| March 14
March 14 A Canadian clamp-down preventing
labor action in the private sector is unprecedented and not in
the best interests of either workers or employers, labor
relations experts said on Wednesday.
Canada's House of Commons passed a bill overnight that
prevents both a strike and a lockout at Air Canada
, the country's biggest airline, and it should become
law by the end of the week.
It's the fourth time that the federal government has stepped
in to stop a strike or lock-out since it won a majority in
Parliament last May.
Three of the interventions were against Air Canada and its
unions, after the government argued that a shutdown would hurt
the domestic economy. And, unusually, two of those interventions
took place even before a strike had started.
"I would go so far as to say there is not another single
example where it has been pre-emptive," George Smith, a labor
relations expert at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario,
said of the government's quick fire actions.
Announcing her decisions to act, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt
has said it is Ottawa's duty to protect Canadian businesses and
But David Doorey, a labor and employment law professor at
York University in Toronto, said the new legislation was
worrying in that it grants Raitt the right to select an
arbitrator without input from the parties, and takes away their
right to challenge her choice.
The arbitrator will weigh up competing proposals from the
union and company, and choose a contract to impose.
"This is disturbing, given that Minister Raitt has a history
of choosing arbitrators who have no experience in labor
relations and are objectionable to one or both of the parties,"
The union at Canada Post, where striking employees were
legislated back to work by Ottawa last June, later challenged
Raitt's appointment of an arbitrator in their dispute arguing
that he had no labor relations experience.
More recently, a mediator appointed by Raitt to reach a
settlement between Air Canada and its pilots quit after friction
with the pilots' union.
This week's bill also lays out terms and conditions for the
arbitrator to consider in selecting a final offer, "which just
happen to be those which Air Canada would like to be
emphasized", Doorey said.
"The government's deep involvement in this private
collective bargaining process is unprecedented," he added.
INTERVENTION NOT THAT UNUSUAL
In making her case to Parliament this week, Raitt said
various Canadian governments, and most frequently the now
opposition Liberal Party, had used back-to-work legislation more
than 30 times since 1950.
But Smith said that generally came after prolonged labor
stoppages at ports or railroads.
The government's involvement at the bargaining table is not
good for either workers or employers as it takes away the need
for either side to compromise and may result in an agreement
that is skewed to one party.
Collective bargaining causes both parties "to put a little
water in their wine and agree on something that they can both
live with, short of inflicting economic Armageddon on each
other," Smith said.
The government had already temporarily staved off a
simultaneous strike this week by Air Canada's mechanics and a
lock-out of its pilots by asking the Canada Industrial Relations
Board to determine if the airline is an essential service.