Canada’s unions welcome today’s move by the BC government to return to automatic certification in the province.
“The switch from automatic certification to mandatory voting has coincided with the decline in unionization rates. This is no accident,” said Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress. “We need to see more government action to empower workers. Having a union and a clear collective agreement provides stability and predictability for workers that benefits them and our economy.”
Since the early 1990s governments across Canada have prohibited labour board from automatic certification, even in cases where 100 percent of the bargaining unit demonstrated support by signing union cards.
“Demonstrating support for a union with signed membership cards is democratic. If you have majority support, you should not have to duplicate the process and give the employer time to pressure workers,” said Bruske. “Research across Canada and the United States shows that adding an unnecessary second step – a formal vote to confirm the support employees have already demonstrated by signing their cards – is nothing but an opportunity for employers to interfere.”
Employers can and routinely do pressure workers not to join a union. They may threaten to close the business, initiate layoffs, withhold promotion and training opportunities or take other steps. The fines are low and the benefits of breaking the law to defeat the union, in their view, outweigh the costs.
The right to form an independent association for the purposes of collective bargaining is protected under s. 2(d) freedom of association guarantee under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Government of Canada has adopted multiple International Labour Organization conventions supporting the right to unionize and engage in collective bargaining.
Employee voice in the workplace is a fundamental pillar of workplace democracy. Providing workers with a collective voice at work improves workplace health and safety, strengthens employee morale and reduces employee turnover (since exit is no longer the sole option for dealing with dissatisfactory working conditions).
The Government of Canada recognized this in 2016 when it restored automatic certification federally and reversed the Harper government’s Bill C-525, which withdrew automatic certification as an option in the federal private sector without any study, dialogue or debate.