British Columbia’s Supreme Court has struck down legislation limiting the right of public school teachers to negotiate issues at the core of their employment relationship.
In a 103-page decision, Justice Susan Griffin ruled the BC government breached the guarantees of freedom of association set out in Canada’ Charter of Rights and Freedoms by passing laws that infringed on the collective rights of teachers.
The court challenge was launched by the BC Teachers’ Federation in response to two anti-union laws passed by the Liberal government of then-Premier Gordon Campbell — Bill 28, the Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act 2002 and Bill 27, the Education Services Collective Agreement Amendment Act 2004.
The controversial legislation negated existing contract language on the composition and size of classes, staffing levels, teaching loads and a range of other working conditions, and ended teachers’ ability to negotiate these provisions in subsequent rounds of bargaining.
BCTF president Susan Lambert said the significance of the win cannot be overstated.
“Teachers once again have full and free collective bargaining rights and our collective agreements must be honoured,” said Lambert in an April 13 press release. “Over the past decade, we have put tremendous effort and determination into the struggle to reassert our rights and regain the kind of teaching and learning conditions in our classrooms that we know students need and deserve, and today all those efforts are vindicated.”
Cindy Oliver, president of the Federation of Post-secondary Educators of BC, hailed the court’s decision as a positive and supportive one for the labour movement.
“The Supreme Court has once again reaffirmed the rights we have to collective bargaining and in doing so sent a strong rebuke to the BC Liberal Cabinet for the contract-ripping legislation they imposed on educators.”
The message from the court, she says, “reminds governments at both the provincial and federal level they’re making a mistake if they try to ignore the precedent set by this ruling.”
Griffin’s judgment mirrors an earlier International Labour Organization finding that BC’s restrictions on teacher bargaining rights violated the ILO’s “Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.” Although the ILO called for remedial action to bring the offending legislation in line with international standards, the government ignored its recommendations.
“The Supreme Court ruling in the BCTF case reaffirms that collective bargaining is a protected right in Canada, just as important as freedom of speech and freedom of thought,” said Robert Clift, executive director of the Confederation of University Faculty Associations of BC. “Government is not free to extinguish this freedom because they may find it inconvenient. The BCTF decision, and an earlier decision on a legal challenge launched by the Hospital Employees’ Union, will have a long-lasting impact on collective bargaining in British Columbia and the rest of Canada.”
Griffin has given the government one year to make changes.