Saturday 7 April 2012

Court Decision Upholds Working People's Rights

Workers in Saskatchewan, and across Canada, won a significant legal victory on February 6, 2012. Justice Dennis Ball ruled that the right to strike is a protected freedom for all workers under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

He also found that the right to strike is protected by international law, and that governments are bound by international law when assessing the constitutionality of our laws under the Charter.  Download Justice Ball's decision here....

As a result of these findings, he ruled that the Sask. Party government’s “essential services” legislation (also known as Bill 5), violates our fundamental freedoms and human rights. He said the law, in its entirety, is unconstitutional.

The Judge said that when a law violates the Charter, if the government has failed in its duty to consult prior to passing the law, the law must be struck down. Just like the United Nations’ International Labour Organization (ILO) warned the Saskatchewan government, they must consult with citizens before introducing legislation that affects Charter rights.

Justice Ball even paid attention to the role of government as employer. He said that governments cannot use their sovereign power to legislate in a manner that eliminates the obligation to respect their employees’ collective bargaining rights.

What happens now?

The Judge ruled that the invalidity of the old law is suspended for 12 months, to give the government time to fix it if possible.

The government is appealing the Judge’s ruling that freedom of association includes the right to strike, in the hopes that, if they win, Bill 5 will stay in force. At the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, the unions will defend the right to strike finding, and will cross-appeal on the unconstitutionality of Bill 6 (the 2008 changes to The Trade Union Act).

What about Bill 6?

The Judge did not agree with our argument that the changes to The Trade Union Act violated workers’ fundamental freedoms under the Charter. He did not, however, dispute our facts about the number of union certifications decreasing since the passing of the laws. Regarding employer communication, he says “even a reasonably courageous employee can be cowed by employer statements that directly or implicitly threaten negative consequences if the wishes of the employer are opposed.”

What kind of input will labour have into any new essential services law?

Minister Don Morgan asked us for written feedback, with a deadline of two weeks. Working people’s organizations (which already submitted feedback on Bill 5 and 6 to the government when it was introduced, and also to the court in its written and oral arguments) have asked for face-to-face meetings to discuss what kind of consultation would comply with Judge Ball’s decision.

What are the remedies?

The Judge has agreed to hear submissions on remedies for the violation of working people’s rights.

Five little-known facts about the Bills 5 and 6 Charter challenge

1. Non-affiliated unions who joined in solidarity with the SFL et al: 3 (Health Sciences Association of Saskatchewan, University of Regina Faculty Association, and Teamsters local 395.)

2. Number of lawyers who participated in the trial (from both sides): 19

3. Total days of argument: 12

4. Number of pages filed with the Court: approximately 15,000

5. Employers who intervened in the case (SAHO, the Saskatoon Regional Health Authority, SaskPower, SaskEnergy, the University of Regina, the University of Saskatchewan, City of Regina, City of Saskatoon, SUMA and SARM) argued that management should have the final say in who can strike and who cannot.

Quotable Quotes

“I am satisfied that the right to strike is a fundamental freedom protected by s.2(d) of the Charter along with the interdependent rights to organize and to bargain collectively. That conclusion is grounded in Canada’s labour history, recent Supreme Court of Canada jurisprudence and labour relations realities. It is also supported by international instruments which Canada has undertaken to uphold.”
— Justice Dennis Ball, Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, February 2012

“The ultimate truth of free collective bargaining is that it can only operate effectively, in market terms, if it is backed up by the threat of economic sanction.”
— Justice Ball, quoting Rayner

“...the evidence clearly established that substantive consultations with respect to the PSES Act took place only between the Government and employer groups. It also establishes that although the largest public sector Unions made every effort to meet with the Government representatives in order to have meaningful input into the legislation, their efforts were unsuccessful. Any consultation with the Unions about the PSES Act was superficial at best.”

“It is enough to say that no other essential services legislation in Canada comes close to prohibiting the right to strike as broadly, and as significantly, as the PSES Act. No other essential services legislation is as devoid of access to independent, effective dispute resolution processes...”

Download a PDF Version of the SFL Newsletter here....

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Net Benefit

"Rio Tinto and Caterpillar Electro Motive are newly minted Canadian corporate citizens who have locked their workers out to freeze and starve. These corporate muggers were allowed into Canada and encouraged in their anti Canadianism by the Harper Junta. It's going to be a cold winter and a hot summer in Canada..."

Monday 16 January 2012

Labour leaders call on premiers to unite & defend healthcare

The open letter below was written to Canada's Premiers from the Presidents of Provincial and Territorial Federations of Labour:

An open letter to Canada's Premiers:

Labour leaders call on Premiers to unite & defend healthcare

The future of Canada’s healthcare system is at a critical stage.

