At a meeting of the Board of Directors of the B. C. Civil Liberties Association on March 19, 1968, overwhelming approval was given to a motion that at least five sections of Bill 33 (sections 18, 19, 21, 38 and 50) will, if they become law, seriously jeopardize basic civil rights.
With sections 18 and 21, the Government is empowered to prohibit or terminate a strike whenever an unresolved dispute between an employer and an employee group is deemed contrary to “public interest and welfare”, and to refer the dispute to a mediation commission. This commission is empowered to write a new collective agreement between the parties that will be binding upon them.
These provisions enable the government to prohibit or terminate any strike, since the phrase “public interest and welfare” may be interpreted broadly to cover any or all labour disputes.
Moreover, the power given to the cabinet and the commission is made absolute by section 38,which prohibits any access to the courts.
In this way, the legality of a cabinet or commission decision cannot be challenged, and terms of employment completely unacceptable to employees can be imposed upon them regardless of their wishes. Also, under the provisions of section 51, heavy penalties are provided to punish individual workers who disobey return-to-work edicts.
To place such arbitrary powers in the hands of the cabinet and the commission is a serious curtailment of the rights of working people to negotiate freely the terms under which they will earn their living.
Ultimately, the freedom to withdraw labour is the only effective means for working people to try to improve their condition of life. It is this sanction which, in the final analysis, gives real power to labour in the collective bargaining process. This power is matched on the side of management by the employer’s ownership or control of industry.
The co-existence of these two power give approximately equal status to employers and unions when they bargain with each other to determine wages and all other terms and conditions of work.
Sections 18 and 21 of Bill 33 would remove labour’s ultimate sanction without any corresponding diminution of the employers’ power. Assuming these sections pass, equality would only be possible if government, when preventing or terminating a strike, was obligated at the same time to confiscate the industry affected.
Other objectionable provisions relate to public employees. The Bill, especially sections 19 and 50, does not distinguish between public employees whose services are vital to maintain of essential public service, and ordinary public servants who in this respect are no different from employees in private industry. Civil servants are discriminated against as compared to other employees because they do not have collective bargaining rights, cannot mediate with their employer and are bound by the decision of the commission appointed by the government.
It is ironic that some of the aspects of the proposed Bill like setting up a full time mediation commission, appointing experts to assist in the mediation and eliminating conciliation officers and boards, go some distance toward meeting certain requests which, over the years, labour has made to improve the current legislation. But the inclusion in Bill 33 of sections that weaken labour’s power will damage rather than improve labour-management relations in British Columbia.
The Association deplores these sections and the procedure used by the government to introduce the proposed legislation. They bypassed the Legislature’s committee on labour, prevented detailed study of the Bill, and thus denied the democratic process to elected members of the legislature.
Bill 33 should either be amended to eliminate the foregoing objectionable provisions, or postponed for one year (as in the case of the Worker’s Compensation Act in 1966), so that labour, management, government and the public may all give careful consideration to its important implications for basic civil rights.