Province refuses to respond to international condemnation for denying part-time college workers the right to organize.
Ottawa (22 Nov. 2010) - The Ontario government has snubbed the International Labour Organization (ILO) by refusing to respond to allegations regarding the rights of part-time college workers to organize.
A report by the ILO, a United Nations agency, asks the province to open consultations with the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) to deal with the situation.
Ontario's part-time community college workers are still being denied the basic right to form a union and participate in collective bargaining.
Thousands of Ontario part-time college workers cast ballots more than 22 months ago in the largest vote on unionizing in Ontario history. The ballots remain uncounted to this date.
OPSEU represents more than 15,000 full-time faculty and support staff at community colleges across Ontario.
The origins of the case go back to a complaint that the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) filed with the ILO in June 2005 on behalf of OPSEU.
The complaint was against the Ontario government for denying part-time community college workers the basic right to form a union and participate in collective bargaining.
In November, 2006 the ILO released a strong ruling in favour of the NUPGE/OPSEU complaint, stating at the time that it could not "see any reason why the basic rights of association and collective bargaining afforded to all workers should not also apply to part-time college employees.”
The ILO requested that the Ontario government ”rapidly take legislative measures to ensure that academic and part-time support staff in community colleges fully enjoy the rights to organize and bargain collectively, as any other workers.”
The Ontario government responded to this embarrassing international ruling by amending the Colleges Collective Bargaining Act (CCBA) in October, 2008 to provide all part-time and sessional faculty (and support staff) the right to bargain collectively.
In April of this year, NUPGE filed another submission with the ILO asking it to reopen its investigation of the original 2005 complaint.
The NUPGE submission noted that despite the amendments made to CCBA, part-time college employees were still being denied their fundamental right to join a union and bargain collectively.
It also noted that after the CCBA was amended, OPSEU had conducted an organizing drive in which the majority of the part-time employees signed cards and had applied for certification from the Ontario Labour Relations Board (OLRB). This was in 2009.
OPSEU's application was challenged by the colleges (on behalf of the government) by flooding its own list of employees with names that clearly would not be part of any part-time bargaining unit.
As a result, months of mediation and litigation have ensued at the OLRB over the past year. In effect, the employer has used every method at its disposal to delay and obstruct the counting of the vote.
To make matters worse, the colleges have manipulated the timing of the workers’ contracts to ensure that those who signed cards were not working when the union certification application was filed.
NUPGE's April, 2010 submission to the ILO pointed out that “a law that has no practical use is no law at all."
"The amended CCBA technically allows part-time college workers in Ontario to unionize but it’s been a complete failure in practice and these workers continue to have their rights denied,” the submission argued.
NUPGE national president James Clancy noted that the most recent ILO ruling makes it twice in the same week that the international agency has condemned the Ontario government for anti-labour practices.
Earlier, the ILO ruled in favour of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada) in a complaint dealing with the ongoing denial of collective bargaining rights for farm workers.
"It's absolutely appalling that the Ontario government has decided to snub the ILO, a respected agency of the UN," Clancy said.
"Delay after delay, stonewalling, throwing up roadblocks - all these strategies by the McGuinty government do not disguise simple reality. This government is doing whatever it can to continue denying legitimate groups of workers their constitutional right to bargain collectively," he noted.
"Rest assured that NUPGE will do whatever it can to continue to advance this case at the ILO until such a time that OPSEU sits down at the bargaining table with the colleges to bargain a legal collective agreement for part-time college workers in the province."
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