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PCA Canada: B.C. labour code changes are a setback for worker rights

Paul de Jong, president of PCA, shares his thoughts on the negative impacts

Twice, B.C.’s New Democrats campaigned on the theme “working for you.”

Now, as Premier Horgan’s majority government revamps the province’s labour laws, it’s clear the “you” in that campaign pledge does not apply to many hard-working people in B.C., most notably those who make up a majority of the province’s construction workforce.

For a party that presumes to represent and speak on behalf of working-class families, B.C.’s NDP government has strayed a long way from its roots. Thousands of people in this province support their families by making their living in construction, an industry accounting for $23 billion, or more than 9% of B.C.’s GDP.

Despite their enormous contribution to the economy, it seems the Horgan government has chosen not to work for the vast majority of construction workers, 85% of which decided not to affiliate with Horgan’s favoured Building Trades Unions (BTUs).

Consequently, this government’s track record on fairness and respect for a worker’s right to join a union of his or her choice or none at all is shaky at best.

Recently, the province introduced labour code amendments that appear to serve no other purpose than to shore up the BTU’s flagging membership, which constitutes just 15% of B.C.’s construction workforce.

In a disturbing reversal of a 2019 decision to keep ballots secret for workplace union certifications, the Horgan government is stripping the most basic of worker rights by moving to automatic certification and allowing B.C. unions to organize construction workers without the key mechanism of a secret ballot.

Every municipal, provincial and federal election in Canada relies on a secret ballot vote. It’s the same system that most unions have adopted to elect their officials. By doing away with the practice, the government has ignored the advice of its own Labour Relations panel, which determined that a secret ballot is the most democratic way to go.

But the steamrolling doesn’t stop there.

Without any fulsome consultation with industry, and again against the advice of its expert panel, the NDP government made another labour code change that dramatically impacts construction workers and employers. It is eliminating the current three-year open period, which strikes a reasonable balance.

The three-year open period allows for adequate representation for workers and a stable, productive workforce that construction employers can rely on. By reverting back to a one-year open period, the government has opened the door wide for unions to raid other unions during the height of summer construction season. It’s a move that could wreak havoc on an industry already struggling with severe labour shortages.

These labour code changes are in addition to a damaging piece of NDP public policy that has been fiercely opposed by the majority of B.C.’s construction industry, and for good reason.

B.C.’s uniquely contrived version of a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) is really a restrictive Project Labour Agreement, which bars most construction workers from building key public projects like the Pattullo Bridge Replacement and Broadway Subway project unless they pay dues and agree to join the minority Building Trades Unions.

1134503827 Pattullo Bridge
Pattullo Bridge. Photo via iStock

Funnelling large taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects to select unions isn’t right on any level. It’s driven up the cost of public projects by more than $400 million, a bill footed by taxpayers, and it’s left 85% of B.C.’s construction sector on the sidelines.

The combined effect of monopolistic CBAs, annual raiding periods, and the demise of the secret ballot for union certification not only hurts workers and employers.

It amounts to a flashing yield sign for potential investors. Whether they’re looking to fund corporate or institutional construction projects in B.C., it’s hard to ignore the inherent risks created by these flawed labour laws.

The result is a “lose-lose-lose” dynamic, making it impossible for workers, employers, or B.C. taxpayers to put much faith in a government that’s supposed to be working for all British Columbians.

Paul de Jong is president of the Progressive Contractors Association of Canada (PCA).