Tories call for changes to union, labour laws

Opposition Leader Tim Hudak says Ontario must reform labour laws and union practices that are rooted in the past in order to encourage job growth and put itself on a path towards greater economic prosperity.

Ontario Federation of Labour responds that CEOs, not workers, would benefit

Progressive Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is seen speaking to reporters at Queen's Park about a new white paper that the party released on Wednesday. (CBC)

Ontario Opposition Leader Tim Hudak says Ontario must reform labour laws and union practices that are rooted in the past in order to encourage job growth and put itself on a path toward greater economic prosperity.

"The world has changed and our economy and economies around the world have changed as well," Hudak said during a news conference at Queen’s Park on Wednesday.

"And the reality of our marketplace is it’s changing with the times. But the rules that are governing the workplace, they haven’t changed."

Suggested changes target unions

In a new discussion paper, the Tories are suggesting that Ontario make a number of "bold" changes that include reforms aimed at unions and their leaders.

They include introducing "worker choice reforms" that would allow employees to decide whether they would like to join a union, eliminating any arrangements where union membership is a requirement of employment.

The Tories also feel that union leaders should be collecting dues from employees and not having companies collect those monies on their behalf.

The party also wants unions to be required to provide "full and transparent disclosure of their revenues and how they spend their funds" with Hudak alluding to occasions where unions have supported political causes.

"Union dues should be used for collective bargaining, for the workplace, not for political causes that the workers do not support," said Hudak.

In the discussion paper, the Tories also advocate ensuring that all certification votes take place under secret ballot to shield workers "from intimidation at the hands of both union organizers and employers."

The Tories also want to see an end to closed tendering practices, in which bidding on contracts is restricted to unions or vendors that hold collective agreements with unions.

Another reform the Tories are calling for would allow the private sector to compete with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for providing insurance coverage to workers.

"A bit of competition can make the world go round," Hudak said.

‘Flexible’ workplaces needed

Hudak said these changes would collectively help build an Ontario that is more inviting to economic investment, which would in turn create better opportunities for workers.

"The more flexible the workplace, the greater demand there is going to be for workers," he said.

"If you have a flexible workplace where businesses can adjust to market conditions, they are more likely to open up in that jurisdiction. Or if there are competing jurisdictions to choose jobs in that province for example."

Hudak also said the more that workers are in demand, the more that salaries will appreciate over time.

Reaction to the Tory plan from one of the province's largest union groups came quickly.

It's CEOs, not workers, who would be the real winners under Tories' proposed changes, said Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan.

"When Hudak calls for a 'flexible workforce' what he really means is a low wage and precarious one," the labour leader said in a statement.

Hudak says Liberals are 'stuck in the past'

Hudak suggested the governing Liberals have not embraced a similar philosophy on the existing labour laws because they have not grasped the extent of the province’s current problems.

"I think they’re stuck in the past and I don’t think they have actually come to grips with the great challenges facing Ontario today," he said.

"That’s that we spend too much money in government and we no longer have a competitive economy."

Hudak denied that the ideas his party is putting forward are part of an election platform, saying that they are merely meant to stir public debate about important issues.

"I think that we need to take these challenges on," he said.

"But we’ll listen to what the public has to say."

For now, the provincial legislature remains on its summer hiatus and the Tories will not have a chance to challenge the government there until the fall.

With files from The Canadian Press