TORONTO - Ontario's Progressive Conservatives are calling for an overhaul of labour laws to give unions less power in the workplace.
The Tories released their second policy "white paper" Wednesday that says provincial rules should be changed to block the mandatory paycheque deductions of union dues, and give workers the option of not joining a union in workplaces with collective agreements.
Some public sector workers, including teachers, can't opt out of union membership.
These and other changes to the labour system are needed to get unions to "adapt" in an era of flagging manufacturing employment, the paper states.
It points to recent plant closures, including the February closure of a Caterpillar locomotive plant in London, Ont., and its relocation to Indiana, a state which brought in a "right-to-work" law earlier this year barring automatic union dues collection.
The Tory paper says the London shutdown is a sign of the times, with lower-wage and lower-benefit labour pools in the southern U.S. and Mexico scooping up once-secure manufacturing work in the province.
It all requires a realignment of Ontario's labour rules, the paper states.
"It’s time the law is modernized to give Ontario employees more choice and control, and to encourage the kind of flexible workforce Ontario businesses need to be competitive," it reads.
Tory Leader Tim Hudak said in a statement the changes would boost the number of jobs in the province.
“The world has changed, and our economy has changed with it,” Hudak said.
“But the rules governing the workplace, and the way unions are run, have not. It’s time to open up economic opportunities for individual workers, not union bosses."
Reaction to the Tory plan from one of the province's largest union groups came quickly.
It's CEOs, not workers, who would be the real winners under Tories' proposed changes, said Ontario Federation of Labour president Sid Ryan.
“When Hudak calls for a ‘flexible workforce’ what he really means is a low wage and precarious one," the labour leader said in a statement.
The Tory paper also recommends unions be forced to release information on their finances and what they spend money on.
And it calls for workplace insurance, currently exclusively provided by the Workplace Safety Insurance Board for some industries, to be opened up to competition from the private sector.
Rules on how the province and municipal governments put contracts out for tender should also be given a shake-up, the report states, by ending the practice of "closed tendering," which requires contracts to go to companies employing union members.
The 20-page analysis comes after the party's first white paper last month.
That document laid out a plan for a sweeping privatization of Ontario's electricity system.
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