The ILO declares Bill 45's "penal sanctions" to be "contrary to freedom of expression and principles of freedom of association."
Ottawa (01 April 2015) – The International Labour Organization (ILO) has issued a stinging rebuke to the government of Alberta over an anti-labour law passed in December 2013.
Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, proposed stiffer penalties for unions involved in illegal strikes (to the tune of $1 million per day of strike action), as well as punitive financial penalties on union members who encourage or support an “illegal strike” or “strike threat.”
The ruling on Bill 45 by the ILO, a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Geneva, was handed down last week, only days after Alberta’s new premier, Jim Prentice, announced that his government will repeal the controversial anti-union strike legislation. In a meeting with the leaders of Alberta’s public sector unions on March 19, Prentice said, "I don't agree with [Bill 45]. I don't agree with the content of the legislation and we will move forward and define essential service legislation that is as respectful of the rights of our employees as it is respectful of taxpayers." Bill 45 was repealed as of March 31.
No worker can be punished for exercising his or her human rights
The ILO ruling was in response to a complaint filed in February 2014 by the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) on behalf of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE). NUPGE represents 340,000 members across Canada. HSAA is NUPGE's Alberta Component.
"We’re pleased that the ILO has so forcefully ruled that no worker can be unduly punished for exercising her or his human rights,” says NUPGE President James Clancy. “We are hopeful that the current premier of Alberta will continue to be as vigilant about labour rights in the future as he was last week.”
"Penal sanctions" in relation to the threat of strike
In an unusually pointed decision, the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association expressed alarm over Bill 45’s “penal sanctions” in relation to the threat of strike. The ILO declared those sanctions to be “contrary to freedom of expression and principles of freedom of association.”
“[The sanctions] may very well hinder the union’s capacity to undertake lawful strike action due to the uncertainty in the interpretation of Bill 45,” wrote the committee.
The ILO concluded that Bill 45’s penal sanctions are “not conducive to the development of harmonious industrial relations and should therefore be avoided.”
With support from NUPGE and the ILO, HSAA will continue to fight to protect members' rights
Alberta’s denial of the right to strike for public employees has been the subject of a number of ILO complaints and of an ongoing investigation by the ILO dating back some 35 years. The ILO has consistently reminded the Alberta government that “the right to strike is a fundamental component of freedom of association and an essential means by which workers may defend their occupational interests.”
“Alberta’s ruling politicians have a long history of trotting on the province’s workers,” says HSAA President Elisabeth Ballermann. “But with the support of our national union and international bodies such as the ILO, we’ll continue to fight to protect the rights of our members and of all Albertans."
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