Update, April 8, 2016: The Gallant government is removing amendments to the binding arbitration process found in Bill 24 after opposition from labour unions. The amendments would have affected workers at universities, municipalities and other sectors. A committee will be appointed to examine the issue.
A wage suppression omnibus bill that could be passed during the formal adoption of New Brunswick’s budget is being opposed by labour unions.
Patrick Colford, president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour (NBFL), which represents over 40,000 workers from every sector of the economy, stated that the government is “out for workers’ wages in the public and private sectors.”
This bill would modify legislation so that both private and public sector labour laws favour the employer during negotiations, including plans to legislate concessions in public sector compensation and the elimination of retirement allowances.
A similar bill was proposed by Tim Hudak, leader of the Ontario Conservatives, in 2011. The similarities do not end there, argues Colford, “As time goes by, it seems like Premier Gallant wants to have labour laws modified through fine print in budget legislation, just like Harper had done with his ominous bills.”
The bill has sparked a unified response from workers across all sectors including firefighters, pulp and paper workers, university employees, and health and education sector workers.
Colford stated that despite their several attempts to contact Labour Minister Francine Landry, she has consistently postponed the meetings.
The government’s proposed legislation has not been released, except for a memo outlining a four-point plan. Its stated intention is to maintain “free and fair collective bargaining” but the legitimacy of this claim is contested. Unifor has responded to this memo in a formal letter. In the letter, they request a meeting to discuss the proposals and call for the proposed changes to be dropped.
The government plans to create a roster of arbitrators who will hear all disputes between employers and unions. This disrupts the typical negation process in which employers and unions collectively decide which arbitrator to appoint, and if they are unable to come to a joint decision, then an arbitrator is appointed by the minister. Without the opportunity to mutually appoint an arbitrator, a crucial part of the negotiation process is eliminated.
The second point of the four point plan focuses on mandating final offer selection. By mandating this, it forces both parties to propose a reasonable and fair offer. The NBFL is opposed to this.
The third point of the four-point plan favours employers by allowing them to submit documents stating their financial status, accordingly forcing arbitrators to consider this in their decision.
With both point two and three combined it creates a situation in which employers are favoured during labour negotiations.
Throughout the plan, the government has promoted advantages to arbitration issues linked to collective bargaining and collective agreements. However, the majority of changes proposed would in fact only serve to benefit unionized employers.
Christopher Pearson is a fourth year philosophy and psychology student at UNB. He is completing a UNB ARts 3000 placement with the NB Media Co-op.