“Alberta will now lead the way in Canada as being the worst offender for violating international labour standards that it has committed to uphold and promote.”
Ottawa (14 Feb. 2014) – Two labour laws passed recently by the Alberta government of Alison Redford are the subject of a formal complaint being lodged today by the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) with the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The ILO complaint concerns Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act and Bill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act. Both laws were passed in the Alberta legislature in December 2013 with little debate and no prior notice or consultation with unions affected by the legislation. The complaint is being laid on behalf of NUPGE’s Alberta Component, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE).
ILO develops international minimum standards for labour rights
The ILO is a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Geneva, Switzerland. It is responsible for formulating international labour standards in the form of Conventions. These minimum standards of basic labour rights cover: freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, the right to strike and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work related issues.
“We will be asking the ILO to find the government of Alberta in violation of ILO Conventions that have been ratified by the federal, provincial and territorial governments of Canada,” said Clancy. “These Conventions commit all governments in Canada to adhere to the international human rights standards which give meaning to freedom of association and to engage in collective bargaining without government interference. Bills 45 and 46 simply don’t comply with these standards.”
ILO criticism of Alberta's labour laws dates back to 1978
Clancy pointed out that even before Bill 45 and Bill 46 were introduced, Alberta had the most restrictive labour laws in the country. The province's two main labour laws which governed collective bargaining for unionized workers, the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Labour Relations Code, have been criticized by the ILO dating back to 1978 and again in 1985. Both laws were found to be in violation of international freedom of association standards established by the ILO for their blanket restriction on the right to strike for all public sector workers in the province.
“Instead of trying to bring Alberta's labour laws up to international standards, the Redford government has decided to introduce more regressive laws that further restricts the rights of working people. Alberta will now lead the way in Canada as being the worst offender for violating international labour standards that it has committed to uphold and promote.”
“Bills 45 and 46 damages the human rights reputation of both the province and the Canadian government. This government, sadly, doesn’t understand that labour rights are human rights."
ILO rulings have helped define Canadian Charter rights
Clancy noted that ILO rulings have had a major bearing on decisions of Canadian courts in recent years. “There’s been a notable link established between Canadian rights protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and those in international treaties signed by Canada as a Member state of the ILO.”
Specifically, he cited the precedent-setting ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada in June 2007 against B.C. legislation known as Bill 29. The justices declared key portions of the legislation unconstitutional and declared collective bargaining a constitutional right for all Canadians.
"The Charter should be presumed to provide at least as great a level of protection as is found in the international human rights documents that Canada has ratified," the historic ruling declared.
“The interpretation of these Conventions [ILO], in Canada and internationally, not only supports the proposition that there is a right to collective bargaining in international law, but also suggests that such a right should be recognized in the Canadian context under s.2(d) [freedom of association].”
Governments must consult with union before introducing new labour laws
The Supreme Court decision also placed a strong emphasis on the need for consultation between governments and unions on legislation affecting trade union rights. “Laws or state actions that prevent or deny meaningful discussion and consultation about significant workplace issues between employees and their employer may interfere with the activity of collective bargaining.”
Clancy said Alberta's Bills 45 and 46 could easily face a constitutional challenge. “It’s not good public policy for the Premier to roll the dice and wait for the outcome of a Charter challenge to her government’s legislation. Her government should request the assistance of the well-respected ILO to help them engage in a meaningful consultation with Alberta’s labour movement to address real human rights concerns with this legislation.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE