The Honourable Omar Alghabra
Minister of Transport
House of Commons
Sent electronically via: @email
Dear Minister Alghabra,
On behalf of the nearly 50,000 Unifor members working in the Canadian transportation industry, I want to express our union’s serious concerns over the National Supply Chain Task Force’s recommendation to develop an alternative model of labour relations intended to curtail workers’ fundamental right to strike.
“…even the threat of strikes or lockouts negatively affects the operation of the national transportation supply chain and, in turn, Canada’s reputation as a destination of choice for doing business. The Minister of Labour should urgently convene a council of experts to develop a new collaborative labour relations paradigm that would reduce the likelihood of strikes, threat of strikes, or lockouts that risk the operation or fluidity of the national transportation supply chain.” - Final Report of the National Supply Chain Task Force 2022
Unifor shares the view that Canada’s transportation and logistics system is a key driver of economic prosperity and trade. There is a great need to assess Canada’s infrastructure demands and invest in a modern, connected and resilient transportation system. Supply chain infrastructure must be responsive to climate threats, treated as a strategic investment priority and contribute to Canada meeting its net zero targets. The Task Force’s final report presents interesting recommendations that merit further dialogue on pressing matters, including addressing worker recruitment challenges, coordinating efforts between transport agencies and federal departments, and better engagement with Indigenous communities. Unifor looks forward to such strategic discussions.
However, it is wholly unacceptable for the Task Force to have considered ‘labour disputes’ as events requiring risk-mitigation strategies, on par with climate-related events. For the Task Force to have drawn the conclusion that labour disputes warrant special attention spotlights the noticeable absence of front-line worker representatives among the Task Force’s membership comprised, almost entirely, of current and former corporate executives.
Workers are the productive engine of Canada’s supply chain. Decades of industry deregulation (lauded by the Task Force as an unqualified success) has resulted in poorer job outcomes and weaker work standards. This and other anti-labour activities, such as contract flipping and contracting-out, have contributed to the recruitment and retention issues plaguing critical parts of the sector today. Limiting worker power by curtailing the rights of workers to strike would contribute to the erosion of job quality, destabilizing the transportation supply chain further – the opposite of what the Task Force was set up to accomplish. A stable, secure, and skilled workforce must stand atop the list of priorities for anyone looking to solidify supply chains. Sadly, job quality is noticeably absent from the list of action items in the Task Force’s final report.
If job quality is of little concern, then it stands to reason why the Task Force felt emboldened to recommend a new labour relation “paradigm” to not only reduce the likelihood of strike action in a sector with relatively few strikes (in 2021, 0.6% of striking workers in Canada were transportation workers), but even the threat of strike. It might also explain why the concept of ‘safe rates’ – a regulatory framework that holds employers responsible for fair pay and strong workers conditions throughout the supply chains they control - finds no space in the report either.
The Task Force’s mandate was to identify structural weaknesses, address congestion and explore international best practices to encourage supply chain resiliency in Canada. It was not to reconsider or re-evaluate the Constitutional rights of working people to unionize, bargain collectively or undertake strike action to improve the quality of work. For those reasons alone, government should dismiss this recommendation. Indeed, Canada should be discussing how we expand collective bargaining rights, not weaken them.
Also discouraging is the Task Force’s lack of attention to matters of transportation safety, accidents, and the need for stricter rules governing businesses and operators. In 2020, for instance, a reported 70 main-track derailments occurred across Canada’s rail sector, with main-track accident rates rising, steadily, over the past decade. Why the Task Force failed to include mention of such disruptive and destabilizing incidents (the word “accident” never appears in the document) or propose recommendations to limit such events, is concerning to say the least.
I was encouraged to read the public comments made by Minster O’Regan, who reassured Canadian workers that despite the Task Force’s recommendation the federal government continues to stand behind free and fair collective bargaining and the right to strike. This is a positive step.
However, that such a recommendation should surface through a government appointed Task Force in any advanced, pluralist, progressive democratic nation such as Canada – is incredulous.
Minister, I encourage you – and your Cabinet colleagues – to distance yourselves from this proposal, publicly, and restate your commitment to these basic, workplaces rights afforded to Canadian workers. I encourage you to commit, as a principle, to improve the quality of work as a priority in strengthening Canada’s supply chain resilience, regardless of its omission from the Task Force’s final report.
Let us move this important dialogue forward in the spirit of collaboration. Let us not take workers’ rights for granted in this, or any future government-mandated consultation, around strengthening our economy.
I look forward to your response.
CC: Hon. Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food
Hon. François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry
Hon. Mary Ng, Minster of Small Business, Export Promotion and International Trade
Hon. Seamus O'Regan, Minister of Labour
Hon. Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion
Len Poirier, National Secretary-Treasurer, Unifor
Bruce Snow, Assistant to the National Officers-Collective Bargaining, Unifor