Justin Trudeau meets David Cameron in Downing Street. November 2015. Photo: Prime Minister of Canada (Creative Commons)
Government pledges to reverse anti-union laws
No, it’s not April Fool’s Day yet, nor a prediction for a future Britain. It’s the new Canadian Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau, and the new Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour MaryAnn Mihychuk. In a move welcomed by the Canadian TUC (the Canadian Labour Congress, or CLC), she has announced plans to repeal two measures introduced by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper.
Canada has, in recent times, had the highest union density rate of the G7 – although the global financial recession, coupled with an ideologically-driven neoliberal administration, has dented that record, already under pressure from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and the USA. But there have been successful legal defences of the right to bargain collectively.
Ten years of anti-union legislation and government behaviour was one reason why a lot of trade union members abandoned the risk of voting for the unexpected opposition, the union-linked New Democratic Party, and pushed them towards the newly-vibrant Liberal Party which had at least won elections and formed governments in the past. The Liberals overtook the NDP to secure a majority government. Trudeau, whose party has been known in Canada to campaign from the left but govern from the right, has cut quite a dash in international circles like the Turkish G20 in November, the COP climate talks in Paris in December and Davos in January. There are almost as many lefty selfies taken with Trudeau as there were with Obama back in the day.
But his government has agreed to revoke C377, a bureaucratic measure giving extra powers to the Canada Revenue Agency, among other things requiring unions to declare all expenditures over CA$5k (less than £2.5k); and C525 which makes it more difficult for unions to secure registration at a workplace and easier to deregister them, a clear attack on collective bargaining and freedom of association. These measures are in line with the attack on union operations contained in the UK’s Trade Union Bill: yet another indication that attacks on unions are not confined to the UK, but spreading throughout the developed world.
The CA$5k declaration rule had already been waived by the government in December, but the CLC has welcomed the announcement that the two measures will actually be repealed. CLC President Hassan Yussuff said:
“This proves what we’ve been saying all along: that these bills were nothing more than an attempt to undermine unions’ ability to do important work like protecting jobs, promoting health and safety in the workplace, and advocating on behalf of all Canadian workers. We are pleased that this new government recognizes the importance of fair labour relations, and supports the role of unions in the workplace.”
The UK Trade Union Bill is facing further changes in the UK upper chamber, the House of Lords, where the Government has no majority. Ironically, the Canadian upper house, the Senate, also lacks a government majority, and the Conservatives, now in Opposition, have said that they will try to block the repeal in the Senate. So unions on both sides of the Atlantic will be taking the fight for union rights into their upper houses – but in different directions.