It is the role of a democratic government in a civil society to defend all human rights. Human rights cannot flourish where labour rights are not enforced.
By James Clancy
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE)
Ottawa (13 October 2011) – The Harper government is clearly sending a message to Canadians that it has little respect for human rights.
The right of workers to bargain collectively for their wages and working conditions and exercise their right to strike is a fundamental and universal human right. In the five months since the Harper government was elected with its majority in May, it has repeatedly shown that it is prepared to trample and squash this basic human right.
In June, the Harper government threatened back-to-work legislation after a one-day strike between Air Canada and its ticket agents. Later that month, it quickly passed back-to-work legislation ending a lock-out of Canada Post employees by their employer. This week Lisa Raitt, Minister of Labour, announced the government will introduce “back-to-work” legislation in the dispute between Air Canada and its flight attendants before the workers have the opportunity to exercise their right to strike.
The Harper government has decided to pick and choose which human rights it’s prepared to respect. It has chosen to override labour rights in order to pander to their political base. But this ideological attack has severe consequences as it weakens our democracy. It is the role of a democratic government in a civil society to defend all human rights. Human rights cannot flourish where labour rights are not enforced.
The government’s anti-democratic actions also show they have no understanding of how Canada’s labour relations system works. They are undermining the basic framework that has guided labour relations in Canada for the past 70 years.
The role of government has always been to only intervene once job action has taken place to help facilitate an end to the dispute between the employer and the union representing the workers. This government is intent on short-circuiting the collective bargaining process by intervening prior to a dispute taking place. Added to that, their intervention is completely biased towards the employer’s bargaining position. What incentive is there for an employer to engage in negotiations with the union when they know their bargaining position will be legislated by the government?
The Harper government’s actions only serve to undermine the integrity of our labour relations framework. Free collective bargaining is about problem-solving in the workplace by addressing the legitimate concerns of both the employer and workers. Not allowing the process to run its course is reckless. I predict that it will lead to chaos in the workplace as well as increased and prolonged labour disputes in the future.
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