Supreme Court of Canada: All workers have the right to join a union and engage in collective bargaining

“This is definitely a historic moment for working people and the labour movement in Canada. Not only has the Supreme Court affirmed the fundamental labour rights of working people, it has reinforced the positive roles that unions and collective bargaining play in Canadian society.” — James Clancy, NUPGE National President   

Ottawa (16 Jan. 2015) — In a decision released today, the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed the constitutional right of all workers in Canada to join a union of their own choosing and engage in meaningful collective bargaining.

The decision was based on a challenge by the Mounted Police Associations of Ontario and B.C. against the federal Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Act, which deny members of the RCMP the right to join a union.

 

Freedom of association includes right to meaningful collective bargaining

In a six to one decision, the Court expressly states that the right to freedom of association (Section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms) includes a right to meaningful collective bargaining. The judges write that, “We conclude that the s. 2(d) guarantee of freedom of association protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests."

The Court’s decision actually reversed one of its own rulings. In 1999, it upheld the ban on an RCMP union. Last year, the Court chose to revisit that ruling because the jurisprudence around collective bargaining has changed since then.

Historic moment for working people

“This is definitely a historic moment for working people and the labour movement in Canada,” said James Clancy, National President of the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees. “Not only has the Supreme Court affirmed the fundamental labour rights of working people, it has reinforced the positive roles that unions and collective bargaining play in Canadian society. The Court explicitly states that collective bargaining is a fundamental aspect of Canadian society in that it enhances the human dignity, liberty, and autonomy of workers.

“The decision also recognizes the importance of unions in providing the only democratic counterweight to the growing power of employers in Canada, especially of governments and large corporations,” added Clancy. 

The Supreme Court Justices reaffirmed the importance of collective bargaining to working people, noting that it gives "...them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work. Put simply, its purpose is to preserve collective employee autonomy against the superior power of management and to maintain equilibrium between the parties."

Government has 12 months to institute changes

The Court gave the government 12 months to come up with a new regime that respects the freedom of association and guarantees RCMP officers' rights to collective bargaining.

In a second decision released today, also involving the RCMP, the Supreme Court found the federal government’s 2009 Expenditure Restraint Act, which partially froze wages of RCMP officers and federal government workers, was constitutional.  It did, however, state that its 2007 Health Services decision still stands. This case involved government legislation in British Columbia that nullified significant working conditions and benefits contained in collective agreements previously negotiated.  The Court concluded that those legislative measures represented a “substantial interference” in collective bargaining and were therefore unconstitutional.

More information:

Mounted Police Association of Ontario and B.C. vs Attorney General of Canada

NUPGE on Labour Rights

NUPGE

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

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