President's Commentary: It’s time for Canada to ratify ILO Convention No. 98

After 67 years, the federal government has run out of excuses. It can no longer justify its refusal to ratify ILO Convention No. 98, since the right to organize and bargain collectively is now recognized as a constitutional right in Canada.

Ottawa (22 April 2016) — This might come as a bit of a surprise to you. Canada is one of the few countries in the world that have yet to ratify an international convention that recognizes the fundamental right of all workers to join a union of their own choosing and participate in collective bargaining.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is a United Nations agency based in Geneva, Switzerland, specializing in developing and promoting international human and labour rights conventions that are recognized around the world. Since 1919, the ILO has maintained a system of international labour standards known as conventions, aimed at promoting opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work, in conditions of freedom, equity, security and dignity. There are 188 ILO Conventions covering a range of fundamental labour rights and rights of workers in specific industries and trades.

Of those 188 conventions, the ILO has identified 8 core conventions as fundamental to the rights of human beings at work. These rights are a precondition for all the others in that they provide a necessary framework from which to strive freely for the improvement of individual and collective conditions of work. These 8 ILO core conventions have wide international recognition and have often been used to define labour rights in international trade agreements.

All 8 core ILO conventions have been ratified by the overwhelming majority of countries around the world.  Unfortunately, Canada is one of only 44 countries in the world that have not ratified all 8.  We’re close to ratifying all eight ILO core conventions:  Canada has ratified 7 of the 8. But we still need to ratify ILO Convention No. 98 — Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining.

Convention No. 98 isn’t a complicated or even contentious document. It simply recognizes the human right of all workers to form unions and bargain collectively. Canada played a major role in developing this convention and enthusiastically voted in favour of its adoption at the ILO Conference in 1949.

Yet, 67 years after the ILO adopted this convention, Canada is one of only 23 countries in the world that still haven’t ratified it.  This is somewhat of an international embarrassment for Canada as it places us with countries known for their poor record of respecting human rights, such as Afghanistan, China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and United Arab Emirates.

For many years, the Canadian government position was that Canada was not able to ratify Convention No. 98 because some jurisdictions in Canada excluded certain categories of workers from collective bargaining legislation.

After 67 years, the federal government has run out of excuses. It is now 2016, refusal to ratify ILO Convention No. 98 can no longer be justified since the right to organize and bargain collectively is now recognized as a constitutional right in Canada.

In January 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada issued three important decisions that have positive implications for workers’ rights and workplace justice in Canada. The Supreme Court’s 2015 “labour trilogy” affirms that Canadian workers now have the constitutional rights allowing them to join a union of their own choosing, bargain collectively and take strike action against their employer.

These decisions once again recognize the importance of labour rights as a cornerstone of Canada’s democracy, and as therefore deserving protection under Canada’s Constitution. They also affirm the same fundamental labour rights that convention No. 98 affords to workers around the world. 

Why wouldn’t the Canadian government want to ratify an international Convention which provides the same rights and freedoms that are protected by our Constitution? 

Unfortunately, Canada's reputation as a fair and just country that defends human rights and believes in an equitable and sustainable economy has suffered on the international stage in the past decade as a result of the former Harper government.

We know our new federal government is eager to reverse that trend. They can quickly begin to do so by showing leadership and climbing on board with the other 164 countries in the world that have ratified Convention 98.

The National Union has partnered with the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights on a campaign to convince our new federal government of the interest and urgency of ratifying this fundamental ILO Convention. You can read my letter to the federal Minister of Labour, the Honourable MaryAnn Mihychuk here. You can help by taking 30 seconds to send an email to Minister Mihychuk (MaryAnn.Mihychuk@parl.gc.ca), urging her to take immediate measures to have Canada ratify ILO core Convention No. 98 — Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. 

In solidarity, 

James Clancy
NUPGE National President

NUPGE

James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 360,000 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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