Once again, a provincial government has embarrassed Canada at the International Labour Organization. This time it is the Saskatchewan government that has been chastised by the ILO’s expert body on freedom of association. Here is the story from the Star-Phoenix.
Here is the report of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association released last week.
Following in the not-so-proud footsteps of other anti-union governments in Canada (like Mike Harris’ Conservatives in Ontario and Gordon Campbell’s Liberals in B.C.), the Saskatchewan government passed legislation designed to water down the right to strike in the public sector and to make it very difficult for workers to organize unions at their workplaces. The ILO has repeatedly singled out these Canadian governments for their complete disregard of internationally accepted labour rights. In fact, Canada has been found in contravention of ILO Conventions and principals more than any other country in the world over the past twenty years since the neo-conservative agenda swept across the country.
In the newest case, the ILO Freedom of Association Committee found, among other things, that:
- the government had an obligation to consult with the labour movement and it failed to do so;
- that the new essential services legislation contravened the ILO’s principles on freedom of association by granting authority in the government itself to define what services are “essential” rather than an independent third party; and
- that the requirement for workers to have to collect union membership evidence on behalf of at least 45% eligible employees was too high since it would make it exceedingly difficult for workers to organize.
That last point it is interesting, because B.C. has the same 45% threshold, and Ontario, Alberta, and Manitoba have a similarly high 40% threshold. The Committee ‘recommended’ (that’s what the ILO does) that the government ‘amend’ the essential services legislation to give the labour board the ultimate authority to decide which workers and services are essential, rather than the government. It also told the government to amend the Trade Union Act to “lower the requirement, set at 45%, for the minimum number of employees expressing support for a trade union in order to begin the process of a certification process”, but we are not told what level is acceptable.
Here is a nice summary of the case and the issues by the leader of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour Larry Hubich. I looked on the Ministry’s website and I couldn’t find any reference to the ILO’s decision. The Minister, a guy named Rob Norris who (as far as I can tell from his on-line c.v.) has no expertise whatever in labour law or international labour law issues, offered this insightful response: “This is non-binding and certainly I don’t think this is some of the best work from the ILO.” In other words, ILO be-damned, and mind your own business.
What do you think about the flippant way that the government dismisses criticism from the world’s leading moral and legal authority on labour law? Do you think it undermines Canada’s moral authority to criticize other countries that ignore their obligations under international human rights instruments?
Recall that in the B.C. Health Services decision, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the requirement for governments to protect “freedom of association” under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms must be interpreted to provide at least the level of protection required by ILO Convention 87 and the decisions and observations of the Freedom of Association Committee. Clearly, the Saskatchewan government has failed to live up to that obligation, and yet it appears it intend to do nothing about its shortcomings.
As Saskatchewan labour lawyer Peter Barnacle noted in a Guest Blog for me a while back, a Charter challenge was also launched against the legislation. That litigation is still turning its way through the lower courts. Thanks to Larry Hubich for sending along the Statement of Claim. Here it is.
Tommy Douglas must be turning in his grave …