Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
My name is Mark Rowlinson. I'm the assistant to the Canadian national director of the United Steelworkers. I've also been a practising labour lawyer for the union for about 20 years.
The United Steelworkers is one of the largest industrial unions in Canada, with about 225,000 members from coast to coast to coast. We're part of an international union that has about 800,000 members across North America. We represent a diverse membership in almost every part of the private sector, along with thousands of public sector workers in hospitals, nursing homes, universities, and among security guards. We also advocate on behalf of roughly 100,000 retirees and their families across Canada.
While many of our members work under provincial law regimes, we also represent about 25,000 members in the federal jurisdictions, including workers employed in airport security, transportation, energy, and telecommunications.
Labour legislation in all jurisdictions in Canada is important to our union, as it is to all labour organizations across the country. We are concerned about any legislation that may interfere with either the spirit or the substance of fundamental labour rights, like the right to join unions and the right to bargain collectively.
We're very grateful for the opportunity to appear before you today, as we're concerned about how the Government of Canada responds to and complies with the important Supreme Court of Canada decision in the MPAO case, which the Supreme Court issued a little over a year ago.
The MPAO decision was one of a series of decisions by our country's highest court that clarifies the scope of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights under the charter. We were a plaintiff in the SFL case that was issued a week after the MPAO decision, and we've long taken a great interest in how the charter and labour law regimes in Canada interact.
In MPAO, as the committee will be aware, the Supreme Court affirmed that freedom of association protects the right to join and form associations, to do so in pursuit of constitutional rights, and the right to join others to meet on more equal terms the power and strength of employers.
If I might pause for a minute, I want to read you an excerpt from the decision, where the Supreme Court noted, and I'll return to this:
Individual employees typically lack the power to bargain and pursue workplace goals with their more powerful employers. Only by banding together in collective bargaining associations, thus strengthening their bargaining power with their employer, can they meaningfully pursue their workplace goals.
It is precisely that set of rights that is protected under section 2(d) of the charter.
The Supreme Court continued, “The right to a meaningful process of collective bargaining is therefore a necessary element of the right to collectively pursue workplace goals in a meaningful way”, and “A process” or legislation, I would submit, “that substantially interferes with a meaningful process of collective bargaining by reducing employees’ negotiating power is therefore inconsistent with the guarantee of freedom of association enshrined in [section] 2(d)” of the charter.
We are here today to provide a few comments on Bill C-7, and to express our concern that in some areas Bill C-7 grants the right to join a union and collectively bargain to RCMP employees and officers on the one hand, but on the other hand it also erodes that right through limits on association and the scope of bargaining.
I want to review a number of points where we have concerns, given that background about Bill C-7.
First, is the configuration of the bargaining unit. In the bill under its present form, as the committee will be aware, civilian RCMP members are excluded from the bargaining unit. There is no justification, in our view, for excluding employees of the same employer from the bargaining unit, other than to erode the collective bargaining position of the union. In both federal and provincial jurisdictions across Canada, labour relations boards have for decades preferred broad-based, all-employee units.
While we agree with the bill's exclusion of officers in their capacity of management, the list of ranks that are considered officers is set by Governor in Council. The number of officers in each rank who are excluded, as prescribed by the Treasury Board, means the employer has essentially the exclusive power to decide who is included and excluded from the bargaining unit as an officer. This is an exception to the normal rule in Canadian labour relation regimes, which provides that managerial exclusions and other exclusions from the bargaining unit are determined by independent labour relations boards.
Second, and this is perhaps the one point I want to emphasize the most this morning, are the very vague and general limits on affiliation that are contained in Bill C-7.
Under Bill C-7, to be certified, an employee organization must be, among other things, “not affiliated with a bargaining agent or other association that does not have as its primary mandate the representation of police officers”.
We fully respect and understand the limit that the bargaining agent itself must be an organization that is primarily devoted to the representation of police officers; however, we are at a loss to understand this very general and vague point that the bargaining agent must not have any affiliation with other organizations. We submit that this is a serious infringement on freedom of association, and there are clearly less restrictive ways to deal with issues of the independence of the bargaining agent than this one.
We would refer the committee to the Ontario Police Services Act, which deals with this issue in a different way in that, for police unions in Ontario, the only limit to their ability to affiliate applies to individual members and prevents them from actually joining another union without approval. However, the Ontario Police Services Act appears to rightly allow collaboration and affiliation with members of other unions and other labour organizations.
This would seem, for example, to allow members of the RCMP union—should there be one—who are affiliated with other organizations to provide that union with advice, support, and so on and so forth, and would actually allow the police union to become a part of a broader movement and to seek the assistance of other organizations. We don't think that at all threatens the independence of the RCMP potential union and we think it is an important right for them. This could take the support in terms of one-off support for a particular campaign or initiative. For example, police unions across the country were very important in the campaign around Bill C-377, which was introduced by the former government, and worked within the broader movement on those sorts of issues.
We are suggesting that this restriction on affiliation, again, is extremely general and will be very hard to understand by someone from outside the organization and from the broader labour movement.
Our union, for example, has a wide range of different relationships with different unions. We have strategic alliances with some unions, we collaborate with other unions, and we provide resources, whether that's use of our buildings or collaboration or training with other organizations. Again, it's not clear to us that such a broad restriction is necessary.
The third point I want to comment on, and only very briefly, is limits on the scope of collective bargaining in Bill C-7. I know the committee has already heard a great deal about the limits on the scope of collective bargaining that are contained in the legislation, and I won't belabour the point other than to say that limiting the scope of collective bargaining, as the legislation does, in such a broad and pervasive manner, constitutes a significant infringement, in our view, on the rights of RCMP officers as enshrined in section 2(d) of the charter. We submit that the legislation is over-broad in precluding negotiation over transfers, promotions, discharges, and demotions; conduct, including harassment; the basic rights for carrying out the duties of an officer; as well as equipment matters.
Further, of course, Bill C-7 limits the outcome of binding arbitration. We understand and support the idea that collective agreements should be resolved by binding arbitration, but again, the fact that the arbitrator will be precluded from dealing with that wide range of issues in our view further reinforces the restriction and the possible infringement on section 2(d) of the charter. We would submit to you that it substantially interferes in their collective bargaining rights.
The fourth issue that I want to mention is the factors in the binding interest arbitration regime that is set forth for RCMP officers. Here Bill C-7 essentially provides that the factors that are already set out in the PSLRA to guide an arbitration board in imposing a collective agreement will also apply to the RCMP union, should there be one.
In particular, section 148 of the PSLRA, which was amended and implemented by the previous federal government, requires that the arbitration board consider:
(a) the necessity of attracting competent persons to, and retaining them in, the public service in order to meet the needs of Canadians; and (b) Canada’s fiscal circumstances relative to its stated budgetary policies.
These provisions of the PSLRA were introduced, as I mentioned, by the previous Conservative government, and the fact that they've been maintained in Bill C-7 we think is problematic. The fact that the legislation requires an arbitrator to give preponderant weight to these two factors compromises the independence of an arbitrator and creates a built-in bias in the interests of the arbitration process by essentially requiring an arbitrator, rather than to act independently, to implement what amounts to government policy.
Bill C-7 imposes an additional constraint on the arbitration process in that it provides that the board must consider “the impact of the determination on the operational effectiveness of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police” in imposing collective agreement terms.
This requirement is unique to Bill C-7 and is not required for any other federal public sector employees. Given that RCMP members do not have the right to strike and the fact that bargaining impasses must be resolved by way of interest arbitration, this is a new factor, which unnecessarily and in our view inappropriately biases the interest arbitration process in favour of the employer.