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Labour Code Reform

Minister of Labour Harry Bains announced changes to the BC Labour Relations Code this April.
Minister of Labour Harry Bains announced changes to the BC Labour Relations Code this April.

Changes to the BC Labour Relations Code announced by the NDP in April will increase protections for workers for the first time in almost 30 years. The move comes after Labour Minister Harry Bains appointed a three-member panel to review the Code and conduct province-wide public consultations last year.

Established in 1973, the Labour Relations Code regulates the relationship between organized labour and employers, including how workers join unions and how collective bargaining disputes are resolved. It had not undergone substantive public review since 1992. Then, in 2003 the governing Liberals gutted the Code, altering it to favour employers and business interests. But a trio of legal decisions in the intervening years confirmed the rights of workers to associate, bargain in good faith and withdraw their labour.

“Not only was the Labour Relations Code unfair to workers, it didn’t keep pace with legal changes, which meant it infringed upon workers’ rights guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” says President Kim Novak. “These changes are long overdue and are definitely a step in the right direction to bring fairness and balance back to labour relations in British Columbia.”

Over the past year, labour activists, leaders and organizations lobbied for changes to the outdated Code. The BC Federation of Labour, an umbrella organization representing 500,000 unionized workers, launched a social media campaign called “Workers Deserve Better” to highlight the personal stories of people negatively impacted by broken and unfair labour laws.

In its 11-page submission, UFCW 1518 advocated for a number of changes, including reducing the maximum time allowed for the vote to join a union. The panel agreed, and among its 29 recommendations was one to shorten the time between an application for union certification and an employee vote. “Our organizers continually witness employer intimidation of workers during union drives,” President Novak explains. “This will limit the amount of time employers have to discourage workers from exercising their legal right to unionize.” The panel recommended that the Labour Relations Board be given broader discretion to impose union certification when an employer is found to have unduly interfered with the certification process.

“We also asked that the Code be strengthened to ensure that workers in franchised businesses are better protected,” comments Secretary-Treasurer Patrick Johnson. “In the past three decades, we’ve seen the growth of franchising, which allows previously common employers to be separated into individual bargaining units. This divide and conquer approach made it easy to attack workers’ wages and benefits at the bargaining table.”

That recommendation was not accepted by the review panel, but Secretary-Treasurer Johnson said the union will continue to lobby the government. “This is a necessary change that impacts workers across the retail and hospitality industries. We need to make the government understand the harm that franchising causes to workers and to family-supporting jobs.”