‘Makes no sense:’ New Brunswick government tables changes to strike rules

The New Brunswick government has tabled amendments to the Public Sector Labour Relations Act, which is drawing some criticism from one union and the opposition parties.

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The Minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour introduced the changes to the legislature on Thursday, saying it was to protect essential services.

The changes would allow for any strike vote to expire after one year, but places no limits on the number of votes that can be taken. It will require unions to provide 72 hours’ notice of a strike, while only requiring the employer to give 24 hours’ notice.

It removed the restriction on picketing, allowing employees to walk the picket line on the employer’s property. It allows for changes to the number of designated workers and grants the employer the ability to change the designated workers schedule.

The criteria for binding arbitration will be changed as well to fall in line with Industrial Relations Act, and will take into consideration economic factors.

Lastly, the amendments allow for unionized, non-unionized workers, and casual employees to fill designated positions

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“This is not about favouring one side,” Holder said, speaking with reporters. “This is about essential services that have been agreed to by both sides and making sure those essential services are delivered.”

Holder said it was about clarifying the legislation.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees in New Brunswick said it was not consulted prior to the bill being tabled and was troubled by the changes.

“It just makes no sense whatsoever,” said CUPE New Brunswick president Steve Drost on Thursday. “You know we’re in a real crisis here in this province trying to have workers and we have a government that is introducing legislation to tip in their favour.”

Drost said the union was only briefed a few days ago, after the changes were already decided on. He said there was no evidence that designated workers didn’t show up for work last year. Drost was clear that the union and workers have always respected the designation levels assigned to them by the labour board.

“We would never put the public at risk,” he said. “We don’t have a worker problem, we have a problem with the employer.”

He called the rationale behind the changes as ‘bizarre.’

“This is nothing more than stripping away the rights of these workers to have free collective bargaining,” Drost said.

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In November 2021, CUPE New Brunswick held a 16-day strike. It’s the largest union of public sector employees and the government used the Emergency Order to force some of them back to work.

“This act … is certainly not going to improve labour relations in this province,” Drost said.

Keith Chiasson, the New Brunswick Liberal Party critic for labour, said while he is still working his way through the bill, the lack of consultation isn’t a surprise.

“They’ve got a history of not consulting. For something that’s substantial like what they are proposing, it’s a slap in the face to unions,” he said speaking to reporters on Thursday.

Chiasson wouldn’t say whether it would be repealed if the Liberals formed a government, saying the bill has only gone through first reading.

David Coon, the New Brunswick Green Party leader, said it’s an attack on workers rights.

“It’s just increasing the inequity between the power of the employees, the workers and their unions, and the power of the employer — in this case, the government,” he said.

Drost said there is a legal team looking at the changes and determining whether it could be legally or constitutionally challenged.

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