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Media baron Pierre Karl Péladeau has come out swinging against a trade union movement in Quebec that he says benefits from too many unjustifiable "privileges" that are hobbling the province's economic development.

In an open letter published yesterday in le Journal de Québec - one of the daily newspapers in his media empire - the chief executive officer of Quebecor Inc. . slams the unions for what he says are their entrenched ways that have no place in a global economy.

Union leaders and politicians, many of them attending a forum on Quebec's economic future convened by Premier Jean Charest, slammed the letter yesterday as counterproductive and confrontational, especially given the context of the bitter labour conflict at Mr. Péladeau's flagship francophone paper, Le Journal de Montréal.

But at least one business leader applauded Mr. Péladeau's criticisms.

In the letter, Mr. Péladeau says he is not questioning the unions' right to exist, but believes they have gained too many privileges that are no longer warranted in the new global economic context.

He slams legislation that does not allow employees to opt out of union membership when the union wins certification in a workplace, and also questions why unionized workers are allowed to avoid paying income taxes on strike pay they receive. "In Quebec, company executives have to spend too much time, energy and money managing their 'labour relations,' " Mr. Péladeau writes.

"These comments are gratuitous, arrogant and hateful towards union organizations," Réjean Parent, head of the Centrale des syndicats du Québec union, said in an interview. Mr. Péladeau presents himself and other entrepreneurs as victims of oppressive union tactics when it is he who is trying to crush the unions at Le Journal de Montréal, where workers have been locked out for a year, he said.

Although Mr. Charest and Finance Minister Raymond Bachand said labour relations in the province are good, Michel Kelly-Gagnon, head of the Montreal Economic Institute, said in an interview that Mr. Péladeau is saying what many business people agree with but won't express publicly.

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