Teachers and other public sector union members rally on the B.C. legislature lawn during 2012 strike. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

Keep secret ballot votes for union certification, B.C. panel says

Drop essential service rule for schools, Harry Bains advised

The B.C. government’s review panel for Labour Code changes has recommended preserving a secret-ballot vote for employees considering joining a union, over the objections of the lawyer representing unions.

In its report, released by Labour Minister Harry Bains Thursday, two of three experts recommend that B.C. remain the only Canadian province to require a vote to confirm the decision by a majority to sign a union card.

Another key recommendation is to eliminate the essential service designation for public school education, except for provincial exams for graduating students. The panel noted B.C. is the only province to have the provision.

The review panel was convened in February, chaired by Michael Fleming, a mediator-arbitrator and former associate chair of the B.C. Labour Relations Board. Two labour lawyers were the other members, with Sandra Banister representing union interests and Barry Dong on behalf of employers.

Fleming and Dong said certification votes should be protected by shortening the time frame for votes and for considering unfair labour practice complaints that may arise. Banister said the secret ballot is unnecessary.

“The idea that employees may be coerced into joining a trade union is not supported by unfair labour practice statistics,” Banister wrote. “Nor is there any evidence to support the suggestion that some employees join trade unions due to peer pressure.”

Bains said in an interview that he will wait for union and employer groups to respond to the report before making decisions.

“I’d like to see the feedback from the stakeholders first,” Bains said.

B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has said he does not support removing secret ballot provisions.

RELATED: Green leader gets his way on minimum wage

Other recommendations include:

• removing the ability of employers to “engage in anti-union campaigns provided there is no coercion or intimidation.” The panel said taking out this 2002 change would make B.C. consistent with other provinces.

• Giving the B.C. Labour Relations Board the ability to reinstate employees unlawfully fired during union certifications, and to order a second vote in case of unfair labour practices by employers.

The report notes that union membership in B.C. went from one of the highest in Canada, 45 per cent in 1983, to the largest decline. Private sector union membership fell from 24 per cent in 1997 to 16.7 per cent in 2016, while public sector “union density” was still 65 per cent of public sector employment in the province.

The B.C. Business Council identified three labour market trends: a shift from stable employment to more precarious work and self-employment, an increasing income gap between skilled and non-skilled workers and a declining quality of jobs with more being part-time.

“The phrase ‘gig economy’ was coined during the 2008 financial crisis, when unemployed workers made a living by ‘gigging’ or working several part-time jobs with payment for individual tasks,” the report says. Services such as grocery delivery have grown, as have “virtual employees” who advertise their skills through online platforms and short-term contracts.

The report describes another trend since the 1980s, globalization. Outsourcing business services, dismantling of barriers to movement of goods, capital and people and round-the-clock competition among global business creates pressure for more work flexibility.


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