The story is now repeating itself so frequently that it is difficult to come up with any new and interesting to say: Federally regulated employer and its union engage in collective bargaining; Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt chimes in while bargaining continues that, while she would prefer the parties to reach a deal themselves, if they don’t, the government will intervene and order the parties to final offer selection interest arbitration with an order for the arbitrator to emphasize the employer’s financial interests and stability; employer is relieved that it doesn’t have to worry about a threat of an extended work stoppage; no deal is reached; government introduces back to work legislation; union files Charter challenge against that legislation, and launches various other legal actions to challenge the government’s intervention; parties tied up in litigation, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legal fees; labour lawyers very pleased; employees feel shafted by a government that intervenes on behalf of the employer; relations deteriorate even more. Yada, yada, yada.
Sound familiar? See Air Canada. See Canada Post. Now, see CP Rail.
Minister Raitt is expected to introduce back-to-work legislation as soon as Parliament resumes today. I’ll post it here once its up on the website.
Raitt always tells the media that the government wants a voluntary deal reached by the parties themselves. However, most everyone who knows anything about collective bargaining argues that she is in fact discouraging this from happening by promising employers that the government will step in with back to work legislation designed to prioritize the employers’ interests.
Odds are today’s legislation will be modelled after earlier legislation, which includes ‘final offer selection’ arbitration, a right of Raitt alone to pick the arbitrator, and a list of criteria the arbitrator must consider in fashioning the award which will emphasize the employer’s economic position over the workers’. Maybe the likely Charter challenge filed by the union will be able to catch up with the other applications filed by unions representing Canada Post and Air Canada employees (and the Saskatchewan public service employees case), setting up an inevitable Supreme Court decision years from now deciding whether the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects a right to strike.
The government has been so quick to intervene in any dispute involving a large public sector corporation that it is now impossible to know whether the parties might have reached a deal on their own under a less interventionist regime. Read the quotes from the spokespeople of CP and the Teamsters, and you see that both sides knew and expected the government to intervene, and that this knowledge cast a shadow over the negotiation process. Every decision about what to propose and counter-propose is now made by assessing the question: Will we be better or worse off if we don’t agree and instead are faced with the government’s final offer selection process?
Even Management Reps and Business Friendly Media Telling Government to Stop Interfering in Collective Bargaining
This is not a healthy industrial relations model the government has created. If you think that it is only unions bemoaning the governments lack of respect for the collective bargaining process, and the rights to strike and lockout, think again. Experts from the management-side and business-friendly media are also speaking out against the government as well. For example, this Globe and Mail piece cites a C.D. Howe study that found that government interventions in the form of back to work legislation decrease the potential of voluntary agreements, and triple the odds that future rounds of bargaining will also fail to reach a deal. George Smith, a former negotiator for Air Canada and CP Rail, has said repeadedly that the Feds are worsening employee relations at federal employers by their constant interventions. In his take on the impending CP Rail intervention, Smith notes that “you can not legislate labour peace”, and that the government’s intervention brings long-term instability and distrust between the employees and employers that are ultimately unpredictable and unproductive. In this commentary, an ex Canada Post executive and Deputy Minister says that the Feds are making labour relations in Canada worse, not better. This Globe editorial tells the Feds to stop intervening and “show deference” to the greater knowledge of the parties on the complex issues involved.
What do you think? Do you buy the argument that governments should let the bargaining process play through to its end, including a strike or lockout is necessary, because ultimately the outcome is more legitimate and therefore stable than legislated solutions?
Has the government de-stablized the bargaining process in the federal sector by signalling that the bargaining process will not be permitted to run its course?