Manitoba passes labour-friendly bill

Opposition Tories and business leaders fought long and hard but in the end Manitoba’s NDP government passed changes to the province’s Labour Relations Act that make union certification easier.

Debate went on in the legislature between the Opposition and Premier Gary Doer’s government until the early hours of the morning before Bill 44, An Act to Amend the Labour Relations Act, was finally passed, ending the legislative session until it reconvenes later this fall.

Union leaders rallied behind the bill calling it a restoration of workers’ rights, those lost under the decade-long Tory rule in the province. The act will restore some of the provisions of the Labour Relations Act that were repealed four years ago when the Tories were in power.

One of those provisions, and one of the most contentious issues raised by Bill 44, is card-check certification. The process eliminates the secret-ballot vote. Instead, a union will be automatically certified if 65 per cent of employees sign union cards.

Despite Manitoba’s new card-check law, union certification is still more arduous compared to other parts of the country, like Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan, where automatic certification is achieved after 50 per cent (plus one) of the employees sign union membership cards. That figure is 60 per cent for employees in New Brunswick.

The new labour law will also create a system whereby a union or employer could request a dispute be put to binding arbitration after a strike or lockout has lasted for 60 days. At that point the work stoppage would end.

Opposition to the bill was unparalleled, with small and big business blasting the NDP government and Premier Doer.

Representatives from small business in Manitoba said smaller firms would consider leaving the province if changes were passed. “Our members have told us that aggressive anti-business labour laws, combined with one of the highest tax burdens in Canada, may cause them to rethink their future in Manitoba,” said Dan Kelly, vice-president for the Prairies division of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, which represents more than 4,000 small to medium-size firms in Manitoba.

The Tories and business community charged the new laws are undemocratic for workers. They also argued it would effectively stifle business expansion and drive business away from the province to other jurisdictions, like Ontario, where Premier Mike Harris’ Conservative government repealed similar legislation inherited from the former NDP administration.

“The net effect will be an environment that is unfavourable to business, which could have an irreparable effect on the Manitoba economy. When a business leaves the province, jobs go with it and those jobs may be lost forever. Moreover, it decreases the attractiveness of Manitoba as a location for investment in new business,” said Jonas Sammons, vice-president of the Manitoba Division of the Alliance of Manufacturers and Exporters Canada, in a news release sent out while the bill was before the legislature.

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