As leaders of the provincial and territorial Federations of Labour, we are calling on the country’s premiers, who are meeting in Victoria, to put forward a united front and stand up for Canada’s universal healthcare system and the millions of Canadians who depend on it.

In December, the Harper government sent a clear message that it intends to abrogate its responsibility to defend national healthcare standards and universality. It plans to walk away from its responsibility to lead the negotiations to develop a new Health Accord. The current Accord ends in 2014.

Instead, the federal government has laid out a take-it-or-leave-it funding formula that will see Ottawa contributing a lot less to healthcare by 2017, tying increases in funding to economic growth.

This is an attempt by the Harper Government to hijack the real debate. The real debate should be how we tackle and bring about meaningful and positive change. The real debate must be how we build and enhance our public healthcare system. The current Health Accord has shown us that with stable long-term funding and common goals and targets, we can deliver better healthcare.

Our most valued social program – something that unites all Canadians – deserves a plan that tackles growing disparities in health outcomes and growing gaps in access to care.

While Canadians need to see stable funding for healthcare, there are also the issues of accountability, national standards and targets, equality of access and quality. How will these issues be addressed if the federal government washes its hands of its responsibility?

As provincial labour leaders representing workers from coast to coast, we appeal to you as premiers and provincial leaders. This is not just about dollars and cents it’s about values – values that Canadians have embraced for half a century.

Values that include a publically-funded and administered healthcare system where all Canadians have access to the same quality healthcare regardless of income and no matter where they live in our country.

It’s about a Canada where families with loved ones battling diseases that threaten their lives are not also forced to contend with poverty and inadequate care.

The next generation of Canadians deserves a high-quality healthcare system, not one starved for funds. Our children need to know that their right to decent healthcare is based on their rights as citizens and not the limits on their credit cards.

As Premiers, you are well positioned to stand up for all Canadians. As premiers, you are the frontline for all of us in the fight for adequate and sustainable funding that protects our healthcare system.

Some of you have come to the conclusion that the Flaherty plan will erode our universal healthcare system and values. We agree.

In fact, we believe the federal Conservative plan of further corporate tax cuts, on the one hand, and reduced funding for healthcare, on the other, will simply further reward the 1 Percent and punish the 99 Percent.

As premiers, you are discussing the very values that Canadians embrace: equality, fairness, access for all regardless of income.

Those who came before us created a healthcare system based on the solidarity of Canadians with each other. It is our collective duty to ensure its survival for generations to come. Unfortunately, what the federal government is proposing does not meet this test.

Now is not the time to be looking for a better deal for any individual province or territory. Now is the time to be united.

We ask you to reject the federal proposal, to reject a framework that leaves Canadians out of the discussion and to embrace the values upon which our nation and our healthcare system were built.

We are calling on you, as Premiers, to send a message not only to the Harper government and the Canadian public, but to the tens of thousands of workers who provide care to Canadians every day that you will defend healthcare.

At the end of your meeting, Canadians will ask a simple question: did their leaders take up the challenge to stand up for the health and the wellbeing of all Canadians or did they allow the federal government to erode the social foundation of our country? The choice, and responsibility, is yours.

Canadians are counting on you to make the right decision.


The Presidents of the Provincial and Territorial Federations of Labour:

Jim Sinclair, British Columbia
Don Austin, Yukon
MaryLou Cherwaty, NWT and Nunavut
Gil McGowan, Alberta
Larry Hubich, Saskatchewan
Kevin Rebeck, Manitoba
Sid Ryan, Ontario
Michel Boudreau, New Brunswick
Carl Pursey, PEI
Rick Clarke, Nova Scotia
Lana Payne, Newfoundland and Labrador

Click to download a PDF version of the letter and accompanying news release

Monday 2 January 2012

SFL awaits Court decision in Charter Challenge case against Bills 5 & 6

During November of 2011 the SFL et al, along with 3 intervenor unions were in court to argue that the Saskatchewan provincial government’s (2007 - 2008) labour legislation (Bills 5 & 6) violates the Charter rights of working people.

The SFL team argued 3 main points:

1. People have the right to form unions of their own choosing for the purpose of bargaining collectively with their employers:
  • Free from employer and government interference;
  • Consistent with international human rights as defined by the United Nations;
  • Consistent with the freedom of association provisions of the Charter; and
  • Consistent with the freedom of expression provisions of the Charter.

2. The provincial government should ensure a level playing field for working people with major corporations by defending working people’s ability to have a voice in the workplace.

3. The government should re-balance its legislation and enable unions to defend the rights of working people from attacks that have tipped the scales in favour of rich corporations and CEOs.

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association.

It is extremely important that we continue to take our case against the provincial government forward and to defend the charter rights of working people in our province.