Employers in B.C. are nervously awaiting the results of the B.C. government’s overhaul of the Labour Code, to see if the traditional swings of provincial politics repeat themselves.
Since the minority NDP government took office a year ago, they have seen the shift to a new payroll tax to pay for health care, increases to the minimum wage totalling 34 per cent over four years, phasing out the alcohol server wage, increasing corporate taxes and imposing the first hike in the carbon tax on fuels in seven years.
Now the government is awaiting a report from its appointed committee on whether to do away with secret ballot votes for union certification, prevent employers from communicating with employees during a certification, and generally reverse changes made in 2003 after the B.C. Liberals took office.
Labour Minister Harry Bains tells me the report was delayed for a month at the committee’s request, and should be out shortly. He wouldn’t comment directly on the long-standing demand by the B.C. Federation of Labour and others to do away with secret ballot certification votes, except to say employees should be free to choose “without interference from anybody.”
We’ve seen how that’s going to work in public construction, where every employee will be forced to join one of 19 selected international unions for the duration of the job. One obstacle faced by Bains is that B.C. Green Party leader Andrew Weaver has indicated he won’t support scrapping certification votes.
B.C. Liberal labour critic John Martin isn’t reassured.
“Last year, Andrew Weaver kind of drew a line in the sand on that one, and we did see the NDP back down,” Martin told me. “But since then, there’s been a realization that there’s a lot of huff and bluff from Andrew on that. So I expect them to bring that one in.”
In his mandate letter appointing Bains to cabinet, Premier John Horgan also directed him to update the Employment Standards Act, unchanged since the last years of the previous NDP government. One of the demands made by the union-backed B.C. Employment Standards Coalition is to end the “second-class status” of farmworkers, setting a “minimum-wage floor” that would be imposed on the traditional piece-work rates.
Bains came to politics in 2005 from the United Steelworkers, which you may recall is the U.S.-based union that directly paid top NDP campaign staff for last year’ nail-biter election. That’s not going to happen again, since the NDP and Greens got together to replace union and corporate donations with contributions from taxpayers. It’s kind of like union dues you are being charged by political parties, even if you didn’t join or didn’t vote in the last provincial election.
Bains assures me he is sensitive to the needs of business, and the cumulative effects of various policies such as the payroll tax and minimum wage.
“When [business and labour] work together they create wealth,” Bains said. “That’s the kind of business environment that I would like to facilitate, working with them both.
“I think we are in a good position to do that. We have a strong economy, we have a lot more jobs than there are people.”
As was confirmed last week by audited financial statements, B.C. managed a big surplus for the fiscal year that ended in March, despite $3 billion in additional spending by the new government.
One thing for sure about good economic times, they don’t last forever.
Tom Fletcher is B.C. legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org