Right to strike restored to many public-sector workers after having been unjustly denied for decades
Edmonton – Alberta’s new essential services legislation strikes a reasonable and constructive balance between the right to strike enjoyed by all Canadians and the need to safeguard services whose disruption might endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public.
“Working people have always had the right to strike. It’s a fundamental component of the freedom of association that’s guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said. “This legislation recognizes there is no full and meaningful right of association through collective bargaining without the ability of workers to withhold their labour.”
The new essential services bill, tabled by Labour Minister Christina Gray on Tuesday, March 15, replaces the province’s longstanding ban on public-sector strikes by creating a framework that allows employers and unions to determine which workers provide an essential service – and will allow them to create a plan under which essential services will be maintained during a strike.
“This legislation is the result of an extremely collaborative process between both employers and employees. It was a process that resulted in a legislative framework that empowers invested parties to negotiate and make decisions without paternalistic intervention by government,” McGowan said. “This is the kind of respectful and consensus-based approach that should form the foundation of all labour legislation.”
The Government of Alberta was required to update the province’s essential services legislation after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, declaring that the right to collectively withdraw labour is a fundamental component of the right to bargain collectively.
In the decision, the Supreme Court wrote:
The right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right. It seems to me to be the time to give this conclusion constitutional benediction. This applies, too, to public sector employees. Those public sector employees who provide essential services undoubtedly have unique functions which may argue for a less disruptive mechanism when collective bargaining reaches an impasse, but they do not argue for no mechanism at all.
Olav Rokne, Communications Director, Alberta Federation of Labour at 780.218.4351 (cell) or via e-mail [email protected]