Canadian Manufacturing

Ontario PCs call for series of labour reforms in new report

Party proposes changes in way province, unions operate to create and sustain jobs

Toronto—Ontario Progressive Conservative leader Tim Hudak is calling for sweeping changes to the province’s labour laws that would affect how unions operate.

In the recently released Paths to Prosperity white paper, Hudak said, “it’s time for Ontario to re-examine outdated workplace rules that date back to the 1940s and adapt them to the much more flexible requirements of today’s employees.”

The 20-page report also encourages “labour flexibility” and additional opportunities for workers in order to retain and attract “the very best talent” to Ontario.

With current mandatory union membership and forced paycheque contributions, the report claims policies don’t foster an open, innovative economy—something Hudak says Ontario needs.

“It will make unions more responsive to unionized employees, and to the needs of employers,” the report says.

“I’m not surprised at most of the suggestions although I am surprised with respect to the proposal to effectively make Ontario into a right to work province,” said Toronto-based lawyer Jeff Murray.

Murray, whose firm Stringer LLP specializes in labour and employment law, said he is surprised the PCs are recommending such reforms to the financial structure of unions.

“What surprises me is that the PCs have the courage to take that on because that is an incredibly dramatic change,” Murray said of the report’s suggestion to do away with mandatory union membership and dues.

Under Ontario’s current labour laws, employees working under a collective agreement—whether unionized or not—have to pay union dues, which are collected directly by employers before being turned over to the union heads.

That would no longer be the case under the PC proposal, with unions forced to collect dues directly from employees.

“Under these changes, employees will not be required under any circumstance to join the union that has been certified to represent workers in their workplace which basically means unions will have extreme difficulty in collecting the revenue that they require to function,” he said.

With a U.S. “manufacturing renaissance” expected to take place in states with worker choice reforms, according to the PCs, the report calls on Ontario to follow in the footsteps of some of its neighbouring states and give workers a choice in order to create and maintain jobs in the province.

Other reforms brought forward in the report include legislation that requires revenue transparency in Ontario unions and secret union votes administered by third-party organizations.

“The supervised votes for strikes and collective agreement ratifications I don’t think that’s really going to grab anyone’s attention (but) it will certainly make the process of negotiating collective agreements a little more cumbersome and tentative,” Murray said.

The report also calls for open tendering for government contracts, and reforms to the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB) and Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB), including amendments that would see private companies allowed to compete with the WSIB for the provision of workplace insurance coverage.

Murray said he anticipates a firm stance from unions across the province if any of the proposed reforms were ever brought forward.

“The political push-back with respect to the dues deduction I think will be vehement and the unions will take this as a life and death struggle,” Murray said. “I think that the resistance to the Harris government amendments of 1995 will be seen as a walk-in-the-park compared to what the unions will put up against this.”

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