The Ontario PCs have staked out a far-right position on labour with the release Wednesday of their white paper “Paths to Prosperity: Flexible Labour Markets.”
For Ontario’s heavily organized health care sector, this is a ‘sit up and pay attention moment,’ even if the Tories chose to do it in the summer months when most are paying less attention to the goings-on at Queen’s Park.
The Tories evidently believe the path to the 21st century lies in the 19th century as they undermine the power of working people to get organized, seek reasonable wages, and expect fair treatment within the workplace.
For example, it is a head scratcher how ending source dues deductions would increase prosperity, unless they are counting the number of people Ontario’s unions would have to hire to process and collect dues invoices from tens of thousands of individual members. And the cost of all that inefficiency would be borne by the workers themselves.
Hands up those who would prefer to receive a monthly dues invoice to remit rather than having the cost simply deducted from source?
Does Hudak intend to do the same for United Way donations, Canada Savings Bonds, income taxes, employment insurance and other deductions that come off our paycheques?
There is an old expression, if you can get the milk for free, why would you buy the cow? At present if a majority of workers in a defined bargaining unit wish to join a union, everyone has to pay dues through compulsory check off. Otherwise, those who refuse to sign union cards would reap all the benefits of the negotiated collective agreement without having contributed to it.
The Tories want to give workers the opportunity to opt out from this democratic decision by their colleagues. Essentially, they propose to force the union to give away a sizeable portion of their work.
Imagine if government worked that way? What if you didn’t vote for the government in power, would you still have to pay taxes? Or could you exercise what the Tories consider to be personal freedom and opt out, using the roads, schools, hospitals and other services paid for by others?
Following their Federal cousins, the Tories would also like the union to make their detailed finances public, even to those who have nothing to do with the union and have no skin in the game.
It’s hardly like the union’s budget is secret. OPSEU’s members presently debate the union’s budget at open convention.
The Tories may create unintended consequences by doing so. A requirement to openly post expenses would allow competitors to see what unions are paying private companies for services, putting these companies at a competitive disadvantage to those who do not sell to unions.
Corporations that tightly control their proprietary information may have some difficulties with this proposal.
The real aim of the Tories is not to enhance personal choice or freedom, but to undermine labour. A weakened labour movement will make it much harder to defend jobs, fight compensation freezes and rollbacks, demand workplace safety or participate in the democratic process, including the defense of public Medicare. That’s the real agenda.
The Tories offer no comparable rules for corporations.
The real competitive advantage they are seeking is a low-wage Ontario. In the PC white paper they particularly note that the “Boston Consulting Group projects that net labour costs for manufacturing in China and the U.S. will converge around 2015.” That’s right, the agenda is to drop our wages to that of China, a country that has amongst the highest levels of economic inequality in the world.
The Tories say they are simply following the lead of Western Provinces, but no province has yet to implement such an attack on labour. The Saskatchewan government of Brad Wall began a consultation process on a wide range of proposals that would throw that province’s labour relations into the dark ages, but nothing has yet to be enacted.
Ontario’s PC white paper continues to change the balance of economic life by undermining the labour board, allowing employers to opt out of WSIB by moving to other insurance carriers (and in the process walk away from the WSIB’s unfunded liability), attacking the concept of seniority and so much more.
The net effect will be a surge in the growing inequality that already exists in this province. As an economist, you would think Tim Hudak would understand how growing inequality undermines economic stability.
If workers are earning less, they also will be spending less. Henry Ford understood this when he recognized his workers should be able to earn enough to buy the cars they were making.
This is bad for the economy. It is bad for the quality of life in this province. It risks alienating professionals with needed skills who will be inclined to seek opportunities in more enlightened jurisdictions. It is unbalanced in its approach to business and labour.
You don’t even have to be a union member to understand this. All workers benefit from the work of unions. Unions fought for public pensions like the CPP. They continue to fight to improve the CPP to allow pensioners to live in dignity. They fought for paid vacation and maternity leave. They fought for minimum wage legislation. They fought for laws around health and safety. All of this can be taken away, not just for union members, but for all workers. The Tories are setting the stage to do just that.
If you would like to tell PC labour critic Randy Hillier what you think of his white paper, the Tories are inviting you to e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Earlier this year we ran this story about the impact of such legislation on the State of Wisconsin. Click here.