Amendments to the Alberta's new labour relations code are causing a stir among some labour groups.
Bill 26, introduced in the legislature by Employment Minister Hector Goudreau on Monday, strips ground ambulance services of their ability to strike during labour disputes and restricts union "salting" techniques aimed at organizing non-union workshops.
The bill, approved early Thursday morning, requires labour disputes for ground ambulance services to be settled through mandatory arbitration, an amendment that prevents threats to public safety, Goudreau said.
To restrict "salting," the bill would require employees to work for an employer at least 30 days before voting on certification and would allow 90 days for employees to reconsider their vote.
Doug Knight, president of the Alberta Union of Public Employees said Bill 26 violates Charter rights that give people the right to strike as part of the negotiating process and cited a Supreme Court ruling last June that said freedom of association includes the right to bargain a collective agreement.
"If it ever went to court the government would lose," Knight said of potential challenges to the bill.
He said the amendment to the labour code that allows people to reconsider certification votes could subject employees to harassment from employers looking to reverse the results of tight certification votes in their favour.
But Goudreau said the amendment allows employees to weigh the pros and cons of their certification vote allowing employees relief from regret, similar to buyers remorse.
"It's to allow a sober second thought," Goudreau said during a phone interview on Wednesday.
Market enhancement recovery funds (MERFs) collected through union dues and used by union contractors as a bidding tool would also be restricted under the bill.
Bill Stewart, vice president of Merit Contractors Association, said MERFs limit the ability of non-union contractors, especially those limited in size to bid competitively with unionized contractors.
Unionized workshops with access to MERFs can bid on contracts without factoring in labour costs, Stewart said. He added that smaller non-unionized contractors can't compete with the $10-15 per hour difference in costs that can mean a difference of several thousand dollars per contract.
"It can have a huge impact on who gets the work."
He said he is pleased the government is regulating an unregulated practice.
"What this (Bill 26) is doing is putting a window around and saying 'this is permissable, this is not.'"
Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labour called Bill 26 a gift to anti-union groups from the Conservatives in a press release and named Merit as one of those groups.
"This bill is about rewarding your friends in the construction industry at the expense of fairness and the well being of thousands of construction workers," he said.
On Tuesday, the government moved to limit debate on the bill to seven hours during the committee stage.
Both the Liberals and the NDP blasted the Tories' decision to limit debate.
"The Tories are ramming this legislation in the dying days of the session to scuttle public debate," Liberal leader Kevin Taft said in a news release.
Goudreau said there was plenty of opportunity to debate the bill in first and second readings.
"If you review Hansard and if you review the comments you will notice that they're basically saying the same thing over and over again."
Goudreau said if you consider debate in first, second and third readings as well as debate before committee, plenty of time has been allowed for debate.
Fort Saskatchewan Record, Fri Jun 6 2008
Byline: Paul Grigaitis