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April 2015

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Supreme Court of Canada Upholds Workers' Rights

The Supreme Court of Canada sided with workers' rights earlier this year, ruling that Saskatchewan's "essential services" act violated the nation's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The court also ruled that members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — Mounties — have the right to organize and collectively bargain.

The ruling Saskatchewan Party passed the Public Service Essential Services Act in 2007 as part of a series of bills meant to limit the rights of labour unions.

The act gave the provincial government the authority to unilaterally declare any public sector employee as providing an essential service, thus preventing them from participating in strike action.

Critics, including the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, say the bill effectively removed the right of public workers to strike.

"We've always protected the public during labour disputes, and ensured job action is a last resort," said SFL President Larry Hubich. "However, the recognition of the right to strike is necessary to restore the balance between workers and employers."

In its 5-2 decision, the court found on Jan. 30 that the act violated the Charter's guarantee of freedom of association.

Since taking over in 2007, Premier Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party government has passed or introduced numerous anti-workers bills. So many that Financial Post columnist Terence Corcoran termed the province "Saskawisconsin," in reference to Wisconsin under Gov. Scott Walker.

Soon after taking power, Wall's government passed legislation that eliminated majority sign-up in union elections. And in 2010, it passed Bill 80, which alters labor law to allow for organizing "wall-to-wall," not segmented by job description.

Critics say it opened the door for employer-favored unions like the cross-craft Christian Labour Association of Canada to take work from the building trades.

Labour leaders weren't surprised when the International Trade Union Confederation added Saskatchewan to its annual global survey of places with the worst records of workers' rights violations, which included such countries as Colombia, Belarus and Iran.

"The Supreme Court's decision is a reminder to every politician that workers' rights are a key foundation of Canadian democracy," said First District Vice President Bill Daniels. "This is a win for everyone who believes in freedom of association — both inside and outside of the workplace."

In another decision, the court struck down a rule banning members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from collectively bargaining.

RCMP members have fought for the right to organize a union for more than a decade. The court's ruling is a reversal of an earlier decision banning Mounties from organizing.

"Now we're going to be able to deal with management and make suggestions and sit down at the table and have frank discussions, with the end result being resolution," Rae Banwarie, president of the Mounted Police Professional Association of Canada, told CTV.

The federal government has one year to rewrite labour law to bring it into compliance with the court ruling.


Canada's highest court upheld the right of members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to collectively bargain in a decision earlier this year.

Credit: Richard Eriksson