B.C. navy repairmen take government to court

Dockyard workers say government breached Charter rights capping wages

British Columbia dockyard workers who service Canada’s Pacific Fleet are taking the federal government to court for retroactively removing an arbitrated wage increase from their collective agreement. Arguments began earlier this week in front of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Over two years ago, the Federal Government Trades and Labour Council (FGDTLC), an organization of the 11 unions representing workers at the navy base in Esquimalt on Vancouver Island, opted for arbitration when negotiations broke down during contract negotiations. In January 2009, the 980 unionized workers were awarded a 5.2 per cent trades adjustment dating back to October 2006.

However, when the federal government introduced the Expenditure Restraint Act, Bill C-10, in March 2009, it capped increases for federal employees at 1 .5 per cent and cancelled the 5.2 per cent adjustment granted to dockyard workers.

The FGDTLC is arguing that this is unconstitutional as it is a violation of the freedom of association guarantee set out in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The union says that they are relying heavily on a 2007 Supreme Court of Canada decision that eliminated the government’s ability to set wages for hospital workers.

The FGDTLC also says that the B.C. Supreme Court’s recent ruling regarding the B.C. teachers’ union supports their argument. Earlier this month, the court indicated the government violated teachers' constitutional rights when it stripped them of the ability to negotiate the size and composition of their classes.

The case will continue to be heard in front of the court this week.

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