Government reverses signature labour policy changes

James McLeod
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Unions cry foul about ‘attack’ on workers’ rights

On Tuesday the government flipped, and on Thursday, Premier Tom Marshall announced the flop.

Premier Tom Marshall speaks to reporters Thursday afternoon outside the House of Assembly. — Photo by James McLeod/The Telegram

The government is completely reversing a pair of labour relations policies it brought in just two years ago. What’s more, Thursday’s move to strike down a 2012 labour law amendment is an about-face from what Minister Dan Crummell said earlier this week.

In the final day of the House of Assembly spring sitting, the PC party pushed through Bills 22 and 24, two pieces of legislation which will amend the Labour Relations Act to eliminate card-based automatic union certification, and so-called “vote on offer” powers for employers.

Back in 2012, then-minister Terry French announced the two measures as a “balance” after years of consultation and work with unions and employer groups on modernizing the province’s labour laws.

Union organizers had the ability to get people to sign union cards, and if 65 per cent of the people in a workplace signed up, the union could be certified without having to put it to a secret ballot vote.

But two years after the PC party brought in that provision, the PC party decided that a secret ballot vote is of critical importance, and so it introduced legislation to

force every union certification to go to a secret ballot vote every time.

Union organizers say the way the votes are conducted make it possible for employers to intimidate workers into voting against unionization, so the secret ballot makes it harder to start a union.

When Marshall was asked why the government changed its mind, he simply said, “People come and people go. There were new arguments.”

On the other side of the ledger back in 2012, the government brought in “vote on offer” which allowed employers to bypass a union negotiating committee and put one offer directly to workers during collective bargaining.

But despite being passed into legislation, and being sold as a “balance,” that provision was never enacted, and for two years employers complained that they were being treated unfairly.

On Tuesday, as he was speaking about the elimination of card-based certification, Crummell said the government was still looking at enacting vote on offer.

“Right now, the plan is to do it,” Crummell said Tuesday. Two days later, Marshall announced that the plan changed.

Marshall said, once again, it was about balance.

“We’re doing it because we believe it’s the right thing to do,” he said. “I don’t believe that the government should be pro-labour or pro-business.”

Both the Liberals and the New Democrats went along with the government’s surprise move. As part of a deal between the three parties, the legislation to reverse the vote on offer decision was passed in a single day — something that is normally impossible in the House.

By the time the day ended, the government was right back to where it was two years ago, except that Unifor union leader Lana Payne posted on Twitter that the government was “attacking workers’ rights” and had compromised years’ worth of good faith consultations with unions.

Twitter: TelegramJames

Organizations: Unifor union

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Recent comments

  • Jeff
    June 06, 2014 - 12:58

    I’m not entirely understanding the logic of the union. If a vote is conducted by a secret ballot, how can there be intimidation by the employer? I would think there could me more intimidation from fellow employees and the union if cards are being given out to sign up members. Everyone would know who doesn’t sign. And that would not be a comfortable situation for those employees in the eyes of their work mates or to the union brass.

  • Kevin
    June 06, 2014 - 08:59

    those folks that represent employers are so short sighted - so not big picture - in actual fact most of their members are not unionized - and never will be - it is an argument(card cert) driven my small minded ideological thinking. if i was a large unionized employer (vale, SJAA, labatt...) wouldn't you love to have that ability to send an offer to the membership and bypass the union? NL has always had the highest union density in CDA, and will continue to - but now labour will respond the way they should - organize organize organize - so the next strike at a large unionized employer - that corp will be cursing those little guys who claim to represent the interests of the business community - (merit, NLEC...) for losing what really could have been the big win - ideologically and economically...if i was a member of these employer organizations - i would ask for my money back - small employers are not worried about being unionized...this is a fabricated argument based on ideological whining driven by a few very short sighted people...BTW - govt dropped the ball on this one...first organizing drive COLEMANS!!!!

  • Bill
    June 06, 2014 - 08:01

    I find the secret ballot vote a ruse. If I sign a membership card I have shown my intention, I have expressed my will to join. Once you become a member of a union then you vote on everything from who should represent you, to any resolutions, to any collective agreement. Unions operate extremely democratically. Now political parties are a different beast, they get to appoint the next premier. The federal tories receive 38% of the vote and they get to run the country for four years. Now where is the democracy here. Clearly this legislation was attended to appease Richard Alexander and NL Employers Council and don't tell me he has the interest of the workers in mind. Shame on both the PCs and Liberals.