As we have learned from our labour relations studies, when workers represented by a union go on strike, they have a legitimate right to picket the workplace where the strike is taking place. Peaceful picketing is part of every Canadian’s right to freedom of expression, as enshrined in Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 2). When a union in Canada goes on strike, there is a clear expectation that its workers will ‘walk the line’ in order to ensure that this right is upheld.
Picketing takes place, typically, at designated locations bordering or outside of the employer’s property. Workers may be scheduled in shifts to walk back-and-forth on the boundaries of the property and/or across the entrances. They may carry signs and delay entry, for a reasonable amount of time, to others coming on to the premises or to the employer’s property. They may communicate information about the strike to individuals entering the worksite. These are lawful activities.
At the same time, individuals (including members of the public at large) continue to have the right to enter into the employer’s premises, if they choose to do so, without fear of intimidation, coercion, obstruction, or violence.
Click here for a brief outline of lawful rights for both workers and the public, as provided by the Peel Regional Police force.
What happens when the implementation of the rights of workers and the public collide? Picket-line problems.
When individuals perceive that their basic rights are being restricted, we often see a quick escalation of frustrations that can have drastic and unfortunate results for everyone involved. While situations can be difficult to understand, and challenging, especially when tempers flare due to perceived restrictions or inconveniences, we must ensure that the freedoms we all enjoy through our collective rights continue to be upheld — peacefully.
- In your opinion, who has the ‘greater’ right on a picket-line? The workers/union or the public? Explain your rationale.
- As a labour-relations officer for an organization whose employees are on strike, what measures would you put into place to ensure that striking workers are safe on a picket line?
- From the perspective of the employer with a union on strike, prepare a script that explains picket-line protocols to members of the public.