Broken laws

Victoria — Union leaders vowed Saturday to launch a legal and public war on contract-breaking laws introduced by the B.C. Liberal government.

B.C.’s labour movement, known for its militancy, and unions across Canada won’t tolerate laws that allow governments to shred contracts, cut thousands of jobs and close hospitals, a health union spokesman said.

The contract-breaking law was part of a legislative package introduced Friday to impose a contract on B.C. teachers. Politicians debated labour legislation during a rare weekend session.

The legislation is virtually guaranteed to pass because the Liberals have a huge majority in the legislature, but at least one government backbencher was expressing doubts.

Blair Lekstrom, Peace River South MLA, said he doesn’t agree with opening existing collective agreements and will vote against two of the three bills.

“That’s fundamentally something that I can’t support,” he said. “This goes into my own personal beliefs as far as dealing with contracts. You look at your history and you know what you can stand for and what you can’t.”

Mr. Lekstrom said he supports the bill that imposes a contract on the teachers because it doesn’t break an existing deal.

“We’re going to go all the way,” said Chris Allnutt, Hospital Employees Union spokesman. “The unionized workers both in British Columbia and across Canada know that this is an attack on fundamental rights and will help.”

The HEU intends to launch defamation suits against Premier Gordon Campbell and Labour Minister Graham Bruce for statements they’ve made about secret deals the unions made with the previous NDP government.

Mr. Allnutt said the HEU also intends to launch a lawsuit that argues the Liberal government cannot strip contracts under the constitution.

Mr. Allnutt and other union members wore “Banana Columbia” buttons during a news conference and sat at a table featuring bunches of bananas.

Labour and the NDP Opposition say the labour legislation will reduce B.C. to a banana republic.

“We will fight today. We will fight tomorrow. We will fight until medicare is protected in B.C.,” said Mr. Allnutt.

The Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act, Bill 29, guts contract provisions in place since 1968, when W.A.C. Bennett was premier, he said.

“This piece of legislation is draconian and unacceptable in a democratic society,” Mr. Allnutt said.

HEU lawyer Jim Quail said the legislation prohibits the union from talking to the employer about issues ranging from layoff notices to severance entitlements.

“Bill 29 is clearly a grotesque abuse of political power by this government,” he said.

Mr. Campbell said he is breaking his election campaign promise not to rip up union contracts because patients and students must come first.

The Liberals, after two terms of NDP government, were elected with a 77-seat majority last May.

“I recognize that this is tough medicine that may be especially bitter for some to swallow, but in the end it is a sound prescription for positive change and it’s a prescription that’s definitely needed if we’re going to have a health-care system that works for patients and an education system that works for students,” Mr. Campbell said.

The Education Services Collective Agreement Act, Bill 27, seeks to impose a three-year contract on B.C.’s 45,000 teachers.

It gives them a 7.5 per cent pay increase, significantly lower than the 22 per cent teachers were originally seeking.

Teachers, who had been withholding extracurricular activities, are planning a provincewide walkout Monday to protest the imposed settlement.

A third piece of legislation, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act, Bill 28, drops strict class-size provisions.

“Quite frankly, war would be a mild sense of it,” said Barry O’Neill, B.C.’s Canadian Union of Public Employees president.

From the GlobeandMail

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