Following the recommendations of an expert panel the BC NDP government is updating the labour relations code. The B.C. Green Caucus appreciates the work of the panel and supports their recommendations.
In my second reading debate, I highlight the B.C. Green Caucus effort to address the issue of the historical pendulum swings in labour relations in British Columbia. The panel was clear that policy lurch is not in the interest of employers or employees. They stated emphatically in the executive summary that policy driven by the ideology of the political party in power hurts business competitiveness and upsets balance, certainty and predictability.
In addition, I spend a majority of my time in this debate discussing the changing nature of work and remuneration in the 21st century. This goes hand-in-hand with the issue of policy lurch highlighted above. We cannot adequately address these modern problems with solutions from the last century. It’s time for us to have an honest and relevant discussion about the issues around the labour market, nature of work, and the workforce.
The broad issues dealt with in the legislative update cover four main areas. First, I want to highlight the extension of successorship protection to the re-tendering of contracts in building cleaning, janitorial, security, bus transportation, non-clinical (healthcare) and food services. This is an excellent change that protects people who are vulnerable to contract flipping.
For union certification the bill maintains the current secret ballot method that is in place. It gives the Labour Relations Board broader discretion to impose union certification when an employer is found to improperly interfere with the certification process. In addition, they have shortened the time between the application and union certification vote from ten to five business days.
With respect to union raids the new legislation modifies the open periods when unions can raid each other. The current legislation allows for raids to occur in the seventh or eighth month of each year of the collective agreement. The amendments will amend the period of raids as follows:
- For collective agreements of three years or less, raids may occur in the seventh or eighth month of the last year of the agreement,
- For collective agreements of more than three years, raids may occur in the seventh or eighth month of the third year of the agreement, and in each subsequent year, and
- In the construction sector, however, it will allow raids to continue in July and August of each year, rather than the seventh or eighth month in later years of the agreement.
Finally, this Labour Relations Code update removes references to educational programs as “essential services” in recognition of the 2015 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that the right to strike is constitutionally protected, and that essential services are limited to a “clear and imminent threat to the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population.” As a result, the Labour Relations Board will continue to have discretion to establish essential services in the education sector if a dispute poses a threat to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of B.C.
I feel that the B.C. Green Caucus has had a stabilizing effect on labour relations in this round of legislative updates and the result is this moderated Bill. Certainly, not everyone will get everything they want but it addresses some substantial issues. Finally, if there is a change in government in the future it’s very unlikely that we will see a similar situation as we have seen in the past where they rip up the legislation and swing in the opposite direction.
It’s an honour to be able to stand today and speak to Bill 30, the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act. I thank all of the speakers who spoke before me.
It’s interesting. Before I get into my prepared comments, I just wanted to make a couple of comments on some of the language that we use here.
“Workers” and “Taxpayers”
I recognize that we often use the terms “workers” and “taxpayers” and the importance that both have in our economy. I want to, I think, draw us back to the fact that what we’re talking about is people. It’s easy for us to classify and characterize the taxpayer and the worker. In a way, we separate the humanity that’s in that and the people that are in that. I just want to draw us back to this, because I think that so often the rhetoric in this place reaffirms that disconnect that can happen.
I’m happy to rise and take my place in the debate on this Labour Relations Code Amendment Act. In addition to speaking to the changes of this bill, I want to focus on the context in which this debate is taking place and appeal to all of us in this place to look more deliberately at the changes in front of us today and those that are on the horizon.
We need to have a modern, evidence-based conversation about the state of our economy and how to adapt to the profound changes that are before us today. We’re not being responsible legislators if we continue to have the same debates that we’ve been having for the past 30 years and automatically just adopting the same positions that we’ve always taken. We cannot continue to simply break down along the old partisan lines, accountable to the same stakeholders, without talking honestly about what’s changed in our economy and how we need to adapt our laws and policies to best serve British Columbians.
Code review panel
The panel that reviewed the labour code and issued recommendations…. I, along with the previous speaker, would also like to thank them for their work and the minister for putting in place a panel to take a very deep look at the issues surrounding labour. They issued recommendations to government that made the shortcomings in our approach to date abundantly clear in the introduction to their report.
