Saturday, June 24, 2006
Canada’s labor WoesDiane Francis, Blog
Diane Francis column Friday Post June 23:Canada’s labor situation worsens because needed reforms elude and politicians don’t get it.For instance, Gatineau contractor Jocelyn Dumais has been fighting Quebec’s closed-shop labor laws for years and he called recently with some upsetting news. The McGuinty government last month backed off a piece of legislation that was designed to force Quebec to level the playing field in the construction industry.
For decades, Quebec has forbidden non-resident Canadians from taking construction jobs while Quebecers have been free to work anywhere else in the country. Notably, they swamped the labor markets along the borders until the Mike Harris government passed Bill 17 which forbid them from working in Ontario until Quebec backed off its restrictions.
« Last month the Ontario government cancelled Bill 17 which forbid Quebec construction workers from getting employment in Ontario unless Quebec changed its unfair labor laws, » he said. « They call it a shared labor mobility agreement, but it’s a fake. »
« The Ontario government tried to get me to support this but it’s not what we’ve been fighting for, » he said. « Here’s what they said they got in exchange: Ontario workers may apply to work there but there were many restrictions. They had to pass an exam, provide certain evidence of experience and had to already be working in Quebec. That’s not labor mobility. »
Ontario added that Quebec agreed to let Ontario residents accept construction jobs involving Hydro Quebec contracts, but only if the salaries were $100,000 or more.
« That was just an exemption for big contracting companies like Ellis Don, » said Mr. Dumais.
He’s one of my favorite Canadians and is founder of the Association for the Right to Work (www.adat.ca). Over the years, he has lobbied provinces, staged road blockages and raised hundreds of thousands to mount a Supreme Court of Canada case which, unfortunately, lost. (His charter challenge argued that if workers have the right to associate they also should have the right to not associate. The Court disagreed.)
But he hasn’t given up and hopes to reverse this unfair deal. He also wants to warn Ontario that the McGuinty government is looking at closed-door laws like Quebec’s because of all the illegals and non-union members working in the province.
By the way, Quebec’s unions run the show there and their construction sector is embarrassingly restrictive: Workers must be union members or obtain a special work permit from the province which are about as readily available as Green cards. People are routinely rounded up on sites for the « crime » of working illegally, fined and even jailed.
Another Voice of Reason
Meanwhile, the labor situation worsens nationally as the giant sucking sound from Alberta’s megaprojects continues apace and unions stand in the way of labor mobility through featherbedding and apprenticeship restrictions. What follows is a thoughtful letter from union member John Gilmurray:
« The real problem with labour policy in Canada is the union `local’ system. On a recent visit to England and Ireland I was surprised that there are no locals, just one trade union congress for each country.
Everybody is hired directly by a construction company based on their resume. There are no grandfather clauses, no middle-aged white guys hanging around a union hall dishing out jobs to friends. Supply and demand are the rule. Thousands in Dublin have vacated jobs as teachers and bank clerks to become carpenters and electricians. No wonder they have one of the the best economies in the world. »
« The present shortage of skilled labour in Alberta/Fort McMurray is an almost entirely artificial creation. A small percentage of the millions of skilled labour unemployed all over Europe could be in Alberta within weeks if our bungling federal immigration bureaucracy and archaic union locals would get the hell out of the way and allow our efficient market system to work. »
« There are more people getting hired from carparks and street corners in the U.S. than are now dispatched from union halls. Globalization is creeping in through the back door. In Canada, the young people from Eastern Europe and South America who are turning up on construction sites all over Ontario, Alberta and B.C. may be the trail blazers of our future labour policy. The recent mass hiring of non union workers in Ft. Mcmurray,the construction of new Toyota plants all over the USA and Ontario spells a seismic change is afoot for our unions. Either we change or the new world market will do it for us. »