Unfortunately, despite Canada's close connection to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration has been constantly undermined here in Canada because of the ongoing attack on labour rights.
Ottawa (09 Dec. 2013) – December 10 is the 65th International Human Rights Day. This date is observed by the international community every year to commemorate the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration was one of the UN’s first major achievements, and remains a powerful instrument and symbol worldwide.
Few people know that the historic document’s first draft was written by a Canadian. The principal author of the Declaration was a native of New Brunswick named John Peters Humphrey. In 1946 he was appointed as the first director of the human rights division of the United Nations Secretariat, where he was the principal drafter of the Universal Declaration.
The National Union has a longstanding history of placing human rights at the forefront of our day-to-day work. That includes all human rights, from equality and civil rights to social and economic rights. It also includes labour rights which are inseparable from all other rights. One cannot pick and choose among human rights, ignoring some while insisting on others.
UN Declaration of Human Rights being undermined in Canada
Article 23 of the Universal Declaration speaks to labour rights in that it recognizes the right to join a union and bargain collectively as a basic human right and a cornerstone of democracy.
Unfortunately, despite Canada's close connection to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Declaration has been constantly undermined here in Canada as a result of the ongoing attack on labour rights. Of the 213 labour laws enacted in Canada since 1982, 206 have either restricted, suspended or denied labour rights for Canadian workers.
Assault on labour rights in Canada has intensified
If anything, the assault on labour rights here in Canada has intensified. In the past twelve months, there has been six restrictive labour laws passed in Canada (see the Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights). Only last week, the Alberta legislature rammed through two anti-union – Bills 45 and 46, both of which are blatant violations of Canadians' fundamental rights to freedom of association and expression as contained in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
And we can expect to see more of the same in the coming months. The Harper government have three anti-labour rights Bills lined up for debate in the New Year, which with its majority, will have little problem having them passed:
- Bill C-377 will slap extraordinary financial accounting requirements and other burdens on Canadian labour unions.
- Bill C-525 will impose undemocratic conditions on all certification and decertification votes held in unions within the federal jurisdiction – counting those workers who don't vote in a certification vote as 'no votes' and counting those workers who don't vote in a decertification vote as 'yes votes'; and
- Bill C-4, the 2013 ominous budget bill, which contains essential services provisions that will effectively take away the right to strike from federal government employees.
Unions play a critical role in ensuring greater economic and social justice for all citizens
This legislative assault on labour rights has hurt the labour movement and our ability to represent our members and organize new members. The negative consequences, however, go well beyond the labour movement, as unions do far more than negotiate decent wages and benefits for its members. They also play a critical role in ensuring greater economic and social justice for all citizens. No country has ever achieved widespread prosperity without strong unions.
Labour rights are human rights
It therefore should not come as a surprise that income inequality flourishes when labour rights are being undermined. We as a nation, cannot address the problems of growing income inequality unless we are prepared to stop attacking labour rights and recognize the critical role they play in reducing inequality.
We must continue to make the connection between strong labour rights and our ability to achieve economic justice and equality for all Canadians.
So starting on this UN Human Rights Day and every day forward, let's not only defend but promote labour rights for what they are – human rights. If governments in Canada are truly committed to strengthening our democracy and achieving greater equality and justice for all citizen, then they must show greater respect for all human rights, including labour rights.
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