They highlighted how successive governments have politicized labour legislation for their own partisan gains. In their words: “There have been a number of pendulum swings in important code provisions over the past 30 years, largely depending on the governing political party. This is not consistent with predictability, certainty or balance.” Instead, the panel made a case that it is essential that we avoid pendulum swings by implementing balanced changes that are sustainable.
They pointed out that certainty and predictability are critically important considerations for investment decisions and the competitive position of British Columbians in a globalized economy. And we know it’s increasingly globalized.
Moderate and reasonable
To that end, I’m supportive of the legislation that we have in front of us today, which is moderate and reasonable and makes some important and long-overdue changes. I hope that this time we’ve managed to avoid another extreme swing, as was pointed out by the panel, and that when a new government comes into power in the future, that they simply won’t think that it’s their job to repeal these changes and implement their own. That instead, we’ve created a stable foundation that can be built on as things continue to change. Instead of going back and forth between left and right, we need to continue to move forward.
In 1973 when the code was established, the economic landscape, the nature of work and the way business operates were all fundamentally different than they are today. Yet the legislation that governs our labour relationships in this province has not substantively changed to reflect the new reality.
Many of the shifts we’ve seen in the first decade of the 21st century are profound. As I describe some of these changes, I’ll draw on the work of the labour code review panel, who did an excellent job of clearly framing our new reality. The modern economy is defined by both globalization and the fissuring of the economy. Since the 1980s, markets have become increasingly globalized. Capital is becoming more mobile, meaning we must compete like never before at a global scale of investment. As this globalization has been accompanied by the fissuring of the economy, companies have increasingly started to use outsourcing in contract relationships to reduce costs and achieve greater flexibility. Companies are using more part-time, agency, contract and temporary workers.
The fissuring of the economy places downward pressures on wages and increases the precarity of work. These shifts are having a profound impact on peoples’ lives. Just ten years ago, the world of work looked very different. According to Forbes, workers currently stay in a job for an average of 4.4 years — a number that has been steadily declining for decades. It dramatically declined from just my grandfather’s generation, as he did the same kind of work for his entire career.
Young people starting out in their careers can no longer count on permanent, full-time positions with benefits. Instead, they’re looking at cobbling together different positions over their lives and dealing with the drawbacks and the fundamental insecurity that that creates. Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau has even told Canadians to get used to “job churn.”
Unprecedented technological changes
We’re also seeing technological change in an unprecedented scope and scale. The review panel points out that the gig economy has been accelerated through the use of technology to connect workers with consumers for one-off jobs performed by on demand. Moreover, many companies today are using independent contractors instead of employees. Sarah Kessler, the author of Gigged, gives an example to this — what the gig economy looks like.
“You probably don’t think of Sears as a gig economy company. The store outsources its customer service to a specialized company, which contracts that work to a small business. That small business hires independent contractors who have no direct connection to Sears to answer phone calls about broken air conditioners and heaters. It’s technology that enables this odd nesting doll of employment, from the unpaid, weeks-long, on-line training courses freelance representatives are required to take to the digital platform where crowds of workers claim shifts for the coming weeks to the on-line databases representatives use to look up information about appliances.”
Maybe I shouldn’t make a comment about the situation that Sears is in, in this country now, as they are no longer on the landscape.
The review panel says: “This kind of work makes it difficult to determine who the employer is and where the person works, which are necessary preconditions for a collective bargaining relationship under the code. The traditional concepts of employment may no longer be applicable in the gig economy.”
This is a fundamental problem. If the employment relationships on which this legislation is based are no longer the reality for a growing number of British Columbians, then we need to have a far bigger and deeper conversation about how we deal with this new reality. CIBC observes that the quality of Canadian jobs is undergoing “a slow but steady deterioration” and that “the share of workers who are paid below the average wage has risen over the years to just under 61 percent in 2015.”
Seeing that the chair from the committee is here, I’ll adjourn and reserve my right to continue.
A. Olsen moved adjournment of debate.
Report and Third Reading of Bills
BILL 24 — BUSINESS CORPORATIONS
AMENDMENT ACT, 2019
Bill 24, Business Corporations Amendment Act, 2019, reported complete without amendment, read a third time and passed.
