When will Governments learn – Collective Bargaining is a constitutional right!
Many say we have come a long way in labour relations in Canada since the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This charter gives all Canadians the freedom of association, and by extension, the right to join a union, have a collective voice, and ultimately the right to collectively bargain.
But in reality, have we progressed very far?
In the mid 1960’s Jean Lesage, the Premier of Quebec stated, “the Queen does not negotiate with her subjects.” That sentiment that public sector workers did not have the same rights as private sector employees was common in that era. This sentiment continues in the 21 century, where Canadian Provincial governments continue to infringe on the rights of public sector workers, while judges continue to rule in favour of upholding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The story behind this infringement of collective bargaining rights goes back four years to 2012 and the passing of Bill 115 – Putting Students First Act.
Bill 115 was a legal slight of hand employed by the Ontario Liberals. The Ontario Liberals did not want to pass back to work legislation as they knew that may be considered illegal. So what did the Government do? They imposed a new collective agreement on the teachers unions and when you have a current collective agreement the union does not have the right to strike. Effectively, the government forced the teachers to go back to work without passing legislation to take away that right.
An interesting twist to the story is that once the collective agreements were in place, the Ontario Liberals repealed Bill 115. Ultimately, it was just like it never existed. Since the teachers were now bound by a collective agreement, the union had no right to strike. It was a very clever move by the Liberals, but it did not stand up to a court challenge.
In effect, the Ontario Liberals felt they were above the law. It took four years, but it has been ruled that Bill 115 was an abuse of power and that it was illegal.
Public sector labour relations are very complex. Trying to balance public budgets, safety, and services is not an easy tasks. Governments must learn to respect that most public sector employees have the right to freely collectively bargain which includes the right to picket and strike.
- After reading and researching Bill 115, discuss what type of strain the Bill has placed on labour relations between the School Boards, the Government, and the Teachers Unions.