EDMONTON -- The United Conservative government is making changes to labour law it says will restore balance to the employer-union dynamic.

A bill introduced in the Alberta legislature on Tuesday could see the province become the first in Canada, government officials say, to have employees opt-in to union fees spent on political causes or parties.

Unions would also require permission from the labour board to picket at a location other than the workplace, a rule meant to clarify who and what is an ally for secondary picketing, Labour and Immigration Minister Jason Copping said Tuesday.

"Part of that is to make sure a union isn’t picketing an employer who they believe is an ally but actually isn’t and is disrupting their business," Copping explained.

Bill 23 could also see picketing found illegal if it prevents a person from crossing the picket line.

"The purpose of picketing is to provide information to people who are accessing, coming in and out of a building and let people know what the picket is about and what the strike is about. If people want to cross the picket line, we’re making that change saying, and they already have the information, then they need to be allowed to cross."

Before the legislation was tabled, the president of Alberta Federation of Labour said he was expecting the legislation to make it more difficult for unions to run public campaigns.

“This isn’t about ‘balance,’” wrote Gil McGowan. “It’s about silencing critics of the government. It’s about shutting down the ability of ordinary working Albertans to pool their money and run public advocacy campaigns on issues that matter to them."

However, the labour minister pointed to British Columbia, where the labour relations board similarly outlaws a picket line from preventing a person from entering a business but allows picketing at "ally" businesses with permission.

"So what it’s about is providing balance. This is not dissimilar from other jurisdictions,” Copping said.

He called the bill a delivery on a campaign promise to make employer-union relations more equitable: "Significant changes were made under the previous government that pushed the balance toward the union side. We needed to make some changes that restored that balance."

McGowan was expected to speak about the bill further Tuesday afternoon.

If passed, Bill 23 would also allow unions and employers to negotiate collective bargaining agreements before their expiration with employee consent, require unions to publish financial statements, and enable the labour board to suspend union dues for employers in an illegal strike or order employers to pay union dues in an illegal lockout.


The government says more red tape will be cut with the changes proposed in Bill 23.

In a survey of 5,400 participants, the labour ministry says it heard from employers the administrative burden remains too high.

In response, Bill 23 also includes a proposal to allow 13 and 14-year-olds to work light-duty jobs in the hospitality, office, and the janitorial sectors without requiring employers to get a permit. It would also apply to tutoring or coaching positions.

As well, potentially, approval for major construction projects could be given by a minister, rather than cabinet, and unions in this industry could form all-employee units rather than organizing members by trade.

Red Tape Reduction Minister Grant Hunter estimated these, and other measures, would save Alberta employers $100 million annually.