Workers Speak Out About Their Concerns
Opposition to the Use of Special Legislation to Criminalize Workers’ Struggles in Defence of Their Demands
– André Jacob, Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Quebec Region –
With regard to people working for the government, I’m very concerned about the special laws being adopted. One was passed against us postal workers in 2011, then another in the fall of 2018. Taking into consideration that this has become common practice and that workers’ rights are being disregarded when our employer is the government, how are we going to be able to negotiate anything?
Workers are being deprived of their right to negotiate to improve their working conditions, through the imposition of special legislation. The worker’s goal in joining a union is to improve his or her working conditions. To be so openly disregarded come negotiation time encourages the idea that to be unionized makes no difference, that we’ll put up with the situation until we’ve had enough and then change jobs. Yet union jobs are good jobs and we must fight to keep them.
In relation to the society as a whole, special laws serve to denigrate unions. One could say that it’s “union bashing,” as if unions deserve to be discredited that way. It serves to reduce the rate of unionization, to lower working conditions.
We know that Labour Canada issued several non-compliance notices to Canada Post regarding what the local joint committees (health and safety committees – RU note) observed with respect to the condition of the buildings and work methods. Labour Canada realized that these problems remained at the committee stage for months without being resolved.
Through special legislation all health and safety demands are handed to the arbitrator appointed under the special law. This takes the initiative away from the workers. It also demobilizes people who are already largely left on their own in the joint health and safety committees. We have health and safety demands when we want to renew our collective agreements and we have provisions in our collective agreement that deal with health and safety. Through special legislation the rug was pulled from under our feet, so how do we go about getting our demands addressed and met? It’s the workers who observed those situations, who worked on the file. Now all this is placed in the hands of a third person who will render a decision on the basis of who is most capable of influencing him, because that’s how justice is administered. We have to get the judge to look at it from our angle, our way of thinking, to adopt our evidence rather than someone else’s. It’s not even an issue of the truth anymore.
During our last negotiations, even though we took the step of asking for conciliation from the start in order to avoid getting ourselves in the same situation, here we are once again.
When I meet people from the Liberal Party of Canada, I ask them why they voted for the special legislation. Some people from the Liberal Party told me that they didn’t have all the information, that they did what they could within the time frame they had to look for the information. One member of Parliament told me that he voted in the house with the information he had, which was from the newspapers and the internet. We know that not all journalists are thorough in the work they do on different topics or in researching various subjects. Often, what the employer sends them is simply taken as the truth.
We fight against all this constantly. Sometimes we feel we’ve made gains, however because of economic, partisan or political reasons, the rights we have by virtue of our bargaining power that comes from being organized in a union, can be violated.
We’re going to have to deal with other special legislation in the future, or situations like at ABI, where workers were locked out for 18 months and then simply repudiated by the Quebec government. It was the government that allowed Alcoa not to pay its electricity bill and it’s the people who will foot the bill for those hundreds of millions of dollars.