Labour groups push Harper government to ratify labour and human rights Conventions

'Successive Canadian governments, including the current Harper administration, have refused to ratify three key Conventions or to explain their failure to do so.' - NUPGE, CTF, CPA, UFCW Canada.

Download Leaflet: Canada's Shameful Secret - pdfOttawa (7 May 2009) – Four of Canada’s largest labour organizations, representing more than 800,000 workers, are launching a campaign to press the Harper government to ratify three international Conventions governing forced labour, child labour, and the right to collective bargaining. 

In launching the campaign, the leaders of the four organizations expressed deep frustration and disappointment with Canada’s refusal to ratify three core Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency. They are:

  • Convention No. 29 – Forced Labour: This Convention was passed by the ILO in 1930 and it prohibits all forms of forced or compulsory labour.  Canada is one of only nine countries that refuse to ratify it. 
  • Convention No. 138 – Minimum Age: This Convention was passed by the ILO in 1973 and it sets the minimum age for work.  Canada is one of only 51 countries that refuse to ratify it.
  • Convention No. 98 – Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining: This Convention was passed by the ILO in 1949 and provides that all workers have the right to organize unions and to bargain collectively. Canada is one of only 29 countries that refuse to ratify it. 

The four organizations involved in the campaign are the: 

  • National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).
  • Canadian Teachers’ Federation (CTF).
  • Canadian Police Association (CPA).
  • United Food and Commercial Workers Canada (UFCW).

Canada was an active participant when the Conventions were originally drafted, joining with other nations around the world in enthusiastically endorsing and signing them at the ILO. 

Silence from Harper

Yet successive Canadian governments, including the current Harper administration, have refused to ratify them or to explain their failure to do so.  As a result, Canada’s influence and credibility on the world stage is suffering, say the leaders of the four unions.
“It is bewildering why Canada hasn’t ratified international Conventions that it helped write,” says NUPGE president James Clancy.  “As the years pass, our refusal, disinterest or inability to ratify these Conventions becomes more and more embarrassing.”

“The failure to ratify Conventions on child labour and forced labour severely tarnishes Canada’s reputation around the world,” adds CTF president Emily Noble.  “Canada is not walking the talk. Its exhortations to other countries to abide by human rights protection ring false when it refuses to ratify these international Conventions."

The labour leaders also argue that the refusal to ratify these Conventions has meant that protections for workers in Canada are being weakened. 

“The right to organize a union and bargain collectively is well established as a fundamental human right, yet Canada’s refusal to ratify this particular Convention means many Canadian workers are currently deprived of basic rights, leaving them at the mercy of their employers with no ability to negotiate the terms and conditions of their employment,” says Wayne Hanley, UFCW Canada national president.

For example, employees who don't have the right to join a union include agricultural workers in Alberta and Ontario; substitute teachers in New Brunswick, P.E.I. and the Yukon; nurse practitioners in Alberta; certain casual workers employed by the provincial governments of New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador and members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Silence from Ambrose

The four leaders recently wrote to federal Labour Minister Rona Ambrose requesting a meeting to discuss Canada’s refusal to ratify the Conventions. To date they have not received a reply. 

“The gap between what Canada promises on the world stage and what Canada actually does at home needs to close,” says CPA president Charles Momy.  “We hope there will be an opportunity to work with Minister Ambrose to establish a legislative plan that ensures the Canadian government ratifies these Conventions without reservation.”

Canadians can find out more information and get involved with the campaign by visiting

More information:


  • Mike Luff, NUPGE Coordinator of Communications, tel: 613-228-9800
  • Francine Filion, CTF Director of Communications, mobile: 613-899-4247
  • Pierre Collin, CPA Communications Officer, tel: 613-231-4168, mobile: 613-299-6516
  • Michael Forman, UFCW Canada National Communications, tel: 416-579-8330

About the four national unions:

  • NUPGE is one of Canada's largest labour organizations, representing more than 340,000 members who work in both the public and private sector.
  • CTF is the national voice of close to 200,000 teachers across Canada.
  • CPA is the national voice for 57,000 police personnel across Canada.
  • UFCW Canada is Canada's largest private sector union with over 250,000 members across the country working in every sector of the food industry from field to table.