I noted last week that the Federal government had exercised its right to order a vote on the employer’s last offer in the ongoing public transit strike in Ottawa. That vote was held and the striking workers overwhelmingly rejected the offer, as this story in the Ottawa Citizen notes. So the strike continues.
Michael Mac Neil, professor of labour law at Carelton, submitted the following useful comment on this situation to my entry yesterday about whether York should exercise its right to order a vote on its last offer (thanks Michael):
The Amalgamated Transit Union, represneting workers of OC Transpo in Ottawa, just voted yesterday on the employer’s final offer after the vote was ordered by the federal Labour Minister. The vote was 75% against accepting the offer. The ATU gave almost exactly the same reason [as is CUPE at York] for not putting the offer to its members – there was essentially no change in the offer from earlier employer offers. So it looks as if we are in for lots of winter walking here in Ottawa. The Canada Industrial Relations Board has also been asked to consider whether the strike poses a danger to health and safety. If the Board so decides, it can order that an appropriate level of services be resumed. The essential services provision in the Canada Labour Code is quite narrow, and allows intervention only with respect to danger to health and safety – no economic hardships to be taken into account. Furthermore, the danger must be serious and immediate. If the CIRB does not intervene, we may have a very long strike, unless Parliament decides to intervene once it is back in session.
In Ontario, “essential services” are dealt with in industry specific legislation, such as the Fire Protection and Prevention Act, s. 50 of which requires all bargaining disputes to go to binding arbitration (strikes are not permitted). The Crown Employees Collective Bargaining Act covers public sector employers, and requires that an “essential services” agreement be bargained by the employer and the union that specifies which employees, and how many, are required to keep working to ensure that essential services are maintained during a strike. Essential services is defined in s. 30):
“essential services” means services that are necessary to enable the employer to prevent,
(a) danger to life, health or safety,
(b) the destruction or serious deterioration of machinery, equipment or premises,
(c) serious environmental damage, or
(d) disruption of the administration of the courts or of legislative drafting;
Jonathan Eaton was written a very helpful paper explaining Ontario’s approach to essential services. it should be clear from this very quick summary that university education does not fall within the meaning of “essential services”. However, a government can still pass to back-to-work legislation, but I have heard no rumbling that the Liberal government is considering that in relation to the York strike.