“Labour rights are human rights and are a fundamental cornerstone to achieving social and economic justice. Such cavalier disrespect for these fundamental rights is a primary reason why we have unprecedented growing income inequality in Canada.”
Ottawa (16 March 2012) – “Based on the well-respected premise that labour rights are human rights, this has been a sad week for human rights in Canada,” according to James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
Clancy was commenting on the Harper government’s passage of Bill C-33, An Act to provide for the continuation and resumption of air service operations, on Tuesday as well as the BC government’s Bill 22, Education Improvement Act, which was passed in the provincial legislature yesterday.
Both pieces of legislation deny the constitutional rights of Canadian workers. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the right of workers to bargain collectively was protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms and any attempt by governments to substantially restrict that right would be viewed as unconstitutional.
“Labour rights are human rights and are a fundamental cornerstone to achieving social and economic justice. Such cavalier disrespect for these fundamental rights is a primary reason why we have unprecedented growing income inequality in Canada. Riding roughshod over basic human rights and the rule of law will only lead to greater economic instability and inequality.”
Bill C-33 substantially interferes in the collective bargaining process between Air Canada and its 8,200 technical, maintenance and operational support employees represented by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) and the airline’s 3,000 pilots represented by the Air Canada Pilots Association (ACPA). The legislation prevents both unions from taking strike action and sends both disputes to a bias arbitration process.
It follows a move by the federal Minister of Labour, Lisa Raitt, last week to block a strike at the airline by referring both disputes to the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CLRB) to determine how a strike would affect the health and safety of Canadians. The legislation still would outlaw strike action even if the CLRB ruled that a strike would have no impact on the health and safety of Canadians.
This is the third time in nine months the Harper government has interfered in the private sector negotiations between Air Canada and its unions. In June, the Harper government threatened back-to-work legislation after a one-day strike between Air Canada and its ticket agents. In October, flight attendants reached a deal with the airline under the threat of “back-to-work” legislation before the workers had the opportunity to exercise their right to strike.
The BC government’s Bill 22 takes away the right to strike from BC’s 41,000 public school teachers, imposed a wage freeze and sends remaining unresolved issues to a government-appointed “mediator” who must operate under a narrow government mandate focused on employer concessions.
The most astonishing part of the legislation is that it re-introduces parts of Bills 27 and 28, two anti-union pieces of legislation introduced by the Liberal government in 2001 which prohibited bargaining on class size, class composition and the ratios of teachers to students. Last April, the BC Supreme Court ruled that those sections of Bills 27 and 28 were unconstitutional and in breach of the Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“The labour movement cannot solely rely on the courts to defend labour rights,” noted Clancy. “But it also appears that we cannot rely on governments to adhere to the decisions of the courts regarding the constitutionality of their legislative actions around labour rights.”
“The Harper and Clark governments are prepared to legislate away labour rights at a moment’s notice and not consider the constitutionality of their actions until years later, when a challenge finally makes its way to the Supreme Court. It makes no sense and only exacerbates the most serious problem Canada is facing – growing income inequality.”
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