The influence of provincial politics on the labour relations agenda appears to be highly active in the current legislative landscape across Canada. Ontario and Alberta have experienced multiple changes impacting legislation and workers through recent governing party changes. British Columbia has now entered the scene through the recent introduction of amendments to its Labour Relations Code.
In the spring of 2019, the NDP government in British Columbia announced significant changes to this particular piece of legislation, which had not been amended since 1992. The provincial labour minister, Harry Bains, spoke to the upcoming changes as noted through various news outlets and media campaigns.
Out of all of the proposed changes, it is interesting to note that the ruling government in BC is looking to remove the ‘essential service’ status of public education in the province. This means that the teachers’ union in the province would, once again, have the right to strike as part of the collective bargaining process. The history between previous governments and the BC Teachers’ Federation, has been bitter and acrimonious, to say the least. For over 15 years, the two parties were locked in several collective bargaining disputes, including the longest strike in the province’s history in 2014, which went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
As noted in the timeline summary, the current collective agreement between the government and the federation is due to expire in 2019. The government’s proposed changes should allow the parties to have more freedom to bargain through the removal of the essential services designation for public education sector workers. While the right to strike may be curtailed (as noted in the proposed changes – the Teachers’ Federation would still need to ‘meet a test through the provincial labour board in order to take strike action’), the removal of the designation does not seem to be a mere coincidence. As the parties are set to begin the bargaining process, the changes to the legislation impacting the right to bargain and the right to strike seem to be lining up at the same time. Whether or not all of these pieces will merge and result in harmonious labour relations between historically bitter parties, remains to be seen.
- Which services are designated as ‘essential’ under provincial and federal labour legislation across Canada?
- What is the standard for a service to be designated as ‘essential’?
- Why is the right to strike curtailed for ‘essential services’?
- Do you agree or disagree that public education should be declared an essential service? Explain your rationale.