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CAUT Bulletin Archives

January 1999

Labour Rights in Canada Under Fire

A new report on Canada's labour rights shatters the illusion of Canada as a country with a progressive attitude to trade union rights says the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions following the publication of a report released to complement the WTO's trade policy review on Canada.

The report describes a country where federal and provincial governments seem set on rejecting trade union rights at every opportunity. The main infringement of basic union rights by the Canadian government and by many of Canada's provinces centres around their interference in the collective bargaining rights of trade unions in the public sector. They are also inactive in the face of flagrant anti-union discrimination by private companies. The government has also refused to ratify ILO Convention 98 on collective bargaining.

The violation of the collective bargaining rights for public employees began in 1977 with the Public Service Employee Act in Alberta. This trend continued with the passage of legislation by various provinces, including Manitoba, and Ontario, which passed an act in 1997 specifically named "To Prevent Unionisation with respect to Community Participation." The provinces of Alberta, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia restrict strikes by public employees. The Conservative government in Ontario bans strikes by hospital workers, having failed to win the passage of far-reaching legislation in 1997 that would have banned all strikes by public-service employees, because of a vigorous union campaign.

Workers in the public sector who provide essential services are not allowed to strike in most provinces either, and the province of Alberta has taken this a step further by broadening "essential services" to include jobs such as gardening. This move, and a similar one in Quebec defining too many services as "essential" have been rightly criticised by the International Labour Organisation, but the two Provincial governments have ignored ILO recommendations to amend their legislation.

Workers in the private sector also suffer greatly from this anti-union attitude, because employers are in effect free to intervene in union affairs. Employer interference with workers' rights in the retail sector in Alberta makes it virtually impossible for unions to exist. In Ontario, architects', dentists', land surveyors', lawyers' and doctors' trade union rights were taken away with the 1995 Labour Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendments. This legislation also removed the protection of trade union recognition and collective agreements for contract service workers.

The ICFTU says a number of measures have to be taken to establish full respect for basic labour standards in Canada. For a start, Canada should ratify ILO Convention No. 98 on the Right to Collective Bargaining, and also ensure that workers are given these rights by federal and provincial governments. In addition, workers in non-essential services in Alberta, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and in the ports and railways sector need to be given the right to strike.

The ICFTU says that the WTO should remind the Canadian government of the commitments it has made to observe core labour standards, and should also request the ILO to intensify its work with Canada to ensure it brings its legislation into line with the ILO's core labour conventions.

Source: ICFTU OnLine. The ICFTU's Canada report can be found at