The BC Building Trades is generally pleased with proposed amendments to the BC Labour Code announced this morning by Labour Minister Harry Bains.
“We are pleased with many of the proposed amendments, and we thank the minister for initiating the first full review of the code in 27 years – it was long overdue,” said BCBT executive director Tom Sigurdson.
In particular, BCBT applauds the government for changing the raid window for construction unions to the busy summer months of July and August in each year of a collective agreement. Currently, the code allows a raid to take place during low employment periods (November and December, for example), enabling employers to prevent raids by legitimate trade unions by crewing down to only those workers loyal to the company.
“Construction is cyclical based on investment,” Sigurdson explains. “It is, regardless of the economic cycle, always seasonal. Most construction work peaks in the summertime. This is the time when construction workers are best able to democratically determine if they want to have union representation.”
To give the raid period context, he notes that most construction jobs last about three months. “It is not at all like static industry where workers can work for years for the same employer. Construction workers ought to be offered the opportunity to select union representation on a frequent basis, which would be consistent with the precarious nature of their employment.”
BCBT is also pleased the time between an application for union certification and a reconfirmation vote by secret ballot has been reduced from 10 to five business days. However, Sigurdson is extremely disappointed the secret ballot itself is not being eliminated. In B.C., workers who wish to join a union must first sign a union card and, after a waiting period during which the employer typically campaigns against unionization, must reiterate their vote through a secret ballot.
“Most jurisdictions in Canada have a card-based certification system and so it’s disheartening that B.C. has decided to remain behind the times and continue with an Orwellian-styled double-vote process whose only goal is to limit employee choice,” said Sigurdson.
Sigurdson also issues a cautionary note: even though the time for a certification drive has been reduced to five days, “that’s still five days, plus a weekend, in which an employer can engage in anti-union activities and propaganda.”
Indeed, the Labour Code review panel examined unfair labour practice complaints over a 17-year period between 1990 and 2007 and noted that more than 90 per cent of the unfair labour practice complaints filed against employers involved either unlawful termination or communication during a union organizing drive.
The review panel also noted that unlawful termination of employees resulted in an estimated 31 per cent reduction in the success of union certification applications, “and that group coercion resulted in an estimated 19 per cent reduction in success rates.”
“Make no mistake, unscrupulous employers ‘do not go gentle into that good night’ when their employees take steps to seek union representation,” said Sigurdson. “Ironically, a two-step certification process that demands workers reconfirm their wishes to unionize only infringes on the democratic rights of workers to choose.”
Finally, BCBT is pleased the recommendations do not include a narrow and restrictive definition of construction. The review panel had proposed the definition, which was puzzling since it had not been requested during the public consultation process.
BCBT was among a large number of organizations participating in the consultation process for the Labour Code review. BCBT submitted its initial recommendations to the review panel in spring 2018, and followed up with additional feedback in November 2018 following the release of the panel’s recommendations.
BCBT had requested to the review panel a construction industry-specific review and while that recommendation was not accepted, the Building Trades will continue to advocate for that review.
“Due to its cyclical nature, our sector faces unique challenges that demand unique solutions, and those will only be achieved through an independent review process,” said Sigurdson.
For further information:
BC Building Trades
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