by Mary Scianna
“Right to work” legislation isn’t likely to come to Canada any time soon, despite the attention it has garnered and the inroads it has made in many US states (24 and counting).
Right-to-work legislation allows workers in unionized shops to opt out of union membership and union dues. The reason the legislation could not be adopted in Canada today is because of something called The Rand Formula, set up by Supreme Court Justice Ivan Rand in 1946. It says employees are free to join or not join a union but must pay union dues as they benefit from union contract negotiations. Any government that would want to implement right-to-work legislation would have to fight a legal battle.
Theoretically though, right-to-work legislation could rear its head in the future if a government were to take on the challenge. Proponents say it would make manufacturers in the country more competitive and boost economic performance. It is a fair and democratic idea that gives workers the right to disagree with a given union’s philosophy. Opponents say it would dilute unions, drive down wages and result in a loss of jobs.
There are two things wrong with this ongoing debate about right-to-work.
1. There is no point arguing a right-to-work when there’s a shortage of skilled workers and limited jobs in a manufacturing industry still struggling with the effects of the past recession and offshore competitive pressures. And it doesn’t protect workers when businesses close up and people lose jobs.
2. Right-to-work legislation, whether you’re for or against it, isn’t the panacea to improve Canada’s economic performance. The panacea is creating an attractive business environment so companies will want to invest in this country.
It means doing all the things we know must be done, but that we aren’t pushing hard enough to do: continue to lower business taxes, implement innovative incentives to encourage businesses to remain in Canada, create new jobs and invest in apprenticeship training to improve skilled trades and reduce the legislative burden of operating a manufacturing business in this country.
The recent about-face by the Ontario PC Party’s leader Tim Hudak on right-to-work, who now says he won’t push to implement such legislation, may put a damper on public debate on the issue, but it will come up again in the future and when it does, Canadians will need to decide if right-to-work legislation is right for our country.
For now though, Canada would be better off focusing more on implementing policies to encourage jobs and economic growth.