8/24/12

Liberal attack on free collective bargaining unprecedented

In the past, government might legislate workers back to work after a lengthy strike or lock-out. Usually, the parties were directed to settle their dispute through an independent arbitrator.

Such intrusions by government into free collective bargaining however have gotten rapidly worse in the last year or so.

Just over a year ago, the Ontario Liberals brought in legislation permanently banning walk-outs at the TTC.   Then in June, after several weeks on strike, postal workers were legislated back to work by the federal government.  They were told they had to settle their dispute with Canada Post through an employer-biased arbitration process (which they have subsequently fought in the courts, with some success).  The Feds also announced in June that they would legislate Air Canada ticket agents back to work less than a day after they walked off the job.  In October, the government told flight attendants even before they could strike that they would legislate them back to work too.

But the Ontario Liberal government has now taken these attacks to unprecedented levels. Without waiting for a strike -- or even strike votes -- the government proposes to pass legislation that would prevent any strike and sets narrow terms within which any collective agreement must be established. There's no arbitrator appointed -- independent or otherwise.

The government plans to do this, despite one of the teachers unions taking out a full page add accepting a wage freeze. (This must have been difficult for the union to do, as even the Ontario government reports that collective bargaining wage settlements are averaging 1.7% per year in both the public and private sectors.)

The government's legislation doesn't just impose a wage freeze: it also makes clear that the teachers will have to accept significant concessions: e.g. reduced sick leave, the removal of sick day accrual for future illnesses or for a retirement gratuity, and the loss of three days pay.

That is a long, long way from free collective bargaining.  It is also a very dangerous precedent that destabilizes the existing industrial relations system -- and not just for teachers.

CUPE and the teachers unions are planning a rally next week at Queen's Park: Tuesday August 28, 12:00 - 1:30 pm.

P.S. -- The next day, the 29th, the Ontario Federation of Labour, the Ontario Health Coalition, the local labour council and the local health coalition are planning a Summit in Kitchener-Waterloo, where a by-election will be held September 6. If the Liberals win that by-election, they may well achieve a majority in the legislature. The Summit will be held at the Royal Canadian Legion Polish Branch, 601 Wellington St. N., Kitchener at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, August 29. A supper will be provided. Please attend, if you can!
 

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