Ottawa – May 13, 2021 – Justin Trudeau once again stepped on the collective bargaining rights of workers when his Liberal government recently rammed through Bill C-29; legislation that ordered CUPE members at the Port of Montreal to end their legal strike and get back to work. The Trudeau government did the same thing to postal workers back in 2018, bowing to the will of online retailers like Amazon and eBay.
In this latest move to quash workers’ rights at the Port of Montreal, the Liberals got help from Erin O’Toole and the Conservatives, when, despite O’Toole’s talk about reaching out to and respecting workers, his true colours shone through as he teamed up with the Liberals to pass the legislation as soon as possible.
The Liberals defended Bill C-29, pointing to the COVID pandemic and the critical need to deliver cargo deemed vital to the health and safety of Canadians. Yet, an essential services agreement had already been negotiated between the union and the Port to ensure any goods vital to the health and safety of Canadians would absolutely be unloaded, strike or not.
The workers at the Port had been trying to bargain a new collective agreement for two years. The Port’s bargaining agent, the Maritime Employers Association (MEA) then forced the strike when it sent the union a lockout notice on April 10, 2021, announcing that it would not honour job security provisions in the collective agreement, and that it was also arbitrarily going to change working conditions related to scheduling.
While the rights of Montreal Port workers were no concern for the Liberals or Conservatives, Jagmeet Singh and the NDP took action to defend those rights, even though they ultimately couldn’t stop passage of the Bill. Singh and his caucus demonstrated how to use a minority government, by getting an amendment passed to Bill C-29 which removed the Final Offer Selection Arbitration from the bill; a bargaining process that historically has benefitted employers. Then, sticking to their principals and their respect for the rights of workers, the NDP voted against the bill.
The Liberal government (and the Conservative government, which took similar action against workers at Air Canada in 2012) have made it clear to employers in the federal sector that they do not have worry about bargaining in good faith. Based on their history, Liberal and Conservative governments will continue to undermine the possibility of a fair deal for workers when bargaining with federally-regulated employers, as the threat of legislating workers will continue to overhang any leverage the union might have at the bargaining table; even if the legislation is likely to be found unconstitutional.
The Liberals and Conservatives may tell you they support the Charter rights of workers, but time and time again, their actions fail to match their words.