Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Government takes steps to repeal Bills C-377 and C-525

In an act of sense and fairmindedness that can be sadly uncommon in government, the federal Liberals have taken the first step toward repealing repressive anti-union legislation.

On January 28, 2016, Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk tabled legislation that would repeal Bill C-377, the much derided anti-union legislation that was pushed through by the former Conservative Government under Harper.

Bill C-4[1] removes from the Income Tax Act, the requirement for labour organizations and labour trusts to provide to the Canada Revenue Agency information returns. Grossly intrusive of internal union affairs, Bill C-377 mandated that unions disclose how they spend members’ dues for all transactions over $5,000.   Not only that. Following receipt of this information from unions, the CRA was to make the information available to the public. No other organizations were subject to the same level of scrutiny. Unions were singled out. In forcing unions to comply with onerous financial reporting obligations under Bill C-377, the Bill was viewed by many as an attempt to undermine organized labour.

Minister Mihychuk has stated that the reporting obligations imposed by Bill C-377 was essentially a solution to a problem that didn’t exist, as unions already disclose details of their finances to their members. In other words, the Bill scrutinized unions unnecessarily.

In another point of good news for unions, Bill C-4 would repeal Bill C-525 passed by the former Conservative Government. Bill C-525 fundamentally altered the certification and decertification process for workers in federally regulated workplaces. According to the CBC, Minister Mihychuk has noted the negative effects of Bills C-377 and C-525, stating: "During the election we committed to repeal these bills because they hinder the positive working relationships between workers and employers."

In its current incarnation, Bill C-525 removes the card check system and replaced it with a relatively complicated two-step process. The bill also makes it much simpler to decertify a bargaining agent. Minister Mihychuk impugns the Conservatives’ motivation in passing Bill C-525, stating: "The motivation was an attempt to undermine the labour movement both by making it more difficult to certify and making it much easier to decertify/"[2]

While Bill C-4 is likely to pass the Liberal-majority in the House of Commons, some Conservatives have indicated that the Bill could be blocked by the Senate, which is dominated by Conservatives. We can only wait to see what will happen to Bill C-4 as it progresses.

One thing that can be noted now is that the tabling of Bill C-4 appears to signal a willingness of the federal Liberals to take a hard look at labour policy in Canada and to engage in reform of labour laws. If Minister Mihychuk’s bill is any indication, the Liberals may just restore a sense of fair and sensible labour relations in Canada.

[1] An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Income Tax Act.

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