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Employers advised to tell the whole story.

Expected to become law this fall, Bill 40, the province's proposed amendments to the Labour Relations Act, has caused a furor in the business community.

Much of the debate so far has concentrated on the legislation's ban on replacement workers. However, there are several sections of the legislation which could have significantly more impact on the small-business sector.

Overall, Bill 40 will pave the way for unionization of the retail and service sectors, which the NDP claims is needed to foster better relations between management and labor.

However, the business community argues that the legislation is merely a pay-off to the unions which have traditionally supported the NDP and are now trying to boost membership to offset losses in the manufacturing sector.

"Trade unions, like any other business, need revenue to operate, new markets and new sources of revenue, and are using government to till the soil to find more union dues," says Brian Gatien, an employment relations lawyer in Sudbury.

Sudbury MPP Sharon Murdock, however, insists that employers who treat their employees well have nothing to fear from the legislation.

"The fear of small business is that once it becomes law, their whole operation will change overnight. In reality, if employers have a great working relationship, there's no reason that employer should worry," says Murdock, who is also the parliamentary assistant to the Minister of Labour.

"Unions figure if they are able to get 10 per cent to unionize, they'll be doing exceedingly well," she claims.

Today about 30 per cent of Ontario's workforce is unionized. Bill 40 will add to that percentage by clearing away roadblocks that will enable domestics, security guards and other service-sector workers to unionize.

For example, the legislation will enable employees of retail chains or banks to increase their bargaining power by unionizing in province-wide bargaining units. This could have a significant impact in Northern Ontario if salary and benefit levels are dictated by larger operations in Southern Ontario.

PART-TIME

A prime target of the legislation is the part-time workers who make up 17 per cent of Ontario's workforce. About 90 per cent of these people work in the service sector.

Bill 40 will help unions sign up part-time employees because it makes it easier for these workers to join the same bargaining unit as full-time employees.

The certification process is also being changed to assist with unionizing.

For example, fewer employees will be required to form a union. And there will be no secret ballot, making employees more susceptible to peer pressure.

Once an individual has signed a membership card, that is it because anti-union petitions will not be permitted after certification.

"The public has more protection from vacuum cleaner salespersons than they do from union salespersons," comments Gatien, explaining that in Ontario consumers are given three days to cancel an order made with a high-pressure, door-to-door salesperson.

An employer or manager, meanwhile, runs the risk of a Labour Relations Board hearing and automatic union certification if found guilty of threatening employees for signing up.

Another significant change to the Labour Relations Act will be the addition of an automatic arbitration clause concerning first-contract negotiations. It will pave the way for the certification of new bargaining units by removing the need to strike as well as the cost of strike pay.

The clause will enable a union to call a strike and immediately apply for arbitration. The hearing will take place in 30 days, and the employees can return to work in the interim.

Murdock claims this change will result in cost-savings because it will bring management to the bargaining table faster.

However, Gatien argues that the clause will eliminate a lot of negotiation that would take place between the employer and employees.

He advises employers to talk to their employees about the negative side of unionization before Bill 40 is passed.

Gatien warns that high-pressure salesmen will promise employees higher wages and more job security.

"People hear 'I'll never lose my job.' But it (job security) means if there is downsizing, people with more seniority get to stay."

Garth O'Neill, an employment relations lawyer in Thunder Bay, warns employers to be careful what they say once certification has begun.

OBJECTIVE

O'Neill advises employers not to discuss the situation, to remain objective and distant and, when employees ask for advice, to refer them to a lawyer.

He says the best advice he can give management is to work closely and honestly with all employees - union and non-union.

"It's critical to maintain a loyal, vital workforce. Employees realize the need for unions is not there," O'Neill says.

"Often things that don't cost money go a long way. When you get right down to it, it's more free time and more flexible work hours."

O'Neill believes most employees have little to gain from signing up, other than "the right to pay union dues." To support this claim he points out that they already enjoy the benefits of the Employment Standards Act and Workplace Health and Safety legislation.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:proposed amendment to Ontario's Labour Relations Act
Author:Jolly, Maria
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Sep 1, 1992
Words:832
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