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B.C. labour code recommendations draw mixed reviews

Warren Frey
B.C. labour code recommendations draw mixed reviews

The B.C. government has received 29 recommendations from an independent panel appointed to review the province’s Labour Relations Code, garnering a variety of reactions from industry stakeholders.

“There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that by a two-to-one majority the review panel recommended keeping a secret ballot process (for certification of union membership), rejecting the recommendation of the BC Federation of Labour and several unions to move to a card check system,” said Independent Contractors and Businesses Association (ICBA) president Chris Gardner.

But Gardner said he is concerned the NDP government may not follow the panel’s recommendation.

“The government is now asking the public and stakeholders to comment on the panel’s recommendations by Nov. 30. But even though the majority of the panel voted to keep the secret ballot in the code, that recommendation is at risk,” he said.

BC Building Trades executive director Tom Sigurdson said he’s pleased with many of the proposed amendments.

“Although the review panel did not accept all of the recommendations we submitted, we are encouraged by many of the amendments being proposed,” Sigurdson said. 

He singled out the recommendation that the labour code face review every five years in a transparent public process and said up to this point the code has not been reviewed properly in the last 25 years.

“Overall, the panel did review the code and with respect to work they did from labour perspective, it’s not a bad report but from a construction perspective there are a number of flaws,” he said.

“Specific to the industry, the panel tried to define construction, which is very difficult and there’s no uniform definition. Most everyone in construction knows what it is, and a definition is probably not necessary.

“By trying to make it all-inclusive, you end up excluding groups.”

Sigurdson also expressed disappointment that use of the secret ballot was upheld by the panel, which he termed as redundant since the ballot takes place after employees have already voted for certification through a card check system.

“When you get someone to sign something, it’s much more important than a ballot. A card on public display says that those workers support a union,” Sigurdson said.

The panel also recommended reducing the time for union certification and revocation votes down from 10 to five days.

Gardner said the ICBA wanted the process to be fair, supervised by an independent third party such as the Labour Relations Board and with enough time given for a company to prepare for the vote.

“Ten days in my view is not an unreasonable amount of time to prepare for a vote,” he said.

Sigurdson by contrast said he was pleased with the move to five days.

“What happens now with the delay of 10 days is that the employers communicate stuff that is intimidating, and also it’s just redundant. It’s more for the employer than the worker,” he said.

British Columbia Construction Association president Chris Atchison said his organization is reviewing the panel’s report in anticipation of making a formal submission by the Nov. 30 deadline.

“That said, we’re pleased with some of the recommendations and particularly the statement that creating an environment supportive of business, particularly in the context of our rapidly changing economy, is important,” Atchison said.

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