Construction groups oppose changes

James McLeod
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Lana Payne — Telegram file photo

The law has already been passed, but business groups are starting to make moves to oppose changes to the Labour Relations Act.

Last week, the Merit Contractors Association of Newfoundland and Labrador sent a letter to Terry French, minister responsible for labour relations, asking him to revisit a key provision in the updated act.

This week, the the Canadian Home Builders’ Association said they’re also going to be writing to French.

Both groups oppose the automatic certification provision in the new legislation which allows for a workplace to unionize if more than 65 per cent of workers sign union cards.

Under the new system, no secret ballot vote is required.

“When you move from a secret ballot process, you’re really stripping away the employees’ right to have a private, confidential review of making a decision as dramatic as this,” said Paul Dube, executive director of Merit Contractors Association of NL. “There’s a lot of applications that have been brought forth to the Labour Relations Board here in this province that had 65 per cent support on the union card, and then when it went to the secret ballot vote, it failed.”

The government rolled out the new legislation on June 19, and passed it through the House of Assembly during the spring session.

At the news conference, French said the changes are based on a lengthy consultations with labour and business groups.

But Victoria Belbin at the home builders’ association said that the government didn’t consult with them, and the labour relations changes snuck through before they knew what was going on.

“It wasn’t on our radar,” she said. “We didn’t know anything about it.”

Belbin said the automatic certification provision could represent “devastating changes to our business environment.”

When he was announcing the changes, French said that either business or labour groups could “cherry pick” any one piece of the legislation.

He stressed that as a whole, it aims to maintain the balance between employers and unions.

Federation of Labour president Lana Payne dismissed the criticism of Merit Contractors saying that they’re just trying to undermine unions.

“Their sole existence, really, is to try to erode, weaken or get rid of unions altogether,” Payne said.

“The difficulty with this is that (they) have put forward the same ideas they have been putting forward, and employers in some cases have been putting forward for hundreds of years.”

Payne argued the new process makes it easier for workers to join unions, and that’s what business groups are really afraid of.

“It means that workers will have a say in the workplace on all kinds of matters like shift schedules, working conditions,” she said. “At the root of this is the fact that they don’t want to pay better wages and they don’t want to have improved working conditions.”

Dube disagreed, saying his organization isn’t anti-union.

“We never have been,” he said. “What we are about is making sure that unions are accountable for their actions and accountable to their members.”

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Merit Contractors Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canadian Home Builders, Merit Contractors Association of NL Labour Relations Board

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Recent comments

  • JC
    July 09, 2012 - 14:41

    The labour situation in this province is a flat out joke, Every company in this province want to pay LOW wages to whoever they can. I encourage young people to leave this province and go west. Employers, wages, government , all a joke. I look at the news and often see so called "new " proposals and ideas comming from the arrogant mouths of the so called wealthy in this province. Your ideas and ways of thinking are old. I've lived out west for years, and came back to see the so called "change" in NL, there has been NO change. Have fun liviing in a useless retirement home everyone, NL is a Joke!....Period

    • David
      July 09, 2012 - 18:47

      Why would there be any change? The only industry here is bush league politics --- the oil industry is just a sideshow that makes it more lucrative to be in. If there is no economic future for this province beyond this one, last free-for-all oil boom (and I see no signs or evidence to be optimistic that there is), it is nobody's fault but Newfoundland's.

  • Randy
    July 04, 2012 - 10:33

    Brett- seems to think we live in Chicargo in the 40's . Grow up by ,They days of strong arming has long passed

    • Brett
      July 05, 2012 - 15:31

      Really? I seem to remember eggs being thrown at a bus a couple years ago over a strike with a mining company. I consider a group of people who stop my vehicle, disrupt my ability to go to and from work harassment, especially if done for the purpose of deterring business at that location. Those are strong arming techniques.

  • P F Murphy
    July 04, 2012 - 08:04

    Unions bring better wages and safer working conditions and those are things we need to bring our workers home from Ontario and Alberta. We've lost 70,000 young people over the last 10 years and you can feel that just by going to a mall and counting how many kids you see. Get on board construction companies - more people, more work, more profit unless you're afraid to work, eh?

    • Brett
      July 05, 2012 - 15:34

      If the unions are so helpful for bringing young people back - how come I hear all these horror stories about how if you're not on the inside track of the unions you can't get placement, and how people from here who are trying to come back from Alberta can't get jobs... Yes it's hearsay, but I've listened to many an open line show with the same talk for a number of years, and I have to think that where there's smoke there's fire.

  • Brett
    July 04, 2012 - 07:19

    This change allows people who want the company to unionize (outside unions that target a corp, or possibly a select group representing far less than the 65%) - to strong arm/get a employees drunk or coerce or harass them into signing the card/petition + when they get enough signatures - bang - unionized. Is this really how we want to preserve unions? And to those who think unions don't strong arm - that's the whole basis of going on strike - restricting access to an employers building, slowing down cars, stopping "scabs", etc...

    • Kevin
      July 04, 2012 - 08:04

      Three differant industry committee's that were studying and consulting on labour legislation since 2011 have all reccommended against automatic Card certification. I would like to see Terry French provide all of the consulation reports to the public so people can see this. They certainly consulted with industry they just didn't listen. Unions are currently target the large commercial sites around St Johns that have open shop contractors working there. They are regularly visiting workers at home and phoning them promising jobs at Long harbour and Hebron. Those workers are signing cards just to stop the harrassment. This is not a democratic way to promote union membership. The current NL Government is no long business friendly and this legislation will make create a workforce that is not nimble, adaptable and lean when it needs to be. In todays economy we need balance where the companies have control over the work they bid on lump sum contracts, saleries are not the issue as everyone in construction are enjoying good times but if we are not careful we will end up like The Greek workforce, over paid, under worked and controled by one entity. The Unions.