British Columbia’s NDP government plans to make substantive changes to the province’s labour code, saying new rules will provide greater protections for workers, including more job security for thousands earning low wages caring for the elderly, cleaning and cooking.
Critics say the legislation will increase the cost of some public services, while unions contend the balance of labour relations in the province has swung too far in favour of employers during the past 16 years, when the BC Liberals formed government.
After the changes were introduced in the legislature Tuesday morning, Labour Minister Harry Bains told reporters his government is committed to adopting all 29 recommendations from a three-member panel appointed in February, 2018, to complete the first comprehensive public review of the provincial labour code since 1992.
“The changes are needed, necessary and overdue,” Mr. Bains said at a news conference.
The amendments will retain secret ballot votes for union certifications but will give the Labour Relations Board (LRB) broader discretion to impose union certification if an employer is found to have interfered in the process.
Mr. Bains said his government would prefer to change this protocol but added that he respected the opposition of two of the three panel members on this issue, as well as that of the Green Party, whose three MLAs said they would oppose any bill that did away with secret ballots.
The bill would give teachers the right to strike again, after the previous government designated them an “essential service.” The NDP legislation would allow the LRB to weigh in on whether teacher job action would present too great a harm to the health and welfare of students.
The changes will also extend the successorship protection that union contracts enjoy to service contracts re-tendered by employers in janitorial, security, transportation, food and non-clinical health services. Mr. Bains said this would stop the “contract flipping” in these sectors, which often sees workers, many of whom are racialized women, having to reapply for the same jobs with a new company that does not offer the same benefits and pay.
“Today’s bill helps ensure that the jobs, benefits and seniority will be protected,” he said.
Jock Finlayson, executive vice-president of the B.C. Business Council, said the change that will have the largest impact is the successorship rule, which will help workers but will also drive up costs for universities and hospitals contracting out various services. He said the changes won’t negatively affect the wider economy too much, but the cumulative effects of the new employer health tax and rising minimum wages could eventually hurt the current levels of job growth.
“So, our message to the B.C. government, in light of the above measures, is as follows: Take a breather before proceeding with anything else that imposes extra costs on employers," he said.
Mary Jane Bayangos, who works for a contractor cleaning BC Hydro’s downtown Vancouver headquarters, said low-wage workers like her desperately need the proposed changes.
She said she had her wages at her previous second job, cleaning nearby St. Paul’s Hospital, temporarily lowered when the complex’s cleaning contract flipped four years ago and she was rehired for less pay.
“It was very stressful, fearing losing our job and our benefits,” she told The Globe and Mail. “I had co-workers who were close to retirement age. If we lose our jobs, they cannot just look for another job that quick.”
The three-member panel consisted of chair Michael Fleming, a former associate chair of the LRB; Sandra Banister, a labour lawyer representing union interests; and Barry Dong, a lawyer representing employer interests.
The Liberal Party did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The review of the code was part of the agreement that saw the BC Greens pledge to support the BC NDP in the summer of 2017, allowing it to form government. On Tuesday, Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver welcomed the bill, noting it would ensure fairness and balance in workplaces for both workers and their employers.
With a report from The Canadian Press