I’m just back from my travels of Italy, and I need to catch up on what I missed in workplace law while I was gone. For example, I was amused to read about the Ontario Conservative Party’s new election platforms, which have some workplace law components to it. There’s the usual tax cut promises that every Conservative government drags out as a cure for all that ails society. But there’s also some curious tidbits, such as the promise to force prisoners to work 40 hours a week doing jobs that could be done by the thousands of people currently unemployed and looking for work.
Did I read that correctly? Perhaps my English has gotten rusty from too much Italian. I can’t find the details of this whacky idea in the P.C. webpage, but I’d have thought that a party that is promising to tackle unemployment and “reward hard work” would see a problem with ordering prisoners to perform work for free that could be done by paid workers who need jobs. Is grass cutting, garbage collections, and graffiti removal something that paid workers are incapable of performing, or that the market can’t provide? How exactly is the economy stimulated by giving jobs to unpaid forced labourers who are excluded from all employment law protections? [See section 5 of the Employment Standards Act, for example, which excludes inmates from ESA coverage]. Apparently while I was sipping Valpolicella in Venice, prisoner idleness became an important labour policy issue in Ontario.
As did that old thorn in the side of politicians who believe that tax cuts and forced prison labour are the answers to societies ills: the labour movement. I saw this morning that Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario Conservative Party, has been sulking about ads funded by a union led coalition group called Working Families that depict him as being in the pockets of the business lobby. I’m for getting rid of ALL attack ads like these, to be honest. They add nothing to political debate and serve only to further harm the very low impression people have of the political profession. And the Tories dish it out as much, if not more, than any of the parties.
But Hudak’s feelings have been hurt, so the Tories have been spending loads of money in an election year hiring lawyers to try and stop the ads from being run. And now he is promising to pass a law if elected that would allow unionized workers to opt out of paying that portion of union dues used for political causes they don’t agree with. Not sure how that would work exactly, but such a law would almost certainly lead to a Charter challenge by the unions. We’d have to see how the law was drafted to assess whether it would survive a Charter challenge.
The Supreme Court of Canada long ago ruled that it is not a violation of a unionized worker’s Charter rights to be required to pay union dues that are then used by the Union to advance political causes with which the worker disagrees. The decision was called Lavigne v. OPSEU. The Court ruled that unions play an important role in political discussion and that influencing politics is one way that unions advance their members interests. Justices Wilson and L’Heureux-Dube JJ. noted that “the interests of labour do not end at some artificial boundary between the economic and the political.” Engagement in political debate and lobbying is all part and parcel of the job of unions in advancing the interests of their members, the Court ruled:
Unions’ decisions to involve themselves in politics by supporting particular causes, candidates or parties, stem from a recognition of the expansive character of the interests of labour and a perception of collective bargaining as a process which is meant to foster more than mere economic gain for workers. From involvement in union locals through to participation in the larger activities of the union movement the current collective bargaining regime enhances not only the economic interests of labour but also the interest of working people in preserving some dignity in their working lives.
Do you think it is wrong for unions to contribute funds to support political parties or policies that they believe advance their members’ interests?
What do you think of the Tories’ two policies–forced prison labour and an opt-out rule for union dues put to political causes?