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The Pallister government introduced legislation this week that will make it easier for employers to fire workers who go on strike and for unions to be decertified.
Bill 16, the Labour Relations Amendment Act, would allow an employer to terminate an employee for "strike-related misconduct" even if the employee has not been convicted of a criminal offence for that misconduct.
It would also require only 40 per cent of workers — instead of 50 per cent — to call for a decertification vote, and just 40 per cent of workers — instead of 45 per cent — would be required for a displacement vote.
The legislation clearly benefits employers and removes workers' rights, said economist Lynne Fernandez.
"The ability to fire strikers is very open and on the face of it, there seems to be little recourse a worker would have if they were targeted," Fernandez said Thursday. "It's one thing to be fired for criminal activity: quite another to be fired because you spoke up on the picket line. It's draconian," said the economist who holds the Errol Black Chair in Labour Issues at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Manitoba.
Unions were "knee-capped" when the Pallister government brought in legislation forcing a secret ballot to form a union, she said. Now the Tories are making it harder for workers to form a union so they can protect their rights, said Fernandez.
The legislation would make it easier to decertify a union by lowering the threshold, with only 40 per cent of workers having to vote in favour of decertifying, said Fernandez, calling it a "sad day for workers."
University of Winnipeg history professor Janis Thiessen called the introduction of the legislation this week "extraordinary."
"Its timing, in the midst of a pandemic and following the defeat of Bill 28 in the courts, is extraordinary," said Thiessen who has studied the history of labour relations in Manitoba.
The legislation introduced Wednesday follows an earlier controversial wage-freeze bill for public servants that was struck down by the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench on June 11. Justice Joan McKelvey called Bill 28 "draconian," and ruled that it violated the freedom of association rights of public servants under Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government appealed the decision to the Manitoba Court of Appeal.
Manitoba has undergone a major evolution in labour relations, including around the time of the last pandemic — dubbed the Spanish flu — more than a century ago.
In 1918, Manitoba passed the Minimum Wage Act that provided for a basic living wage.
In 1948, Manitoba's Labour Relations Act was introduced in an attempt to address labour issues that had been "put on hold" for the sake of the war effort, said Thiessen. It has been amended many times since its creation, she said.
Bill 16 — the latest Labour Relations Amendment Act introduced by the Progressive Conservatives this week — undoes several provisions of the LRA (Labour Relations Act) enacted by earlier NDP governments, continuing a legacy of the Filmon PC government in the 1990s, said Thiessen.
Pallister said the bill aims to fix a power imbalance created by his NDP predecessors.
"I think the system we inherited was biased in one direction so we're looking to make it more equitable and fair," he told reporters Thursday.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
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