Written by Michael J Weiler

When I spoke to a large group of employers on April 16th, 2013 on the topic of NDP Employment and Labour Policies I assumed I would have the NDP platform well in advance.  After all, Shane Simpson and Adrian Dix had promised full disclosure prior to the election—no HST type surprises.  At the time of my presentation, I had to speculate on what I thought might be the key changes in Apprenticeship Training, Employment Standards, Labour Relations Code, WCB and Human Rights (to obtain a copy of the PowerPoint “Déjà vu All Over Again—NDP Employment and Labour Policies April 16th, 2013 click here).  My prognostications were based on my experience over the last number of decades when there was a change in government and the statements made by the NDP.

Potential key changes to the Labour Relations Code were of particular interest to the attendees, as they will be to most employers in BC.  Two key and simple questions needed to be answered:

  1. Will the NDP reintroduce the card-based automatic union certification system as they did in 1993?
  2. Will the NDP make changes to the free speech provisions of the Code?

I did not think the NDP would punt these two questions and other changes to the Code to a panel or review committee based on what I heard and read from the senior officials of the NDP.  And I thought there was very little need for a committee review because that thorough review had been done by a 3 member committee chaired by Vince Ready whose report was issued a decade ago: “Recommendations for Labour Law Reform September 1992” (“Ready Report”).  Unfortunately, my Karnack-like speculation was wrong—no specific changes were announced and a committee will be struck.  Here is the full extent of the NDP policy on changes to the Labour Relations Code as published Wednesday, April 24th, 2013 (at pages #31 and #33):

“The right of British Columbians to join unions is enshrined in the Constitution.  Unions play a positive role in building a competitive economy and a thriving middle class.  But work needs to be done to ensure that the rules around union certification are fair and to remove barriers for workers who wish to exercise their legal rights.

4. Unionized workplaces

Form a special panel, under the Labour Code (sic), to recommend changes to ensure workers can freely exercise their right to join a union. Within 90 days, the panel will consult interested parties and recommend possible changes regarding certification options, including the card-check model, and ways to help employers and unions arrive at first contract settlements through mediation.

Invest new resources to make the BC Labour Relations Board more efficient and effective in helping employers and unions to solve disputes.

Repeal Bills 27, 28 and 29, the infamous legislation that tore up legal contracts, and restores free collective bargaining in the health and education sectors.”

In my view, the outcome of this review will allow the NDP to either reintroduce automatic certification, as the Ready Report recommended in 1992, or make the sign up for votes easier and perhaps have an almost instant vote without the employees being able to hear both sides of the arguments for and against unionization.  I would also expect revisions to restrict employer free speech.   The offer of “assistance” to employers to arrive at a first contract settlement might suggest mandated arbitration for first time collective agreements to replace the current section 55 provisions.

I certainly do not see any substantial changes that will favour employers such as the repeal of section 68 Replacement Worker Prohibition.  I agree with the observations of Vaughan Palmer who wrote:  “Based on past experiences with NDP-led makeovers of the labour code, one can readily presume that the rules will be rewritten to suit the unions”.  This certainly is consistent with what Adrian Dix said at the BC Fed biannual convention on November 28, 2012, as quoted in the Globe & Mail on the same date:

“I want to make it clear that I am proud of the work I’ve done for years, side by side with labour unions,” Mr. Dix said. “The labour movement and the NDP have done great things, but our best days are still ahead of us.”

If you want a preview of what the 90 day NDP Panel Report might conclude you should take a look at the 1992 Ready Report.

The irony of all of this is the fact the NDP has promised to have the committee finalize its report in 90 days.  When the Liberals were elected in 2001 they also had a 90-day plan which included abolishing the automatic card-based certification and requiring a vote in all cases subject to the odd exemption to remedy particularly egregious unfair labour practices.

The Ready Report noted that following the introduction of the secret ballot vote in 1985 union certifications declined by over 50%.  The return to a card-based system of automatic certification in 1993 reversed that trend.

Déjà vu all over again.

I was correct in some predictions about what changes to other areas of employment and labour statutes the NDP might consider.  To see the NDP platform on employment and labour issues click here.