THE BLOG

The Tories Attack on the Middle Class Should Worry You

12/04/2013 12:43 EST | Updated 02/03/2014 05:59 EST

The Conservative government is engaged in a campaign to distract their supporters from a series of Senate scandals and cover ups. The Conservative fundraising machine believes that if it feeds its base a constant diet of someone to dislike, the donation cheques will keep rolling in. Workers and their unions are their current targets with a long list of legislation designed to keep their base happy.

The Conservative government's recent volleys against workers and their unions will only serve to undercut the well-being and security of middle-class families in Canada if they succeed in pushing through their anti-union legislation. The Globe and Mail said as much in a recent series of articles on growing inequality in Canada -- "declining unionization has contributed to wage inequality."

Canada's labour movement is not just about decent jobs, it's about a better life for everyone. Unions have worked to protect good jobs, make workplaces safer, fought for paid vacation time, public health insurance and the Canada Pension Plan. When union members stand up for fairness everyone benefits -- whether you belong to a union or not.

Canadians will see through the government's attempts to divide people against one another. At one end of the legislative spectrum, the government uses giant omnibus bills to throw everything but the kitchen sink into one piece of legislation. The current budget bill runs to 308 pages and in the fine print it makes sudden and dramatic changes to the Canada Labour Code. One of those changes would place workers' lives at risk by eroding their right to refuse dangerous work.

Other amendments to federal labour laws would erode workers' constitutional right to bargain collectively by letting the government unilaterally, without negotiation, change the rules for bargaining with their employees. To add insult to injury, witnesses to the parliamentary committee studying the bill who would speak out against the changes were deliberately scheduled to testify after the deadline for the committee to make amendments passed.

What is the government really trying to fix here? We know that well over 99 per cent of all collectively bargained contracts in Canada result in an agreement rather than a strike or lockout. There was no consultation with any of the parties affected by this proposed legislation, and changing the rules without consultation and negotiation is simply heavy-handed and unfair. Given the Supreme Court of Canada will soon rule on very similar legislation introduced by the Saskatchewan government, the ideological cousins of this government, it's also premature.

At the other end of the legislative spectrum, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) is offending parliamentary tradition by using its influence to introduce Private Member's Bills and to force their passage. That is what happened with Bill C-377, an unconstitutional piece of legislation that will force labour organizations (but no one else) to undertake costly and time consuming reporting of even the most minute of financial transactions.

Bill C-377 was supposedly the initiative of backbench Conservative MP Russ Hiebert but we know that special interest groups met frequently with the PMO, including the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff Nigel Wright, and the PMO exerted pressure in order for the bill to pass.

The senate found Bill C-377 to be so offensive that it was sent back to the House of Commons in June with numerous amendments. But then the Prime Minister shut down Parliament and Bill C-377 is now going to be sent to the senate all over again. Bill C-377 is ideologically-motivated and aimed at wasting union members' money and it is not needed. Our members already have access to financial information about the unions to which they belong.

Bill C-525, another Private Member's Bill put forward by a Conservative MP, would make it nearly impossible for workers in the federally-regulated sector to join a union. The bill would consider workers who don't bother to vote in a certification vote as casting "no" ballots on having a union. That's not democratic -- giving those who don't vote control over those who do. If those rules applied to electing MPs, Parliament would be empty. One set of rules for Conservatives and a different set for workers -- that's unfair.

Finally, the recent Conservative Party convention in Calgary passed a number of aggressively anti-worker resolutions. One of them would allow some workers to stop paying union dues but still receive all the benefits that the union negotiates - all at the expense of their coworkers who do pay their dues. Leave it to ethically-challenged Conservatives, counselling people that it's okay to dine and dash at a restaurant while leaving others at your table to pay the bill. That's unfair and it's a recipe for conflict and disruption in the workplace.

This government puts its extreme ideology ahead of all other considerations, but Canadians see these bullying tactics for what they are. The CLC and its affiliates ran a television advertising campaign during October and November 2013. We talked directly to Canadians about the positive role that the labour movement plays in our society. The response to our campaign has been overwhelmingly positive from both union members and the public at large. That response and our polling shows that we are on the side of the vast majority of Canadians. They will support a labour movement that works in the interest of fairness for everyone.

Ken Georgetti is president of the 3.3 million member Canadian Labour Congress.