Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good afternoon to all honourable members seated around this table today. It is with pleasure that I present some thoughts to you today on Bill C-4 on behalf of FETCO.
For those of you who are not aware, FETCO stands for Federally Regulated Employers - Transportation and Communications. With that mouthful of words, I'm sure you can appreciate why we tend to shorten our name to just FETCO.
FETCO member organizations are all federally regulated firms in the transportation and communications sectors. The common area of interest that binds us together is labour relations under the Canada Labour Code. We have existed as an employers' association for over 30 years. We are essentially the who's who in the federal sector, encompassing over 400,000 employees and representing many well-known firms such as Air Canada, Bell, CN, CP Rail, and Telus, to name just a few. Most of our member companies are heavily unionized and have a long and successful track record of tripartite engagement in federal labour relations, and I'll speak more on this issue a little later.
As you are all aware, Bill C-4 will repeal two pieces of legislation passed during the last Parliament, Bill C-377 and Bill C-525. FETCO believes that both of these bills resulted from an inappropriate process, one that did not take advantage of a pre-existing and well-established tripartite approach to labour relations.
However, given its significant labour relations implications I will spend my short time with you today focused solely on Bill C-525, the union certification and decertification bill.
FETCO was heavily engaged in the process that brought C-525 through the parliamentary process and has spoken on the record on this bill on several occasions. If I can leave but two key messages with you today that sum up the FETCO position on Bill C-525, it would be the following. Please note that I do recognize these appear to be contradictory, and I hope to explain that throughout my presentation.
First, FETCO had and continues to have concerns regarding the manner in which Bill C-525 was enacted. Second, FETCO supports the basic principles proposed in Bill C-525.
I'm sure at this point some of you are scratching your heads wondering how we can simultaneously support Bill C-525, but at the same time have concerns regarding the process used to enact it in the first place. Please let me explain.
FETCO has consistently argued in concert with organized labour, I should add, that the process used to enact Bill C-525 was inappropriate. Bill C-525 brought in a revised certification and decertification process for all federally regulated organizations via the use of a private member's bill.
While we do not view the use of private members' bills as in any way undemocratic, we do feel they should not be used for changes to the Canada Labour Code. For decades, a meaningful, tripartite, consultative mechanism has existed for such changes, where the three key stakeholders—government, labour, and management—take a deliberate approach to changes under the code and its associated regulations by consulting extensively ahead of time.
Changes to the code should only be considered after a meaningful, upfront dialogue that contemplates all related implications and assesses any change within the greater context of the entire collective bargaining environment. By using this approach via a government bill, a greater degree of rigour is applied to the process. Committees tend to have access to research and analysis and can tap into key internal resources, such as the expertise that exists within the labour program at ESDC and across other government departments.
While a private member's bill does proceed through parliamentary committee and the related process, it does not receive the same level of scrutiny as can be achieved through a meaningful consultation with all stakeholder that is represented by a government-wide approach. We have a system that works. Our suggestion is that we use it.
This brings me to my second key takeaway, which may sound contradictory, but FETCO ultimately did support the basic principles presented in Bill C-525 and is supportive of these changes within the federal collective bargaining environment.
If you'll indulge me, I'd like to read into the record today some comments presented by FETCO to the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs when Bill C-525 was being contemplated in December 2014:
Bill C-525 is a private member's bill. In its original form, it was unfairly constituted and prejudicial to unions and employees seeking [union] certification. In its original form, C-525 required that in order for a union to be certified, it would have to demonstrate in a secret ballot vote that the union had an absolute majority of employees in the appropriate bargaining unit as opposed to the majority of employees in the appropriate bargaining unit casting ballots in favour of the union. FETCO is [most] pleased that Bill C-525 was modified substantially...by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources...before passing third reading in the [House of Commons].
FETCO members prefer a secret ballot vote to a card check system for the purpose of determining if the union is to become the certified bargaining agent for employees. A secret ballot vote is the essence of true democratic choice and is entirely consistent with Canadian democratic principles. It allows each and every employee to express their true wishes without undue influence or disclosure of how they cast their ballot. This is the mechanism that is used for the electoral process in Canada. It is the fairest process. ...Furthermore, this certification process by means of a secret ballot vote based on the majority of votes cast is the standard that currently exists in the labour relations legislation in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Saskatchewan. It is a widely accepted method to determining certification in Canada. It is not new. The provisions in Bill C-525 regarding the threshold number of employees required before the Canada Industrial Relations Board will order a certification vote or a decertification vote is 40%. This is appropriate. These provisions are equally fair and are consistent with the rules for establishing certification and decertification vote thresholds in the various provincial jurisdictions. In sum, FETCO supports Bill C-525 as currently written.
Honourable members, I hope that you now better understand the genuine dilemma that Bill C-525 represents and represented for FETCO members. While we objected to the process used to enact it, we certainly supported the final language that was revealed following committee reviews in the House of Commons and the Senate.
Bill C-525 contains three key principles that FETCO continues to support.
First, it ensured that a secret vote would be required for all union certification and decertification efforts. The secret vote is fundamental in our democratic society. We cannot think of another approach that is more open and fair to employees when making these important choices.
Second, it ensured that unionization could not be achieved solely by the use of signed union cards. Employees were free to vote their conscience secretly, without fear of coercion. This approach is consistent with the majority of Canadian jurisdictions.
Third, it set the threshold for requiring a vote for certification or decertification at 40% of those that sign union cards. This is also consistent with the majority of Canadian jurisdictions. The 40% threshold is required in Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Ontario. In fact, 45% is required in British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
Bill C-525 brought the federal system in line with the majority of other jurisdictions in the Canadian labour relations system covering the majority of employees in the country, and it brought the democratic secret vote. This is why it was and still is, for that matter, supported by FETCO.
Thank you for your time and for the privilege of speaking with you today.