As an economist I know that uncertainty is a job killer. When economic conditions are in flux, investors sit on their wallets. When a business owner doesn’t know if she can find the right employees for an important project, the project gets delayed. The same is true of uncertainty about the future of government policies and regulations.
Last year, the Alberta government indicated its desire to “modernize” labour laws. For months now, it has been receiving submissions for significant changes from labour unions. Not surprisingly, they want labour laws that make it easier to form and empower unions.
For instance, one proposal is to remove the rights of workers to cast a secret ballot when deciding if a workplace should unionize. Imagine having to decide to vote for or against a union while union organizers, friends and colleagues watch on.
Peer pressure can be very effective. The elimination of secret ballot voting is attractive to union leadership because it makes it easier to organize workplaces, but how is taking away the rights of prospective union members to vote anonymously, a right that all Canadians take for granted when they elect a government, modernization? Eliminating secret ballot voting seems like a big step backwards.
The Alberta government contends that our provincial labour laws are out of date, but I assert that the mere passage of time does not necessarily make a law out of date. What’s changed? While mobile phones seem to be out of date within a few months or years, how has the relationship between workers, the union, and employers changed so much to make labour laws out of date?
Have we been experiencing significant labour strife in recent years? The answer is no. The elimination of secret ballot voting is not intended to address some shortcoming of our existing labour laws, it is instead a business development strategy by union leaders.
Let’s remember that it’s about the workers, and that unions represent workers. Alberta has suffered a severe recession, and tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, including me when I was laid off by a large oil and gas company and those of many people I know. How is making it easier to form a union going to help Alberta recover, stimulate investment, and create tens of thousands of jobs?
Significant change to Alberta’s labour laws is not warranted and is more likely to discourage investment, making it more difficult to create jobs. Balanced labour laws have been part of the Alberta Advantage for decades. Let’s not undermine our ability to attract investment and create jobs.
Let’s not undermine the Alberta Advantage, an advantage that has made Alberta a magnet for Canadians seeking opportunities for a generation. Wages in Alberta are almost 20 per cent higher than the national average, and historically Albertans who want to work have typically been able to find work.
The question is, why put the Alberta Advantage at risk with changes to labour laws that don’t address a fundamental problem and would only add uncertainty and discourage the investment needed to add much-needed jobs. Eliminating secret ballot voting is the wrong change at the wrong time.
Some will say that our Keep Alberta Working campaign is anti-union. Not at all. Our campaign is for freedom, and we support the right to organize a union. The organization of a union is not a trivial matter and should be treated seriously just like when we elect a new government.
We at the Alberta Growth Initiative think the burden of proof is on those who want to put at risk the Alberta Advantage. They need to explain how taking away the secret ballot is good for workers, and how it will encourage investment and job creation for the thousands of Albertans currently in need of a job. If it is not a step forward, it needs to be reconsidered.
Paul Hartzheim is spokesman for Keep Alberta Working, a campaign by the Alberta Growth Initiative, a coalition of Alberta businesses and citizens.