Below are the final two paragraphs from a recent Ottawa Citizen article regarding how our colleagues at the Foreign Service Office are trying to secure fairer employment conditions.

But unions are battling the government in a hostile labour environment. The controversial bill that forced unions to disclose their financial transactions, including political activities, was passed and proposals are being floated to scrap the Rand formula and bring in right to work legislation.

At the same time, speculation is rife that the government wants to eliminate accumulated sick leave, revamp disability management and drastically change the way labour relations are managed in the federal government.

Those two paragraphs, down at the very bottom of the article, compact a lot of information in a 75-word account of the uphill battle that unions – and especially public service unions – are facing.

For those of you who are not aware, unions today are under attack in Canada and throughout the world. Based on their actions, our politicians clearly have an agenda to undermine the collective bargaining power or labour groups.

Bill C-377 recently passed in the House of Commons, an unconstitutional piece of legislation which imposes absurdly cumbersome financial reporting requirements exclusively on labour unions. By crafting regulation that singles out only the private, democratic collectives that operate on behalf of labour pools, it is evident the sole purpose of this bill is to weaken the labour side of the employer-worker balance of power.

On a separate front, politicians are trying to abolish the Rand formula using U.S. style Right to Work legislation both at the national and provincial levels in Ontario and Saskatchewan. The Rand formula is a labour law instituted by Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand in 1940 which requires that all workers in unionized workplaces pay union dues because they share in the collective benefit.

Right to Work laws would allow people to opt out of paying dues, giving workers the right to decide whether to contribute to the improved wages, benefits and workplace protections that their union secures for them, or enjoy them at no cost. Opponents of Right to Work legislation refer to it as right to work for less given the significant negative effects on wages, benefits, and job security that these laws have had in places where they have been implemented.

While these recent developments are the most brazen anti-labour measures to date, this trend has been developing for some time. You may recall the high profile cases in 2011 where Minister of Labour Lisa Raitt interfered in several private negotiations, most notably Air Canada; removing the only bargaining leverage these workers had by legislating them back to work. But in fact, since 1982 federal and provincial governments have quietly passed 200 labour laws restricting collective bargaining and trade union rights.

So what, you ask? Labour groups protect worker rights and benefits. As governments cave to industrial pressures in a global race to bottom for the cheapest labour possible, unions are one of the only counter-balancing forces defending the interests of working people.

It is well documented that unions improve wages and benefits not just for their members, but these benefits spill over into non-unionized sectors that must compete for talent. Furthermore, unionization density correlates with lower income inequality, a healthier middle-class, lower unemployment, higher national productivity and speedier adjustments to economic shocks.

As citizens, we need to take our elected officials to task over whose interests they are representing with targeted legislation to undermine your right to collectively bargain.

If you think unions are unnecessary in Canada because the benefits we take for granted feel secure, look at how quickly these benefits that previous generations fought for are being clawed back, from retirement age to pension benefits to employment insurance.

If you think you’d be better off without your union, read the Employer’s recent FI group arbitration proposal to see what direction they want to take your wages, benefits, and working conditions: pay raises that don’t keep pace with cost-of-living let alone market value; trading voluntary severance for 30% of its worth; less flexible leave entitlements; and an unwillingness to deal with workplace harassment.

Granted, not all unions are perfect. Some unions mismanage funds. Some lose track of their purpose. But these issues plague all types of organizations, be they corporations, charities, political parties, school boards or condo associations. With any large enough sample size, you will surely find some bad apples.

Canadians value fairness, equality, and due democratic process. Despite how they may be vilified in the media, unions stand for all these things. Union rights are human rights. When their power is removed, who will be left to defend these ideals?

Labour groups around the world, ACFO included, are mobilizing quickly to protect our standard of living. More so now than at any point in its history, your Association needs your support to protect the rights, freedoms and working conditions that make Canada one of the best places in the world to live.

I urge all of you to educate yourselves, your friends, your family, your colleagues and your neighbours about the fight over labour rights taking place in our backyard.

Below are are a number of great resources to help keep you informed:

All Together Now (NUPGE)

The Canadian Labour Congress

The Canadian Foundation of Labour Rights

Quality Public Services


Milt Isaacs, CMA, CPFA
President, Association of Canadian Financial Officers