On behalf of the International Association on Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), we would like to thank the Committee for giving us the opportunity to express our views on Bill C-33.
As the union representing the 8,600 members of the Air Canada Technical, Maintenance and Operational Support employees at Air Canada who are directly affected by this legislation, we were not given a chance to appear before a House of Commons Committee due to the Bill’s rapid passage through the House.
We are deeply disappointed by this misconceived legislation, which takes away our members’ right to strike and fundamentally undermines collective bargaining in the federal jurisdiction across Canada.
We have been bargaining in good faith with Air Canada for several months. After failing to reach a settlement, our members voted a strike mandate, and we gave notice of our intention to legally strike under the terms of the Canada Labour Code as of 12:01 a.m., March 12. Even though we had served the strike notice, we were prepared to bargain right up to the deadline to reach an acceptable agreement and avoid a stoppage.
While our strike action would likely have stopped Air Canada operations and caused inconvenience to some Canadians, there is no evidence, contrary to the Labour Minister’s claim, that an Air Canada strike would have had a significant negative impact on the Canadian economy.
Unfortunately, the Minister has intervened in this dispute, first by a referral to the Canada Industrial Relations Board under Section 87.4 of the Code, and now through this legislation.
Clearly, the CIRB referral was simply a delaying tactic, as an Air Canada work stoppage poses no risk to the health and safety of Canadians – a fact acknowledged by Air Canada, who have never sought an essential services designation under the Code.
Bill C-33 is a direct attack on workers and collective bargaining in the federal jurisdiction. Since virtually any strike would have some economic impact, the government is basically eliminating the right to strike in the federal jurisdiction. This takes away a fundamental right – the right of workers to cooperate and withhold their labour – the main offset that workers have to the overwhelming power of the employer.
While outlawing strikes may seem like a way to enforce labour relations harmony, it has the opposite effect.
The elimination of the right to strike undermines labour relations and collective bargaining. Without the consequences of a potential work stoppage, there is little pressure on the negotiating parties to make the trade-offs that are necessary for effective bargaining.
Without the possibility of a stoppage that “clears the air”, workplace problems fester, and the labour relations climate deteriorates. It does the employer no favour to create an unhappy workforce for the duration of the imposed agreement.
Beyond the fact that it undermines free collective bargaining, Bill C-33 is deeply flawed piece of legislation. It is heavy-handed and tilted in favour of the employer, Air Canada.
The Bill’s use of Final Offer Selection is totally inappropriate. While interest arbitration based on Final Offer Selection may be appropriate where there is only a single item or issue to be decided, it is a terrible method for dealing with a complex collective agreement in which there are many issues and items to be considered and weighed.
The Final Offer process ties the hands of the arbitrator in crafting a balanced deal, and may force him or her to select an unworkable proposal, as the “lesser of evils”. If the objective is ongoing labour peace, giving an interest arbitrator broader leeway to produce a fair settlement is a more sensible approach.
We are also concerned that Section 14(2) of the Bill seems to direct the arbitrator to set the tentative agreement of February 10, which was rejected by our membership, as an upper limit on the terms of the settlement. This is deeply unfair, as we were working with Air Canada on improvements to this deal, even as the Minister intervened.
Finally, we have some concern about Section 34(1)(a) of the Bill, which would levy a fine of up to $50,000 per day on an individual “acting in the capacity of an officer or representative of the” employer or union, in addition to a fine of up to $1,000 a day for other individuals and up to $100,000 for the employer or union itself.
While we have no intention of violating the law or counseling any of our members to disobey this or any other legislation, we are concerned that there is no clear definition of what it would mean to act in the capacity of an officer or representative of the union. We are concerned that a member who is a steward or a member of a local committee who is found to be in breach of this legislation might be considered to be acting as an officer or representative and subject to a fine of $50,000 a day. This goes beyond any reasonable penalty.
This Bill is deeply unfair and undermines free collective bargaining and labour relations in Canada. We urge the Senate to send it back to the House of Commons for serious reconsideration.
We would welcome your questions.
General Vice President