Canadian federal workers will oppose any effort by Prime Minister Stephen Harper to cut government programs and restrict labor rights by staging a four-year campaign to defeat the governing Conservative Party, the head of the country’s largest public sector union said.
John Gordon, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada representing about 180,000 federal employees, said in a Bloomberg News interview that his union will become more “strategic” and rely less on strike action. One of its tactics will be to mount a public relations campaign against Conservative lawmakers, he said yesterday.
“We have to focus much more attention on the politics of it rather than action and the traditional labor way” such as strikes, Gordon said in an interview at Bloomberg’s offices in Ottawa. The “best outcome” would be a “labor-friendly” government following the next election, he said.
Harper’s government has made it “very clear” that its plan to find C$4 billion ($4.14 billion) in annual savings to balance the federal budget will mean some programs will be eliminated or scaled back, Gordon said. Harper’s decision last month to use back-to-work legislation to end stoppages at Air Canada, the country’s largest airline, and Canada Post also suggests the Conservatives will be “taking on” public-sector unions following their election victory in May, he said.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the minister responsible for the public service, said in an e-mailed statement that the government’s plan to find savings will take place “without sacrificing the essential services upon which Canadians rely,” such as transfers to individuals and to other levels of government.
“I have made a point to sit down with union heads, including PSAC, to answer their questions,” Clement said in the statement sent to Bloomberg by Heather Hume, his press secretary. “My message to the unions and to those they represent has been clear: let’s work together.”
Labor conflict in Canada comes amid increasing tension in the U.S. between public-sector unions and state governments. Massachusetts lawmakers this month passed a budget that includes a provision limiting collective bargaining by municipal workers on health care. The move echoes efforts in Wisconsin and Ohio, where Republicans put greater restrictions on negotiations by government employees to narrow deficits.
Harper, in power since 2006 without control of the legislature, won a majority of seats in Parliament for the first time in May 2 elections.
Air Canada Strike
Last month, the Canadian government passed a law to end a three-week work stoppage at the country’s public-owned postal agency and introduced separate back-to-work legislation to deal with a strike at Air Canada. The airline reached a tentative deal with employees before the legislation was voted on by lawmakers.
“It tells me there’s going to be trouble on the labor front during this four-year term, and I think they have a plan to strip the collective bargaining powers of unions,” Gordon said.
While a general strike is one of the options the union may consider, Gordon said labor action could also backfire.
“If you want to shoot all your bullets at the same time, then you have no ammunition left,” he said. “You have to be much more strategic.”
The union has asked its members to lobby lawmakers in their constituencies, a strategy that could be especially effective in districts where Conservatives won by a narrow margin, Gordon said. The union will also try to sway public opinion by calling attention to any services that are cut as a result of the government’s efforts to eliminate the deficit.
“We are going to let the community know what their” lawmakers have done, Gordon said. “There were a number of them that didn’t win with too many votes,” he said, referring to Conservative lawmakers.