Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2017, 11:48 GMT

2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Canada

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 9 June 2010
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2010 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Canada, 9 June 2010, available at: [accessed 20 October 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 33,600,000
Capital: Ottawa
ILO Core Conventions Ratified: 87 – 100 – 105 – 111 – 182

In a number of provinces, the laws fail to provide statutory protection for certain groups of workers to organise and contain restrictions on the right to strike. The Conservative Government announced budgetary measures that would circumvent negotiated salary agreements in the public sector.

Trade union rights in law

Trade union rights are officially guaranteed in federal legislation, but there are concerns regarding the provincial laws. While the right to form and join unions is recognised for both public and private sector workers, a number of categories of workers enjoy limited or no freedom of association in several provinces.

The law also protects collective bargaining, but there are again restrictions that vary from province to province. However, in a 2007 landmark case, the Supreme Court ruled that a "limited right" to collective bargaining should be included within the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Furthermore, the right to strike is also circumscribed at the provincial level: In Manitoba, arbitration can be imposed at the request of one party after 60 days of a work stoppage, and teachers are prohibited from striking; in Quebec strikes are not permitted whilst a collective agreement remains in force, and workers who disregard the provisions are liable to severe and disproportionate sanctions. The exercise of the right in the public services is often limited by the obligation for many strikers to provide essential services. In British Columbia, education has been designated as an essential service, and in Manitoba the employers can determine which categories of workers are essential. Finally, replacement labour may be used in industries governed by the Canada Labour Code.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2009

Legal provisions imposing set wage increases on all Federal public service employees: On presenting the national budget on 27 January 2009, the Canadian government announced the introduction of legal provisions fixing the wage increases of all federal public service employees and "modernising" the laws on pay equity in the federal public service. In reality, these provisions constitute a threat to Federal public sector employees in general, and particularly those working for the Canada Revenue Agency, the National Gallery of Canada, the Canada Council for the Arts, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the National Arts Centre who, as a result, will see a fall in the previously negotiated wages. The government also announced the introduction of legislative measures to "modernise" wage parity in the Federal public sector, making pay equity an integral part of collective bargaining at the same time as removing a trade union's right to file pay equity complaints. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) has filed an appeal with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, presenting arguments against the constitutionality of the Expenditure Restraint Act and the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. The PSAC's appeal was also backed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the union representing professional employees in the public sector.

Forced back to work during legal strike: On 25 January, the Liberal government of Ontario presented a back-to-work bill to end a strike at York University by contract staff, teaching assistants and graduate assistants providing non-essential services affiliated to the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3903, calling for the Chamber's unanimous consent to pass the legislation. Members of the New Democratic Party (NDP), who were unanimously opposed to the bill, refused to give their consent, provoking a critical debate on this issue in the Ontario Legislative Assembly. In May, a mediated agreement was concluded under the terms of the back-to-work legislation. The national CUPE and CUPE 3903 are studying the possibility of presenting their case in the form of an ILO complaint.

Farm workers' collective organising and unionisation rights still compromised in three provinces: Farm workers in the provinces of Alberta, Ontario and New Brunswick are excluded from the protection afforded by labour relations legislation and thus deprived of legal provisions protecting their right to organise. In 2008, the ILO recommended that the governments in question "indicate in the next report all the measures taken or envisaged by the governments of Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick to amend their laws, with a view to guaranteeing agricultural workers the right to organise". In November 2008, the Ontario Appeal Court gave the government a period of one year to ensure that farm workers in Ontario were covered by sufficient protective legal provisions to allow them to bargain collectively, but the Ontario government appealed against the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. In early 2009, the ILO criticised Ontario for not having acted in good faith, and the United Food and Commercial Workers' International Union (UFCW) filed a new complaint with the ILO, which is currently being examined.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

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