RCMP union bill C-7 could be amended to drop health benefits changes

A committee of MPs is prepared to make major amendments to a bill that would affect RCMP health benefits and restrict what the Mounties' future union could negotiate with management.

Bill drafted to give Mounties right to unionize would also exclude many areas from union negotiation

Bill C-7 would give the RCMP the right to unionize but some provisions in the bill, such as shifting Mounties out of an internal health services regime and into the provincial workers compensation scheme, has upset members. (Jason Franson/Canadian Press)

A committee of MPs is prepared to make major amendments to a bill that would affect RCMP health benefits and restrict what the Mounties' future union could negotiate with management. 

Bill C-7 is the government's response to last year's Supreme Court of Canada decision that ruled Mounties should have collective bargaining rights. The RCMP are the only police force in Canada currently without that right.

The bill corrects that oversight but it also contains a number of contentious provisions that critics say would unfairly narrow the scope of bargaining and negatively affect health benefits for Mounties injured on the job. 

The committee is considering the elimination of two such provisions from the bill. The first is the part of the bill that would bump RCMP officers with workplace injuries out of the internal health services regime and into the various provincial workers compensation programs. 

Critics such as Ottawa labour lawyer Paul Champ have said that there are wide discrepancies in what those provincial programs cover, which could lead to Mounties being treated differently, depending on where they live.

"If you make any changes, or recommendations of any changes, to the bill — change this one," Champ urged members of the Commons public safety committee Tuesday. "At a bare minimum, doing this change right before you're about to see unionization, where you know an association might want to discuss or negotiate this with the employer, I just think it's a very bad idea."

Conservative MP Erin O'Toole said injured Mounties must have access to the same health services, no matter where they're posted.

"If you look at Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta, which have a presumptive approach to PTSD as being presumptive in the workplace of law enforcement, that standard should apply across the country," said O'Toole.

Harassment in the force

The second area of the bill that could be cut has to do with harassment. Aside from wages and benefits, many unions in Canada also negotiate how members will be disciplined, educated or otherwise dealt when it comes to workplace harassment.

Bill C-7, as it is currently drafted, would eliminate the union's role in negotiating how members are disciplined or in how the issue is broadly dealt with.

"I think that the concern committee members are having is that by excluding harassment specifically, you take out the ability of a union to talk about systemic issues," committee Chair and Liberal MP Rob Oliphant told CBC News.

That's fantastic news, according to Brian Sauve, a Mountie who's with one of the associations vying to represent officers in the future.

"It's a win for the membership. You could see a joint, united front amongst all labour groups as well as the RCMP veterans. The membership should be pleased. Those sections should never have been in this act," said Sauve.

There are a number of other areas bill C-7 would exclude from union negotiations with management, including staffing levels, promotions, transfers, discipline and equipment. Sauve says he is hoping all are eventually allowed by the bill. 

Labour association

MPs also heard from Mark Rowlinson, a lawyer with United Steelworkers (USW.) His union is concerned the bill, in its present form, places unreasonable limits on association by preventing an RCMP association from being affiliated with any other labour organization that does not primarily represent police.

Rowlinson called it "a serious infringement on freedom of association" and went on to tell MPs that the USW, as the predominant union in the resource extraction sector, has many members in remote areas policed by the RCMP. It makes sense, Rowlinson said, that USW offer advice and support, such as training or meeting rooms, to any future RCMP labour group.

Oliphant said the committee should complete its work by Thursday.

NDP MP Daniel Blaikie said he and his colleagues know they have to get it right: "I think RCMP members and their families are feeling really pinched in this kind of vacuum period," he said. "It's important that we get them a good law that allows them to organize and start dealing with those issues themselves at the bargaining table."