Labor/management Relations - Call for a New Model

Article excerpt

To say that Canada is in a fiscal and competitive crisis is an understatement. The deficit, unemployment, high wages and social costs, and a shrinking manufacturing base are some of the more serious challenges we face.

The answer -- the way out -- according to many Canadians, is to create greater wealth through enterprise. Most Canadians also agree that we still have some advantages: our education system, a relatively well-trained workforce, a sound national infrastructure, advanced technology, and a high quality of management thinking that can help vault Canadian businesses onto the world stage.

One potential advantage, seldom regarded as an opportunity, is labor relations. Presently, Canadian labor relations are stuck in an outdated system based on adversity and exclusion, a system that retards our international competitiveness. The fault lies on all sides: labor, management, and government.

Clearly, it's time to change. Unions are not going to go away. The worker, either as an individual or through elected representatives, has a legitimate right to be a part of the business operation. However, unions must start participating in the creation of wealth as eagerly as they do in the sharing of it. Likewise, governments at all levels must help cultivate productive, wealth-creating environments rather than discouraging them.

The change is imperative for reasons we so often hear these days; namely, North American trade and global competition. Across the world, the best companies in the strongest economies have developed motivated workforces, new technologies and new "inclusive" methods of management. To keep up, competitors have no choice but to emulate these models.

Change is preceded by a shift in attitude. People must first learn to recognize the role they play in the prosperity of an enterprise. The role and accountabilities of unions, employees, and management must be revisited and made relevant to the process of wealth creation. Competitive positioning should be a key point at the bargaining table -- during bargaining sessions and during the months between bargaining sessions. Only against this backdrop does the question of "wealth sharing" have true meaning at the bargaining table.

What is the role of management in creating environments where meaningful employee contributions are sought out, valued, and incorporated into the business? What is the role of the employee? The union?

Some answers to these questions are starting to emerge. …