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Ontario labour minister warns Bill C-377 could jeopardize collective bargaining in province

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In a letter to the Senate of Canada, Ontario labour minister Linda Jeffrey says Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations) has the potential to drastically derail collective bargaining in Ontario.

TORONTO

In a letter to the Senate of Canada, Ontario labour minister Linda Jeffrey says Bill C-377, An Act to amend the Income Tax Act (requirements for labour organizations) has the potential to drastically derail collective bargaining in Ontario.

The bill has deepened the divide between union and non-union organizations in the Canadian construction industry. It passed third reading in the House of Commons on Dec. 12, and now has to be passed by the Senate to be adopted into law.

The bill will require unions and other labour groups to disclose annual reports on spending, salaries and other political activities.

Jeffrey said the Ontario government has serious concerns regarding the “inexplicably intrusive nature” of the bill’s financial disclosure obligations.

“These requirements would impose an onerous administrative burden on both organized labour and on government to collect and file these returns, potentially compromise the privacy of individuals, and could represent an unwarranted interference with the collective bargaining process in Canada,” reads the letter.

“In our government’s view, the internal administration of a union, including how dues are spent, is a matter between the union and its members. Bill C-377 seems unnecessarily provocative and without a sound public policy rationale to justify its passage.”

The letter says the Ontario Labour Relations Act, 1995 has financial accountability provisions for organized labour to their members. The act requires unions to provide a copy of an audited annual financial statement to a member who asks. If the statement is not provided or the member believes it is inadequate, the member can file a complaint with the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB).

Jeffrey writes that the government’s research shows “only a handful” of complaints have been filed with the OLRB in the last few years.

“This suggests that Ontario’s existing rules in this area currently meet the needs of organized labour members. It also suggests that unions are responsive to their members’ needs as they are the individuals who fund and elect their leadership through democratic means,” says the letter.

The letter points out that that under a Conservative Ontario government, organized labour was required to disclose to the Minster of Labour the salaries and benefits of all employees, officers and directors who earned in excess of $100,000 a year. The Minister was given the discretion to publish filings, and several reports were made public.

In the letter, Jeffrey says “these disclosure requirements failed to promote productive labour relations, nor did they provide any value-added accountability to union members that was not otherwise available through the OLRB processes. At the same time, these new requirements used up scarce government resources and were a poor use of taxpayers’ dollars.”

The requirements were repealed in 2005.

Jeffrey sys that the Liberal government has since worked hard to restore balance to labour relations in the province and that almost 98 per cent of labour contracts in Ontario are settled without disruption.

“This bill, as passed in third reading, has the potential to drastically derail collective bargaining in Ontario. In these tough economic times we need governments, organized labour, and management to work together, and this bill as passed through the House needlessly intervenes in that process.”

The Canadian Building Trades has said it will campaign against the bill in the Senate. It says the bill will endanger workers’ ability to build projects across the country and create jobs as workers rely on unions to provide necessary benefits and training with the dues they pay.

Merit Canada, which represents eight provincial open shop construction associations, was pleased with the bill’s passage as it will bring increased transparency.

DCN NEWS SERVICES

by Daily Commercial News

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