UN labour agency condemns violations by British Columbia
Liberals have the worst record in North America; labour practices
condemned nine times in two years by International Labour
Ottawa – The International Labour Organization (ILO), an agency of the
United Nations, has again condemned the Liberal government of British
Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell for violating workers’ human rights
by contravening international labour standards that Canadian
governments have committed to uphold.
In a highly critical report released recently, the ILO condemned the
province for clear violations of freedom of association principles. It
also recommends the government take specific actions to repair the
damage done and demands the province come into compliance with
This is the ninth time in two years the ILO has condemned the B.C.
government for trampling on the basic rights of workers, the worst
record of any government in North America.
The ILO is a tripartite body made up of representatives from business,
government, and unions. It is responsible for monitoring and upholding
international labour standards and safeguarding workers’ human rights.
These rights are spelled out in ILO Convention No. 87 – Freedom of
Association & Protection of the Right to Organize Convention (1948),
as well as the ILO’s Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights
at Work (1998).
Canada a signatory
Canada and all provinces are signatories to many ILO Conventions, and
have made the commitment “to respect, to promote and to realize, in
good faith” the principles underlying these standards.
In its most recent ruling, the ILO uses uncharacteristically blunt
language to describe how the Campbell government violated the human
rights of thousands of workers by using the legislature to arbitrarily
enforce its will and alter freely negotiated collective agreements.
The ILO ruling was in response to a complaint brought forward by the
National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) on behalf of
two of its Components, the British Columbia Government and Service
Employees’ Union (BCGEU/NUPGE), and the Health Sciences Association of
British Columbia (HSABC/NUPGE).
The complaint involved three anti-worker laws passed in 2003:
Bill 94, the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act stripped
basic rights and protections that exist in the provincial labour
code to create draconian union-free zones for private health
corporations to operate in B.C.;
Bill 18, the Coastal Ferry Act dealt with the Campbell
government efforts to establish B.C. ferries as a private
Bill 95, the Railway and Ferries Bargaining Assistance Act, was
used by Victoria to intervene in ferry workers’ bargaining in
the fall of 2003.
'A violation of freedom of association'
The ILO issued a wide-reaching ruling which concluded that all three
pieces of legislation clearly “constitute a violation of freedom of
As a remedy, the ILO has taken the unusual step of requesting the B.C.
government to amend the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement Act and
the Coastal Ferry Act to bring them in line with ILO Convention No.
The UN body also warned the Campbell Liberal government to “abstain
from adopting” any similar laws in the future.
The ILO also requested to be kept informed of developments on all the
With the ILO’s most recent ruling, the Campbell government has given
the province the embarrassing record of having more ILO complaints
filed against it than any other Canadian province in the agency’s
In fact, there has not been another government in North America found
guilty more often of violating ILO freedom of association principles
in such a short period of time.
Six previous cases of rights abuses
Two years ago, the ILO found the Campbell government guilty of rights
abuses for passing six other laws:
Health Care Services Continuation Act (Bill 2, June 2001);
Health Care Services Collective Agreements Act (Bill 15, August
Skills Development and Labour Statutes Amendment Act (Bill 18,
Education Service Collective Agreement Act (Bill 27, January
Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act (Bill 28, January
Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act (Bill 29,
The ILO ruled these laws violated international standards by shredding
signed collective agreements and curtailing bargaining rights for more
than 150,000 health, social service and education workers.
To date, the province continues to thumb its nose at the UN agency,
and has failed to comply with any recommendations to bring these laws
In fact, since coming to office in May 2001, the B.C. government has
passed 12 pieces of legislation that restrict, suspend or deny the
freedom of association rights of workers. Restrictions have been
placed on the right of unions to organize. Collective agreements have
been torn up. Freely negotiated wages and benefits have been swept
away. And employers’ proposals have been imposed on workers and their
right to strike removed.
Worst in Canadian history
“When it comes to labour laws, no other government in the history of
Canada has abused their legislative power more often than the Campbell
government,” says NUPGE national president
James Clancy. “In fact,
B.C. is now at the bottom of the class in North America in terms of
respecting workers' rights. This has to be viewed as a major
embarrassment for the province."
Clancy says Canada’s reputation in the international community has
also been severely tarnished.
“Members of the international community are watching and are aware of
the abuses occurring in B.C.,” says Clancy. “The federal government
should be very troubled by this and should pressure the Campbell
government to implement the ILO’s recommendations and to conform with
UN labour standards in the future.”
George Heyman, president of the B.C. Government and Service Employees’
Union, says the ILO violations are a “horrible blemish on our
“This is the ninth time in two years that the ILO has condemned the
B.C. government for trampling on the basic rights of workers,” says
“The bottom line is that when it comes to respecting basic labour
rights, B.C. has the worst conviction record of any government in
North America,” adds Heyman.
Demand for compliance
Meanwhile, Cindy Stewart, president of the Health Sciences Association
of BC, demanded that the Campbell government comply immediately with
all of the ILO recommendations.
“If B.C. wants to avoid condemnation and embarrassment on the
international stage, then the Liberals must learn to respect basic
rights,” says Stewart.
She warns that in the past, “on controversial issues like
environmental practices, we’ve seen what can happen when the world
community takes exception to the practices of our provincial
“Now, with these latest ILO violations, Premier Campbell is exposing
B.C. to the prospect of further censure from the world community,”
Stewart says. NUPGE
For more information:
• Derek Fudge, NUPGE, (613) 228-9800, email@example.com
• Mary Rowles, BCGEU, (604) 291-9611,
• Rebecca Maurer, HSABC, (604) 439-0994,
The ILO's full decision on case #2324 against the BC government
ILO's recommendations from case #2324 against the BC government
Summary of B.C. legislation restricting
collective bargaining and trade union rights pdf
Ulf Edstrom of the ILO committee of freedom of association
Web posted by NUPGE:
14 April 2005