To the surprise of no one, the Conservative labour relations nanny state strikes again!
Raitt basically told a bunch of us labour law professors last weekend in London that she would not permit a strike or lockout to interfere with March Break travel, so everyone (including the parties) knew that Air Canada’s notice of a lockout issued today and the unions’ threat to strike was just part of the show. The collective bargaining process as intended by the legislation–where the threat of a work stoppage is supposed to drive the parties towards a reasonable settlement–no longer operates in the Federal sector, at least in regards to Air Canada and Canada Post, for example.
The dynamic is something different; the parties must weight the risk of an arbitrated settlement as opposed to a bargained one. And there is also the unknown of what sort of arbitration process will be involved, since the Feds also are playing with that by taking the decision of arbitrators out of the hands of the parties and trying to restrict the arbitrator’s discretion by imposing mandatory criteria. All of this makes the process highly uncertain for both parties, and the process and outcomes highly unpredictable. But it does prevent work stoppages, if that is the principal public policy goal.
Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt has once again used her favourite toy to halt the possibility of strikes or lockouts at Air Canada. I haven’t yet seen the reference. Is it a Section 87.4(5) reference again, in which the Minister pretends that Air Canada is an ambulance service so that a work stoppage would pose an immediate and serious danger to Canadians? That was the one she used last fall.
Or is it a reference asking the Board to impose a collective agreement or send the matter to arbitration on the basis that the bargaining unit exercised their statutory right to reject a proposed collective agreement? Maybe both again. If you have the reference, please sent it along.
Here is the Post Media story, which includes an interesting analysis from George Smith, former Chief Negotiator for Air Canada. Smith says the government has completely perverted the process in a way that will not in any way improve labour relations at Air Canada:
George Smith, former Chief Negotiator for Air Canada: “The feds are players as opposed to overseers in this process. They have another alternative now, which is the government is going to intervene. This whole thing is a continued perversion of the normal collective bargaining process under the federal code.”
What do you think? Should the government continue to intervene like this in private sector bargaining disputes? Do you think the government is improving or harming labour relations?
Or does that not even matter any more? Is the governments role to ensure that the public is not in any way inconvenienced by a private sector work stoppage?