Unions are organizations whose members are employees of certain organizations. Their main role is to represent employees on matters pertaining to work such as salaries or working conditions. It is their duty to air the other employees grievances and employers also give their feedbacks trough them. The need for unions is slowly diminishing as the world gets into the technological face. The public sector has however adapted unions which are controlled by state or government and some of these control methods are going to be covered in this paper.
The Canadian public sector comprises of employees in the federal, provincial and municipal government. These employees’ responsibilities revolve around implementing the policies that are put in place by politicians. A large proportion of Canada’s population works for the government. The government or state is the employer while the civil servants are employees. In an employee-employer relationship one party is usually more powerful that the other in the sense that one party offers its labour power while the other compensates the latter for the work done or is the owner of the capital resources. In such a relationship communication between the two people may be strained because of intimidation and threats of loss of jobs. This is where the Unions which are organizations whose members are employees come in to represent other employees without fear of being intimidated or being fired. They are charged with the responsibility of bargaining for the welfare of the employees in matters like salary increment or other terms of employment. This paper seeks to look at the control, by state and other management structures, of labor in the public sector and unions.
Canada was a former British colony and had laws that were similar to those of Britain. Britain was for a long time against the formation of unions because they were viewed to have motives of manipulating prices through bargaining. The bourgeoisies considered unions to be a threat to them because they advocated against unfair compensation. However after achieving its independence, Canada’s perspective of unions took a different turn after the introduction of the Trade Union Act in 1872 by John A. Macdonald who was a prime minister, by way of passing it in parliament. This Act protected unions from criminal prosecution so that its activities were validated from then on. (Gudza. H .P.1989)
The state largely controls the management of labor relations by way of regulation using legislation. Additionally, the state is very influential as it also plays the role of facilitating any activity that goes on in the public sector. If the state is not satisfied with the activities taking place, it has the powers to withdraw its support and stop the continuation of such. The state is also the employer and as such has a big impact or control on the unions as well as the employees. The other roles that the state has are constitutive and structural. The state, through politicians, passes bills in parliament which later become laws which are later added to the constitution. This mandate enables it to also do away with the laws that are not consistent with their ideologies
Under regulation the state controls the activities of unions and restricts them to certain levels using certain regulations such as the Industrial Disputes Investigation Act of 1907. This act was passed by the government after the Trade Union Act came to place.(The role of state in labor relations) This Industrial Action Disputes Act(1907) recommended that a tribunal consisting of three people be formed to listen to any unresolved bargaining disputes. The workers and employees in the utilities, transport and resources industries were required to put forward their complaints to this tribunal before participating in a strike. This legislation, however, was not short of flaws because it was later realized that there was no provision against employers counter acting against the organizers of the strikes by laying them off or victimizing those who started strikes. It was then that it was realized that this act was not good for the labor sector and the trade congress members sought for its repulsion. (Godard. J 2005)
Some states have laws that demand the giving of notices before any strike is performed. The unions are required to bring forward any intention to strike so as to give the governments or the states themselves enough time to undertake collective bargaining or for stepping in to solve the differences. This is especially for those industries that affect agricultural production (Gudza. H .P., 1989). However despite the existence of these laws, unions abide to prevent allegations of breaking laws.
The bargaining powers of unions are restricted to certain levels beyond which it becomes an offence to continue. It also controls issues of management through measures like restructuring, privatization and freezing of wages. This therefore makes unions’ potential impact limited to a certain level. Unions can be manipulated to be what the government finds best owing to the power it has. The state through its organs monitors the formation of unions and puts conditions under which they operate. The state through the Landrum –Griffin act ‘prescribes detailed regulations for the internal conduct of labor unions.’(Northrup H.R & Bloom G.F, 1963).
The state therefore has a lot of control on the management of labor relations which would limit the achievement of certain unions to some extent. Common law provides dominion on the owners of businesses or employers on how work is to be performed hence limiting individual employees in negotiations regarding how work is to be executed. Federal and provincial government workers were not allowed to indulge in collective bargaining before 1970’s. Power between the workers and employers has always been unequal because of the facilitation by the laws of Canada. (Role of the state in the labor relations).
Another factor frustrating the functions of unions is the availability of cheap foreign labor as well as the labor provided by immigrants. Employers are now outsourcing work which is costing them less in terms of salaries and wages thus reducing the need for unions.
My take on control of labor as a dominant issue is that it should be excessively exercised in fields that place people’s lives are at stake in cases of strikes, as in the Alberta where fire fighters, healthcare workers and workers in the police force are not allowed to strike. When hospital workers strike, patients are likely to lose their lives or have their health conditions worsen. The police are also indispensable and a strike in the force could lead to lawlessness which also endangers people’s lives. Another field would be that of agriculture because such would lead to food shortage whose consequences would be life threatening.
Other fields should not be subjected to such harsh controls because they assist the government to get away with not meeting their obligations. Legislation makes it difficult for unions to put a lot of pressure on their employers who is the state and it thus ties their hands because in the event that a certain regulation does not relate well with the government, another regulation that counters it will be put forward.
Godard. J.(2005). INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS, the Economy and Society. Captus Press
Northrup. H. R. & Bloom.G.F. (1963).Government and Labor: The Role of Government in Union-Management Relations. Richard D. Irwin. Place of Publication: Homewood, IL.pp377
The Role of the State in Canadian Labor Relations. Retrieved on 2nd December 2008 from <http://220.127.116.11/search?q=cache:mNMBeteUsmQJ:classes.uleth.ca/200601/ mgt3390a/3390%2520Role%2520of%2520the%2520State.doc+the+role+of+the+ state+in+canadian+labor+relations&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ke&client=firefox -a>
Gudza. H .P.(1989).First Industrial Relations Congress of the Americas
Journal article; Monthly Labor Review, Vol. 112,