The announcement by the federal government last month to repeal two pieces of legislation introduced by the previous Harper government, which placed restrictions on unions, is unsurprisingly welcome news for the Waterloo Regional Labour Council.
Group president Marc Xuereb says the bills were “attacks on labour,” and showed the Conservatives’ disdain for organized labour.
Bill C-377, An Act to Amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations), was touted as making unions accountable to the public, but Xuereb says it imposed very onerous requirements in terms of reporting on the unions, which aren’t required of multiple other organizations in Canada that have the same tax treatment that unions do.
“The Conservative line was that because union dues are a tax-deductible expense on people’s income tax statements, that therefore the entire public had the right to every financial report of every union. That is not imposed on any of the other organizations that have the same kind of tax break that unions do have, for example members of the Canadian Medical Association or the Canadian Bar Association,” Xuereb explained.
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk introduced the legislation to repeal bills C-377 and C-525 on Jan. 28. Repealing the bills was included in the mandate letters of Mihychuk and Minister of Public Services and Procurement Judy Foote by PM Justin Trudeau.
“Our government recognizes that unions play an important role in protecting the rights of Canadian workers and in helping the middle class grow and prosper. That’s why we’re proud to be pursuing our commitment to help restore a fair and balanced approach to labour relations in Canada by repealing Bills C-377 and C-525,” Mihychuk said.Bill C-377 came into force on Dec. 30, 2015. But because the new Liberal government intends to repeal it, the Minister of National Revenue waived the reporting requirements associated with the bill for the 2016 fiscal periods.
Xuereb says they think introducing the bill was the first step in trying to embarrass unions for the kinds of things that they spend their resources on.
“They were trying to make us distinguish between legitimate union business and so called political union business. But if you know anything about the labour movement we take our responsibility to the interests of all workers seriously, not just unionized ones. That’s why we get involved in campaigns to raise the Canada Pension Plan. Most of our members have their own workplace pension plan, but the majority of workers do not. We get involved in issues like that because they further the interests of all workers,” Xuereb said.
The bill would have forced unions to have their financial statements public, even though they’re already directly accountable to their members. Xuereb says any member of any union can go to a meeting or the office where their executive holds the books and ask for access to see how all their dues are spent.
“There was no need for this. Unions weren’t the only people to speak out against Bill C-377. There were all kinds of other organizations concerned about the privacy implications of the bill. They were certain it was going to be struck down if it came to a challenge in the courts. Many Conservative senators spoke up against it and the only reason it passed when it did was because the Harper government rammed it through in their last days of last summer,” Xuereb said.
The Senate had sent it back to the House of Commons for significant amendments and the Harper government used their majority to send it back to the Senate without those amendments a second time, and then forced the hand of the Conservative senators to push it through, says Xuereb.
“Labour has been lobbying MPs for years on this bill. We were successful in delaying it several times. I think the first time that we reached out to MPs about this was two, if not three, years ago. We’ve been talking to our members about Bill C-377 for a long time,” Xuereb said.
Bill C-525, the Employees’ Voting Rights Act, only affects the federally regulated sectors, like aerospace and transportation for example. Most employees are regulated by provincial employment law. He says it undid gains of the labour movement in the past, including changing the requirements for reporting unsafe work conditions, and at what point an employee has the right to refuse unsafe work. The legislation made it a lot more difficult for employees to speak out on health and safety issues. It also made it harder to organize unions in the federally regulated sectors.
“The federally regulated sector has card check certification, which basically means that as soon as you get 50 per cent of the employees in a workplace to sign cards then they automatically become unionized,” he noted.
“In the provincially regulated sector in Ontario there has to be a vote on top of that, which we’re pushing to get rid of because it gives the employer an unfair advantage because they have far more power to communicate with their employees during a union campaign vote and they use it to their advantage always to smear unions and to fear monger basically that you’re going to be worse off if you vote for the union.”
Xuereb says if after talking to employees 50 per cent decide to willingly sign a card then that should be good enough. Bill C-525 got rid of card check certification and they’re relieved to see the back of that bill too.
“We’re just glad to see the end of this. The Liberal government, kudos to them for actually seeing the bill for what it was and restoring some balance to the relationship between labour and employers in this country.”
One bill is in second reading now to repeal both Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.
“We have every confidence it will go through,” Xuereb said.