Senators ready to pass union bill despite drafting errors

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SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) Federal workers who want to unionize could face delays in becoming a certified bargaining unit because of mistakes in a private member’s bill that the Senate nevertheless appears ready to pass.

A Senate committee decided Friday to let the bill go through, even with technical errors it learned about Thursday, saying the mistakes can be corrected later, despite efforts from a Conservative senator and a Senate Liberal to amend the bill, which originated with a backbench Tory MP.

The made the decision on bill C-525 after an hour-long debate, and voiced its displeasure to the Commons that such a mistake had been made, saying it should be corrected by the elected House.

The issue lies in how the bill was written, and how it mistakenly rewrites part of the Public Service Labour Relations Act. The version the Commons sent the Senate would actually take away powers the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board currently has to make decisions about which employee units are eligible to unionize, and make regulations for collective bargaining.

A Commons committee made the mistake when it amended the bill.

The mistake is not fatal to the board’s functions or its role overseeing all employment disputes in the federal public service. The board has other general powers it could use to fill the void left by the errors, but, if uncorrected, it would still mean delays and difficulties for employees who want to unionize.

“The impact of this change is not trivial because our current specific regulations will be effectively removed from our toolkit,” board chairwoman Catherine Ebbs told senators. “However, I do not believe it is fatal to the board’s power.”

Ebbs suggested Parliament correct the errors before the bill’s provisions come into force in July 2015. Senators agreed, and said as much in comments appended to the report after the Conservative majority voted down two proposed amendments to address the problem.

“Our job is legislative review,” said Senate Liberal leader James Cowan. “Here we have done what we are supposed to do. We’ve identified a problem. We know what the solution is. Why don’t we do it?”

Changes would have sent the bill back to the House where, Conservative senators argued, it would “never see the light of day.” Sen. Scott Tannas said the procedure in the Commons to amend a private member’s bill is so cumbersome that it wouldn’t be dealt with before the 2015 federal election.

“The intention (of the bill) is clear. We have a minor drafting error,” said Tannas, who carried the bill in the Senate. “If we looked at the procedure on the other side, we will kill the bill by sending it back.”

So the bill now heads to the Senate for third reading debate.

“This is another manifest absurdity that we’re enacting into law,” said Senate Liberal George Baker. “The error was made in a standing committee of the House of Commons which did not do due diligence in their operations.”

 

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