"In the last two years, courts across Canada, including the Supreme Court of Canada, have ruled that collective bargaining rights deserve constitutional protection because they enhance Charter values of democracy, dignity and equality.” — James Clancy, NUPGE National President
Toronto (21 April 2016) – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) and 4 other unions in Ontario’s education sector won a major court victory at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice on April 20.
Bill 115 banned wage increases for 2 years and outlawed strikes and lockouts
The court found that the Ontario government's Bill 115, Putting Students First Act, imposed in the fall of 2012, was a violation of collective bargaining rights of educational workers, which are protected by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill 115 severely restricted the collective bargaining process in the education sector by requiring that collective agreements between school boards and employees not include compensation increases for a two-year period beginning September 1, 2012. The legislation also outlawed strikes and lockouts without providing for independent binding arbitration and gave the minister of education unprecedented powers, which also included the right to deny strikes and lockouts and impose terms in collective agreements at any time.
Judge ruled that the Ontario government infringed on workers' rights
In his decision, Justice Lederer ruled that the passage of Bill 115 “substantially interfered with meaningful collective bargaining," and therefore infringed upon union members' rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Justice Lederer did not provide a remedy for the parties, but instead instructed them to meet to determine a remedy. If the parties are unable to reach an agreement, the matter will be referred back to Justice Lederer for a decision.
Ruling confirms rights protected under the Charter
"Yesterday's decision is a great victory for education workers in Ontario," said Warren (Smokey) Thomas, President of the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE). "It confirms what we’ve been saying all along, namely, that the Liberal government trampled those workers' Charter rights in its fanatical pursuit of reduced wages and working conditions.
"But what is just as important is that this case adds another brick to the legal foundation of collective bargaining rights in Canada,” he said. “Governments need to recognize that workers’ rights to unionize and take part in collective bargaining are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
While government's try to restrict workers' rights, Supreme Court upholds them
James Clancy, National President of the 360,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) noted that Bill 115, is one of 16 current Charter challenges across Canada against labour laws that restrict the collective bargaining rights of workers.
“All of these restrictive labour laws were passed between 2009 and 2014,” noted Clancy. “But in the last 2 years, courts across Canada, including the Supreme Court of Canada, have ruled that collective bargaining rights deserve constitutional protection because they enhance Charter values of democracy, dignity and equality.”
“The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in three decisions in January 2015 that Canadian workers have the right to join a union, participate in collective bargaining without government interference and take strike action," said Clancy. "Based on these Supreme Court decisions, I predict most, if not all of these restrictive laws will be found to be unconstitutional.”
Clancy says government needs to acknowledge role of unions as one way to fight income inequality
“It’s time for governments across Canada to recognize the valuable role of unions in enhancing our democracy, economic equality and social justice,” Clancy. continued. “Rather than restrict the rights of unions, which has led to rising income inequality in Canada, governments should view unions and strong labour rights as one of the solutions to combatting income inequality.”
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is 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