Sawmill conveyor on Vancouver Island. More machines and fewer workers have been the dominant trend in resource processing and manufacturing in recent decades. (Tom Fletcher/Black Press)

B.C. unions expect membership gains from labour code changes

NDP government still considering response to ‘gig economy’ trend

Second of a series on B.C. labour law changes before the B.C. legislature.

Changes to B.C.’s Labour Relations Code have been added to the NDP government’s strategy to increase union membership in the province.

After moving to designated union-only construction for public projects like the Pattullo Bridge and the Trans-Canada Highway widening east of Kamloops, changes introduced by Labour Minister Harry Bains focused on preserving union terms when service contracts are re-tendered, and streamlining union certifications. He invited union leaders to the media briefing, where Hospital Employees’ Union secretary Jennifer Whiteside praised the move to end “contract flipping” in senior care homes.

B.C. Federation of Labour president Laird Cronk was also at the presentation at the B.C. legislature. Cronk is disappointed about the NDP government’s decision to keep secret ballot voting in union certifications, but he is encouraged about strengthening successor rights when contract services are re-tendered.

“British Columbia remains a low-wage province, and precarious work is on the rise,” Cronk said. “The best antidote to economic inequality is greater union density.”

The government and its traditional supporters in organized labour are hoping to turn around a long-term trend. In 1984 the “union density” of the B.C. workforce was 45.6 per cent, well above the national average for Canada, according to Statistics Canada. By 2004 B.C. it had seen the largest decline of all Canadian jurisdictions, with the union share of the private sector down to 24 per cent by 1997 and below 17 per cent by 2016.

The B.C. Business Council submission to the province’s advisory panel identified three fundamental labour market trends, the first being a continuing shift from stable, predictable employment to more precarious work and self-employment. Others seen in the past 30 years are an increasing income gap between skilled and non-skilled workers, and a movement towards more part-time and temporary work.

For employees being signed up by a union the legislation shortens the union certification vote period from 10 days to five, which some unions and employers support because it ends the uncertainty of an organizing drive more quickly.

PART ONE: Kids under 16 can keep working for now, minister says

READ MORE: NDP keeps secret ballot for union certifications

But the amendments also remove a provision that the B.C. Liberal government added in 2003, allowing employers to communicate with employees about unionization during a certification.

“If passed, employer speech rights will revert to their pre-2003 status when views critical of union affairs unrelated to the employer’s business as well as ‘unreasonably held beliefs’ about such topics resulted in unfair labour practice complaints,” says an employer advisory bulletin from Vancouver law firm Fasken.

The Labour Relations Board has increased authority to impose a certification if an unfair labour practice complaint is upheld.

Contract workers are expected to be considered in a later stage of labour law revisions, which the Business Council of B.C. expects is still to come. The government could move to extend wage and benefits provisions to include more of the fastest-growing area of employment.

The independent panel that reviewed B.C.’s labour code examined the shift to the so-called “gig economy,” under a legal framework that dates to the 1970s where large-scale resource operations employing mostly male workers were the standard.

By 2016, women’s participation had increased to almost 50 per cent, with more visible minorities and disabled workers in a steadily aging workforce, the panel’s report says.

Service jobs expanded as resource extraction and manufacturing employment declined, much of it due to technology and automation of mills and factories. Service jobs now account for 80 per cent of B.C. employment, with the largest growth at the opposite ends of the wage spectrum. Professional, scientific and technical business skills command high wages, while accommodation and food services jobs have doubled to more than 180,000 people since 1986.

The B.C. Green Party supports Bill 30, which needs its votes to pass by the end of May. Green leader Andrew Weaver said extending union successor rights to janitorial, security, bus transportation, food services and non-clinical health services such as senior care homes is an important step forward, but the shift to part-time contract work “continues to be missing from the conversation.

“From increases in precarious, gig-based jobs to the increasing use of contractors instead of employees, British Columbians are dealing with huge changes to job stability and income security, and our laws aren’t keeping up.” Weaver said.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

BC legislature

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

NIC biologist on forefront of marine research

NIC biologist on forefront of marine research NIC biology instructor and marine… Continue reading

Campbell River RCMP issue statement in support of a peaceful rally and against racism

The Campbell River RCMP issued a statement in support of a peaceful… Continue reading

Road maintenance work scheduled for Black Creek and Quadra Island

Spring roadside work will be in progress along Highway 19 A and Granite Bay Road on multiple days

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

Trudeau offers $14B to provinces for anti-COVID-19 efforts through rest of year

Making a difference in municipalities is a pricey proposition

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Mirror business directory and map

If you’d like to be added to the list, shoot us an email

Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

Nora Martin joins other Indigenous families in calling for a significant shift in policing

‘Alarmed’: Health critic calls for more data on COVID-19 in trucking industry

Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec said that level of detail is not being collected

UPDATED: Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park arrested

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Most Read