In a sign they have all but given up on talks with the Treasury Board over labour reforms proposed in the federal government's budget bill, union leaders say they are taking matters into their own hands.
The Canadian Labour Congress quietly met with more than 100 representatives from unions across the country this week to plot a long-term strategy to engage both the public and union members in pressuring the government to reverse its proposed labour law changes. The CLC represents more than 3 million workers across the country.
The CLC has already wrapped up a series of television ads that ran over the past six weeks. Its next step is to reach out to each of its own members in a campaign that will detail how reforms in the budget bill will affect their bargaining rights.
And then, according to CLC secretary-treasurer Hassan Yussuff, union members must appeal directly to their MPs.
“They need to, of course, take direct responsibility to how they’re going to start speaking out on behalf of their union, on behalf of themselves,” said Yussuff. “And more importantly, in terms of the gains they have made to ensure this government doesn’t take that away.”
'Government had declared war on us'
Yussuff said this offensive strategy will become the “new normal” unless policy changes are reversed.
“I think the government had declared war on us,” he said. “We didn’t start any of these measures — the government itself has done so. I think it’s fair for us to respond to their actions.”
If passed, Bill C-4 would make sweeping changes to a number of labour laws, including the Canada Labour Code and Public Service Labour Relations Act.
Among other things, it would streamline collective bargaining by allowing the government to determine which services are essential and make it illegal for those workers to strike. In situations where 80 per cent or more of workers in a bargaining unit are designated essential, the only dispute resolution method is arbitration.
In a statement sent to CBC News, Treasury Board president Tony Clement said the Public Service Labour Relations Act is being amended to ensure that the public service is modern and affordable.
"The proposed amendments will bring savings, streamline practices and bring them in line with other jurisdictions. Our government will sit at a bargaining table on behalf of the taxpayer where the rules are fair and balanced."
Unions were not consulted in the drafting of the reforms. Labour leaders have since tried to meet with Clement to present counter-proposals, with little success.
Robyn Benson of the Public Service Alliance of Canada recently had a meeting with Clement during which she proposed he withdraw changes from the budget bill to allow for more consultation.
She wrote on her blog afterwards, “He stated bluntly that he had no intention of consulting with us, and that he wanted all his changes in place for the next round of collective bargaining — in fact, by Christmas.”
In response, Clement tweeted, “That's also the meeting where you claimed co-governance with Parliament. Takes 'union boss' to a whole new level.”