President's Commentary: Alberta's Bills 45 and 46: One of the worst attacks on labour rights in decades | National Union of Public and General Employees

President's Commentary: Alberta's Bills 45 and 46: One of the worst attacks on labour rights in decades

“These proposed laws are a blatant violation of Canadians' fundamental rights to freedom of association and expression as contained in Canada's Charter.  Equally offensive is the undemocratic way the Redford government introduced the legislation and the dictatorial process by which it intends to pass the two anti-union laws.”

Ottawa (05 Dec. 2013) – The anti-union Bills 45 and 46, rammed through the Alberta legislature yesterday evening and this morning, are one of the worst attacks on labour rights witnessed in Canada in decades.  These laws have no resemblance of fairness and justice and are a blatant violation of Canadians' fundamental rights to freedom of association and expression as contained in Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Equally offensive is the undemocratic way the Redford government introduced the legislation and the dictatorial process by which it passed the two anti-union laws. 

Redford introduces dangerous anti-worker legislation, trampling on rights and making it illegal to even utter the word strike

Both Bills were introduced last week without any consultation with unions which will be impacted by the regressive legislation.  The government introduced a motion to limit debate and enforce closure, even before the Bills were tabled in the legislature.  This is unheard of in Canada  – members of a legislature being asked to limit debate and enforce closure on draft legislation that they have not yet seen.

Bill 45, the Public Sector Services Continuation Act, places further restrictions on over 100,000 unionized workers in Alberta who already are denied their right to strike.  It broadens the definition of a strike to include “any slowdown or any activity that has the effect of restricting or disrupting production or services."

Bill 45 can be best described as legislative overkill.  It denies individuals the fundamental right to freedom of expression.  Bill 45 introduces 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 to freely express a view which calls for or supports strike action. 

Those who are not directly involved with a union, like an academic or public policy commentator, could be prosecuted for suggesting that a strike is the only recourse to protect the public interest or draw attention to unsafe working conditions that put the health of workers and the general public at risk.

Bill 45 also imposes huge punitive fines on unions, their members and citizens who encourage or support an “illegal strike” or “strike threat”.

Bill 46 is the most restrictive public sector collective bargaining law in Canada removing access to legal means to find a fair settlement

Bill 46, the Public Service Salary Restraint Act, takes away the only dispute resolution mechanism available to some 21,000 members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees  who work for the Alberta government.

Alberta already has the most restrictive public sector collective bargaining law in Canada with its blanket denial of the right to strike for public workers.  Once negotiations fail to produce a settlement, the only process available for public sector workers is arbitration.   Recently, after six months of failed negotiations,  the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) applied for and was granted the right to arbitration.  In fact, dates were already established for the arbitration to take place.

Alberta government derails negotiations currently in progress with salary restraint legislation, prime example of bargaining in bad faith

There cannot be a more demonstrable example of bad faith bargaining on behalf of the government than Bill 46.  It retroactively eliminated the scheduled arbitration process, giving government workers 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 of 0%, 0%, 1% and 1% over four years with a lump sum payment of $875, or have that offer legislated on them.

In tabling these two pieces of legislation, the Redford government has boldly demonstrated its willingness to negotiate in bad faith, ride roughshod over fundamental human rights of Canadians and ignore every international labour standard that our governments have set their signatures to.

There is absolutely no economic grounds to justify this anti-democratic behaviour.  Alberta's economy is growing; the province’s GDP is forecast to expand by 3.3 per cent this year and 3.5% next year.  There were 33,800 jobs added in the Alberta labour market in the third quarter of this year and the latest unemployment rate for the province is 4.3 per cent.  In fact, the day before Bills 45 and 46 were tabled in the legislature, the Finance Minister reported an operational surplus of more than $1 billion in the first six months of the current fiscal year.

Legislation is cover for an agenda to silence public sector union members and weaken democracy

What's really behind this attack?  Plain and simple, the Redford government is determined to weaken and silence public sector unions in the province. 

Why?  Because public sector unions have a strong tradition of standing up for quality public services and the public interest. 

Public sector unions, along with the rest of the labour movement in Alberta, are the only democratic counterweight to the government's agenda of corporate tax cuts, deregulation, privatization and the elimination of public services.  To weaken them and silence their voice will make it easier for government to move ahead with its agenda.  But it will also have grave consequences for society – our democracy will continue to be weakened and our ability to confront the challenges of growing income inequality will be undermined. 

Canadians from to coast to coast to coast need to speak up.

In solidarity,

James Clancy
NUPGE National President

NUPGE

James Clancy is the National President of the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), 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

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