
Another way the Pallister government is targeting unions is through the mandatory creation and distribution of a “sunshine list” of union staff who directly or indirectly receive compensation of $75,000 or more. Could you imagine a government interfering with a business in this manner?
“Sunshine lists”, which require the disclosure of employee salary levels, are common for entities that receive government support through public sector funding but unions do not receive a dime of public money, unlike businesses who are eligible through lucrative tax breaks. However, those businesses do not have the same requirements imposed upon them.
Again, it is unclear what problem Pallister and his government are attempting to solve. What is clear, is this provision has nothing do with fairness – Bill 16’s compensation disclosure requirements for unions are intended to interfere in the relationship between unions and its members.
Unions exist because members voted to form them and fund them. Members should be deciding on how their union is run, not an anti-labour government.