Back to work legislation now the norm?

Here we go again. The federal government’s inconsistent choice of action or inaction ....

Here we go again. The federal government’s inconsistent choice of action or inaction to deal with labour issues continues to dog the Stephen Harper Conservative government.

Last week’s not-unprecedented announcement to introduce  “back to work” legislation to deal with the planned March-break strike by Air Canada pilots, machinists and baggage handlers, is just another example.

To be fair, there is plenty of right and wrong on both sides.

Frustrated members of the unions have struggled for a fair contact long beyond the expiry date of existing contracts with no success.

So they do what unions have traditionally done: they decide to withdraw labour at a point where it will have the greatest effect on the largest number of people possible – Christmas holidays or periods when many people are travelling.

This year it was the spring break travel of a million Canadians that was targeted as leverage by Air Canada employees.

I’m not in favour of “blackmail” deadlines but in the face of stone-wall negotiations, how can one be surprised?

The government, as expected, rode boldly to both prevent a pilot lockout and to the rescue of the million Canadians facing travel disruption.

They referred the dispute to the Canadian Industrial Relations Board and coincidentally, began to process, with restricted debate – plan B, what I consider to be excessively repressive return to work legislation that will take effect in the event of a strike at this private corporation.

The legislation seems to fail to lead to a “fair” settlement for both sides in the dispute. It will be highly in favour of Air Canada management which is pressing for further employee concessions, including millions of dollars in pension concessions.

The unions have seen that writing on the wall and will undoubtedly fight hard for what they previously negotiated for retiring employees – which of course is a long, long way from what retiring CEO’s walk away with, particularly at the end of frequent money-losing operating decisions.

Many people still believe Air Canada is  taxpayer-owned but while it has been at times throughout its long, roller-coaster history, it is a private publicly-traded company at this point in time; a company competing with other Canadian airlines and airlines from around the world.

Labour minister Lisa Raitt, however, states categorically that an Air Canada strike is bad for Canadians, bad for workers and the airline and harmful the fragile economy – and the government isn’t about to let it happen.

Current law and all parties’ policies support the principle of free collective bargaining. Government intervention in labour disputes is claimed to be “a last resort”.

However it’s becoming more and more a preferred means of settling disputes.

In Canada, at this point in time, many domestic and foreign-owned corporations seem content to rely on government action to achieve what they want to impose, or conversely, complete government inaction when corporations want to impose rollbacks of hard-won labour-achievements that have contributed significantly to economic prosperity and good bottom-line profits.

At home unions are “on their own” in places like London, Ontario where, despite accepting Canadian taxpayer incentives, American-owned principals of the Caterpillar locomotive plant can walk away from hundreds workers and move their employment to places in the US where job-desperate applicants are willing to work for half of what the Canadians had negotiated over many years.

No doubt, the Canadian taxpayer concessions helped pay the bill for a “better-

than-expected” set of settlement terms. But the jobs are gone.

Last year, Canada Post employees were legislated back to work.

I’ve heard very little about the government view of Rio Tinto locking out unionized employees in Alma, Quebec and bringing in replacement labour.

Some 6,800 Air Canada flight attendants were forced back to work last June.

I don’t believe labour peace is yet assured there.

Legislation will send teachers back to work in BC as provincial Liberals ape the feds.

StatsCan says the economy generated a disappointing 2,300 jobs in February, elevating the unemployment rate. The CIBC says the job market could be stagnant for years.

Across B.C. Job-creating projects are unanimously panned and opposed by a wide range of “stakeholders”.

I don’t want to get into Enbridge or fracking, but the jobs seem to be getting further away.

But the hundred highest-paid Canadian executives made an average of $8,000,000 – and an average of 27 per cent more than in 2011.

Something has to give.

Our country either believes in democracy, freedom, fairness and equality, or it doesn’t.

Election shenanigans distracts politicians who continue to act like goats in question period.

Air Canada workers continue to wait for a resolution to their issues.

 

 

 

 

ahewitson@telus.net

 

 

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