UN scolds Alberta over labour legislation

ILO supports union complaint over legislation that stripped the right to strike from some health-care workers
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|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 09/08/2004

The Alberta government has drawn the ire of the United Nations’ labour agency because it has taken the right to strike away from some health-care workers.

The Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO) also criticized the province for not consulting the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) and other affected unions when it passed Bill 27, legislation designed to restructure health regional labour relations bargaining units, in 2003.

“By bringing this to the attention of the United Nations last year, we wanted to let the government know that the world is watching when it uses legislation to remove internationally recognized rights,” said Dan MacLennan, AUPE president.

He said the ruling is symbolic and won’t likely convince the Alberta government to change its policies, but that the union hopes it will put pressure on the government to “do better” in future situations.

“Alberta’s laws need to reflect the basic right of people to withhold their services in a labour dispute,” said MacLennan. “We believe the ruling emphasizes the need for that right to be respected when a world agency like the ILO examines Alberta laws and concludes that we have come up short.”

The ILO report outlines the union’s complaints and the responses of the Alberta government. The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association, which examined the complaint, said that “in future rounds of negotiations, only workers of the health-care sector providing essential services in the strict sense of the term may be deprived of the right to strike.” It also said that those who lose the right to strike should “enjoy adequate, impartial and speedy conciliation and arbitration proceedings, in accordance with freedom of association principles.”

MacLennan said the condemnation goes right to the heart of a fundamental problem with Alberta’s labour laws in the union’s eyes.

“Many people who do not provide essential services are nonetheless denied their right to strike, and our experience is simply that the arbitration process in Alberta is neither impartial or fair in terms of timeliness,” said MacLennan.

According to the union the ILO committee concluded that before the legislation was passed in March 2003 there were no “real and meaningful” consultations with trade unions.

The ILO advised the province to provide an adequate consultation process conducted in good faith and where social partners have all the necessary information before the introduction of legislation.

“One of the most troubling aspects of (the legislation) was the idea that (it) would override legally negotiated contracts,” said MacLennan. “The implications of doing so in labour relations or other legal areas would be detrimental to any form of legal contract negotiated. We hope that this report by a respected international body will persuade the government not to extend this kind of treatment of front-line workers to other areas of labour law.”

The full report of the ILO committee is available at

www.ilo.org/public/english/standards/relm/gb/docs/gb289/pdf/gb-9.pdf

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