For the fourth time since the federal election on May 2, 2011, Canada’s Labour Minister Lisa Raitt has said the government will interfere in a legal strike if it begins to affect the economy. She says it’s an obligation for the government.
This time she’s already putting the house on notice that back to work legislation is possible for CP Rail, even though there is evidence suggesting that the strike, which only began on Wednesday, is having little to no affect on the economy at the moment.
Of course, the federal government also gets to decide if a strike is affecting the economy and have never divulged what their criteria are exactly. They’ve previously decided that two strikes at Air Canada were hurting the economy, which led to a sick-in by pilots, and a wildcat strike by baggage handlers after two workers were reportedly suspended for slow-clapping for the minister. In June of 2011, the Conservative government stepped in to put a stop to a lockout at Canada Post and imposed a contract on the workers that contained provisions harsher than those in management’s most recent offer.
Raitt was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying: “We want to encourage bargaining at the table … But they (the union and CP Rail) have to be aware of the fact that the Canadian government will step in on the basis of the national economy and the greater public interest at some point.”
But when this government repeatedly steps in quickly for the company, putting notice of back to work legislation on the order paper just days after an action begins — even when the union is in a lockout situation — what it really means is that the management at these companies has no need to negotiate in good faith.
Why would management cooperate and bargain in negotiations when they know that the federal government will jump in and save them in the name of the economy?
Members of the union, Teamsters Canada, say they are fighting to protect their pensions and for better worker safety conditions. Meanwhile, the company saw the CEO and six board members leave recently.
Collective bargaining is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a right that was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2007. The court ruled “That the grounds advanced in the earlier decisions for the exclusion of collective bargaining rights from the charter’s protection of freedom of association do not withstand principled scrutiny and should be rejected.”
Trade unions are a large part of Canadian history and the Harper government’s actions, consistently interfering in collective bargaining could fundamentally change what unions mean to Canadian workers.
Photo Credit: vxla