Thursday, January 26, 2006

Firms get tough on labour

Firms get tough on labour
Unions resist by forging global links Globalization a `two-edged sword'
Toronto Star

Fierce worldwide competition is making companies more militant during contract negotiations, while unions are pushing back by globalizing the labour movement, according to a report released yesterday by the Conference Board of Canada.

"Globalization has arrived at the collective bargaining table," said Christopher Hallamore, a senior research associate at the board and author of the report Industrial Relations Outlook 2006: Shifting Ground, Shifting Attitudes.

For 27 years, the non-profit research organization exploring public policy and economic trends has published an annual look at the labour climate.

The 2006 study calls globalization a "two-edged sword" for management. It offers widespread opportunities to expand into new markets. But it also creates pressure to move production to less affluent new markets so the goods can be made at a much lower cost.

"Management is coming to unions with a new (project) and saying, `We could send it to Mexico, we could send it to China, or we could do it here,'" said Hallamore. "`But if we do it here with your members, (these are the workers) you're competing against.'"

Management is demanding concessions and unions are resisting, he said. The board predicts average wage increases of 2.5 per cent for unionized employees in 2006, and doesn't see any major labour disruptions on the horizon. But the report says that a newly militant management is increasingly resorting to extremes like lockouts.

"Tough bargaining — look at the auto sector this year," Hallamore said. "It was remarkable what (Canadian Auto Workers president) Buzz Hargrove was saying after the Ford deal about having to accept in tough times agreements that don't have the kind of wage increases and benefit increases his members are used to. It's because they have to fight to hang on to their market share.

"That's remarkable to hear from any labour leader, particularly Mr. Hargrove."


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