Hon. M. Farnworth: In Committee A, I call Bill M209: Business Corporations Amendment Act (No. 2), 2019, and in this chamber, I call continued debate on Bill 30, the Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2019.
Second Reading of Bills
BILL 30 — LABOUR RELATIONS CODE
AMENDMENT ACT, 2019
Deputy Speaker: Member will continue with the debate.
A. Olsen: The review panel warns us that “the continuing erosion of the middle-class jobs, increasing precarity and polarization between relatively low-paid precarious work and highly paid, skilled workers and fewer middle-skilled jobs….”
This isn’t a reality that we can allow to continue. Now, I want to be clear about one thing. I’m not against change. Innovation can be a driver for a sustainable prosperity, and we should welcome and harness innovation. We, in the Green caucus, are enthusiastic about an innovative and sustainable private sector. We know the health and well-being of British Columbians is tied to the economy.
However, government needs to ensure that people are not just a factor of production, working for the economy, but that the economy is working for people. We’re not having an honest conversation in this place about how the world has changed and what we are doing to help British Columbians in this new reality. We have fallen way behind, continuing the debates of 30 years ago. We will fail our responsibility to British Columbians if we don’t change this approach.
Guided by values
There are a few principles that should serve as a starting point to guide the work that needs to happen in this place from all sides. First, our values. It should go without saying, but people should be at the centre of every decision that we make. We are dangerously close to a type of capitalism where companies can operate without any rules; where, in fact, they set the rules, and governments are left to play catch-up.
Second, we can’t be stagnant. We should encourage and harness innovation and change in line with our values. We have to actively look to the future, consider the world we want to create and map out how we are going to get there. This means that our approach to innovation should be aimed at advancing the needs of British Columbians and of our communities. It should make lives better and communities stronger and more resilient.
Third, we should be led by expertise, not partisan interests. We should unleash the civil service, the experts who work in this place, to attack these problems ahead of us. We have an emerging economy task force, tasked with starting to look at the future of business in British Columbia, and they’re providing recommendations to government on how best to position B.C. for success. This, incidentally, was an idea from the B.C. Green platform. Their expertise will be invaluable in informing the way we go from here.
Stabilizing labour debate
This leads me to the work of the review panel and their recommendations, which are behind most of the changes before us in this bill. We are happy to see that government chose to model this legislation on the recommendations of the panel, including on issues like successorship and union certification.
Extending successorship protections to workers and people in sectors vulnerable to contract flipping is an overdue step that will have a real impact on people’s lives. When contract flipping occurs, often we see the same workers continuing to do the same work at the same location with the same equipment. However, because the contract is flipped, these workers, these people, lose the benefits of their collective agreement and have to start all over again. I am proud that we’ll be ending this practice in these key sectors and providing more income security for people vulnerable to this practice.
On certification, where we’ve seen swings between secret ballot and card check, depending on the government of the day, the panel again provided a moderate and reasonable way forward, and one that I am happy to accept. The panel made clear in their recommendations to keep the secret ballot, that it must be paired with other changes that effectively limit and fully remediate unlawful interference. This is critical. The law should be creating an environment where people can exercise their right to choose whether to unionize, free from pressure and interference.
By implementing their recommendations, shortening the time frame for voting from ten days to five days, strengthening the power of the Labour Relations Board to order remedial certification in cases of unlawful employer interference, I believe that this bill strikes that balance.
Not a binary
It will be important to monitor this going forward to ensure that these changes are having their intended effect. On these changes and others, the review panel provided thoughtful, balanced recommendations on how to update the labour code. In their words: “Labour relations in B.C. should not result in a binary, mutually exclusive choice between the protection of fundamental workers’ rights” — people’s rights — “productivity and the business sector. Economic growth can be achieved alongside flexible, innovative protections and practices under the code.” I believe we’ve taken steps toward that goal today.
However, we urgently need to have the broader conversation, the bigger conversation that I have alluded to in these remarks. We need to consider the profound changes taking hold of our economy today and have a deeper look at how we need to adapt our laws, regulations and policies to this new world.
I thank, again, the minister for putting this bill forward and for this opportunity to stand and speak to it today. I’ll take my seat now.