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Trade unions are under siege and in retreat

Who speaks for workers in the 82 per cent of businesses in Nova Scotia whose employees are not represented by a union?

So here’s my question. Who speaks for workers in the 82 per cent of businesses in Nova Scotia whose employees are not represented by a union?


I ask this in light of the recent foofarah over Bill 100, the innocuous sounding Act to Establish a Unified Labour Board.


The Dexter government claimed it was merely tinkering — merging a bunch of labour boards, creating a labour management review committee to advise on legislation, clarifying long-standing policy regarding union successor rights when government operations are privatized, making the act’s preamble conform to what’s been in the Canada Labour Code since 1972.


Yawn.


Nova Scotia’s non-union employers, on the other hand, saw socialist Armageddon writ large in invisible ink behind the bill’s bland but — cue the ominous music — “complicated legal wording.”


They were so concerned, in fact, 19 of our most powerful, best-heeled business organizations banded together to fight the power. They wrote an open letter to the premier demanding sections of the bill be scrapped. They cosied up to the opposition, encouraging their filibuster. They even wrangled an hour-long face-to-face with Labour Minister Marilyn More to plead their case.


In the end, they got most of what they had demanded, including the right to be consulted in discussions on changes to labour legislation.


We probably don’t need to lose sleep over whether deep-pocketed business groups will be able to make their voices heard — with or without these amendments.


But what about minimum wage workers? Contract employees? Shop clerks? Telemarketers? Apple pickers? The least powerful among the 70 per cent of workers not represented by unions. Their interests — a living wage, reasonable hours, jobs with benefits, protection from arbitrary employer action — sure as hell won’t get represented by some bleeding-wallet private sector employer.


The opposition parties? “If business is happy,” Liberal Leader Stephen McNeil summed up during last week’s legislative dust-up, “we’ll help move this bill forward.” No comfort there.


Trade unions, once the vanguard of championing all workers’ rights, are under siege and in retreat. Too often, they seem more concerned with hanging on to existing entitlements than in extending benefits to the unorganized.


So who will speak for the interests of workers not in unions? That’s still my question.

 
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