NUPGE alleges that the two pieces of legislation violate the basic principle of freedom of association as set out in the constitution of the ILO and the ILO Convention No. 87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (1948).
Ottawa (14 February 2014) – The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has joined forces with the Health Sciences Association of Alberta (HSAA/NUPGE) to file a formal complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) over two anti-labour bills passed by the Conservative government of Premier Alison Redford.
The complaint has been filed on behalf of HSAA/NUPGE. NUPGE represents 340,000 members across the country. HSAA is NUPGE's Alberta component.
The ILO, a specialized agency of the United Nations based in Geneva, is responsible for formulating international labour standards in the form of Conventions. These minimum standards of basic labour rights cover freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining, the right to strike and other standards regulating conditions across the entire spectrum of work-related issues. (See NUPGE”s ILO Backgrounder)
The ILO complaint is against two labour laws passed December, 2013 in the Alberta legislative assembly.
The Public Sector Services Continuation Act (Bill 45) places further restrictions on some 200,000 unionized public sector workers in the province who already are denied their right to strike. It denies individuals the fundamental right to freedom of expression by introducing for the first time in Canada, a vague legal concept of “strike threat” which makes it illegal to canvass the opinion of “employees to determine whether they wish to strike,” or for an individual to freely express a view which calls for or supports strike action. The legislation also imposes huge punitive financial penalties on unions, their members and even unrelated citizens who encourage or support an “illegal strike” or “strike threat.”
The Public Service Salary Restraint Act (Bill 46) retroactively eliminated a scheduled arbitration process, giving government employees and their union no real input in determining their wages, benefits and working conditions for this round of bargaining. The only “choices” they have been given under Bill 46 are, to either accept the employer's last offer, or have that offer legislated on them.
Legislation violates ILO Freedom of Association Convention
In a Statement of Evidence accompanying the complaint, NUPGE alleges that the two pieces of legislation violate the basic principle of freedom of association as set out in the constitution of the ILO and the ILO Convention No. 87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize (1948).
ILO Convention No. 87 establishes the right of all workers to form and join unions. It also lays down a series of guarantees for the free functioning of unions without interference by public authorities, including the right to engage in free collective bargaining and the right to strike. The Convention was ratified by Canada and all provincial governments in March 1972, thus committing them to adhere to the international human rights standards contained in them.
NUPGE's complaint to the ILO points out that, “In ramming these two pieces of legislation through the Alberta legislature, the Alison Redford government has clearly demonstrated its willingness to negotiate in bad faith, ride roughshod over fundamental human rights of Canadian workers, and ignore the well-respected freedom of association principles of the ILO that both the governments of Canada and Alberta have set their signatures to.”
The complaint also expressed criticism of the government for not consulting with any representatives of unions prior to drafting the legislation and introducing it in the legislative assembly. The ILO has consistently ruled that “it is essential that the introduction of draft legislation affecting collective bargaining or conditions of employment should be preceded by full and detailed consultations with the appropriate organizations of workers and employers.”
ILO criticism of Alberta labour laws dates back to 1978
The NUPGE complaint notes that both the Public Service Employees Relations Act (PSERA) and the Labour Relations Act (LRA) – predecessor of the current Labour Relations Code – have been the subject of a number of ILO complaints. Dating back to 1978, these laws have been criticized by the ILO for their blanket restriction against the right to strike for all public sector employees in the province.
In 1985, after sending a Study and Information Mission to Alberta, the ILO again strongly criticized the Alberta government for being in violation of Convention No. 87. It concluded “the provisions of PSERA and LRA prohibiting the right to strike of a broad range of provincial public servants and hospital workers go beyond acceptable limits on the right to strike recognized as deriving from Article 3 of Convention No. 87.”
The union's ILO complaint concludes by stating, “Taken together, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act (Bill 45), Public Service Salary Restraint Act (Bill 46), as well as and PSERA and the LRC, constitute a major violation of workers’ freedom of association rights. Because of these four pieces of legislation, Alberta now has the worst legislative framework for public sector labour relations in Canada.”
“Without question, the government of Alberta has rolled back workers’ rights and created an unstable labour relations climate.”
The complaint requests that the ILO “make a declaration that Bill 45 and Bill 46, along with the blanket prohibition against strikes by public employees contained in PSERA and the LRC, represent a significant violation of the right to freedom of association as set out in the ILO constitution and ILO Convention No. 87 – Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize”
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