ILO cites over 20 ongoing labour rights violations by Canadian governments

The ILO “has been expressing concern for many years on the exclusion of wide categories of workers from statutory protection of freedom of association and on the restrictions on the right to strike in several provinces.”

Geneva (04 April 2012) – In a recent report reviewing the extent of Canada’s compliance to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) most fundamental Convention – No. 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, the ILO cited over 20 instances where governments across Canada have refused to change labour laws which have been found to be in contravention of Convention No. 87.

Convention No. 87 establishes the universal right of all workers to form and join unions of their own choosing, as well as the right to engage in free collective bargaining and strike action. Canada, with the support of all provincial and territorial governments, ratified Convention No. 87 in March 1972.

In its report, the ILO “stressed the importance of ensuring to all workers [in Canada], without distinction whatsoever, the right to form and join the organization of their own choosing and, accordingly, expressed the firm hope that all necessary measures would be adopted in the near future to provide full guarantees of the rights set forth in the Convention to all workers.”

The ILO noted that it “has been expressing concern for many years on the exclusion of wide categories of workers from statutory protection of freedom of association and on the restrictions on the right to strike in several provinces.”

The denial of the right to join a union

Among the violations noted, the ILO cites the following categories of workers who continue to be denied the fundamental right to join a union:

  • Agricultural workers in Alberta and Ontario;
  • Domestic workers, in Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick, PEI and Saskatchewan;
  • Architects, dentists, land surveyors, engineers and lawyers in Ontario, Alberta, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI and Saskatchewan;
  • Nurse practitioners in Alberta; 
  • University faculty in Alberta; and 
  • Part-time employees of community colleges in Ontario.

The report made reference to the April 2011 Supreme Court of Canada decision regarding the Ontario Agricultural Employees Protection Act (AEPA) which found the legislation constitutional because it allowed for “good faith” negotiations between agricultural workers and their employers. But according to the ILO, good faith which merely obliges employers to give a reasonable opportunity for employee representations and listen or read them, is not good enough.

“While acknowledging the Supreme Court decision upholding the constitutionality of the AEPA, the [ILO] Committee nevertheless notes with regret that the Government of Ontario is not considering any amendments to the AEPA aimed at ensuring sufficient guarantees for the full exercise of freedom of association rights by agricultural workers, particularly bearing in mind the obstacles to organizing that are inherent to the nature of this work, as well as the conditions necessary to enable these workers to have recourse to industrial actions without sanction.”

With respect to part-time employees of community colleges in Ontario, the ILO noted the Ontario government amended legislation in 2008 that gave the employees the right to bargain collectively and that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU/NUPGE) had filed certification applications over three years ago to represent both the part-time academic staff and part-time support staff.

The ILO, however, condemned the fact that certification has not been granted as a result of ongoing and costly litigation caused by the colleges. It has asked the Ontario government “to lift any obstacle in law and practice which would hinder these rights as provided in the Convention”.

The denial of the right to strike

The ILO report cites a number of categories of workers in Canada who are restricted from exercising on their right to strike such as:

  • Teachers in B.C. and Manitoba;
  • Certain categories of workers employed by Alberta’s Regional Health Authorities, like gardeners, labourers and other non-essential services employees;
  • Over 500,000 public employees in Quebec who, as a result of the Charest government’s Bill 43 in 2006, had their right to strike (as well as their right to bargain collectively) suspended for five years; and
  • Public sector workers in Saskatchewan who are effectively denied the right to strike as a result of the 2008 far reaching essential services legislation passed by the Brad Wall government.

Each of the legislative violations cited in the ILO report were subject to an ILO complaint from a Canadian union. Since 1982, there have been 81 ILO complaints filed against Canadian federal and provincial labour legislation. The 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has submitted 26 of these complaints on behalf of its provincial Component unions during that period.

The review did not consider the three most recent retrictive labour laws passed in Canada, namely two passed by the Harper government – one in June 2011 denying postal workers from taking strike action (Bill C-2), another passed last month preventing two of Air Canada’s unions from going on strike (Bill C-33) and a BC law passed last month preventing any further strike action by B.C. teachers (Bill 22).


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