Last Updated: Monday, 20 November 2017, 16:41 GMT

2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Canada

Publisher International Trade Union Confederation
Publication Date 11 June 2009
Cite as International Trade Union Confederation, 2009 Annual Survey of violations of trade union rights - Canada, 11 June 2009, available at: [accessed 21 November 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: 33,000,000
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, or they contain restrictions on the right to strike or limitations on the requirements to respect negotiated agreements with unions. In practice, restrictions remain in the public sector (especially at the federal level) on the freedom to join a union, to effectively negotiate wages or indeed to freely choose the issues to be negotiated with employers.

Trade union rights in law

Freedom of association: Under federal legislation, workers in both the public and private sectors have the right to associate freely. Trade union rights are officially guaranteed in federal legislation, although each province also has its own legislation, setting limitations on these rights. The law prohibits anti-union discrimination.

Right to collective bargaining: Public and private sector workers have the right to organise and bargain collectively. The law protects collective bargaining, but there are limitations which vary from province to province.

In 2007, the Supreme Court, in the case of Health Services and Support, struck down legislation, passed in the province of British Columbia, that substantially interfered with the union's ability to bargain on behalf of its members in the public sector. The court thereby established unionisation and collective bargaining as a protected freedom under the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Since then, provincial and national authorities have been slow to amend conflicting legislation that does not conform to the Court's ruling.

Province of Saskatchewan: In May 2008, Bill 5 (The Public Services Essential Services Act) and Bill 6 (The Trade Union Amendment Act, 2008) were adopted, reducing the bargaining rights of a union or weakening the right of workers to organise. Bill 5 has the potential to strip unions of their effectiveness as bargaining agents for potentially tens of thousands of workers. It permits employers to potentially designate every worker individually as providing an "essential service" without recourse to such potential avenues as binding arbitration. It includes named employers such as universities, municipalities and technical institutes. It allows, through a simple "Order in Council", the making of regulations or laws by the executive of government without the consent of the elected legislative assembly.

Bill 6 weakens the rights of workers and unions to organise into associations, and it potentially permits employers to use coercive means to stop the formation of union associations, and to potentially punish workers for engaging in union associational activities.

Right to strike: All workers have the right to strike, except for those in the public sector who provide essential services (with a few exceptions and where the definition is misrepresented by authorities). Replacement labour may be used in industries governed by the Canada Labour Code.

Manitoba – restrictions to the right to strike: The 1996 Essential Services Act is used as a tool to restrict the right to strike by certain workers. The law provides the right to employers to designate the classifications, numbers of employees and names of the employees who are essential and, as a result, those who must work during a strike. The employer is further permitted at its will to increase that number of designated workers during a strike. The Manitoba Labour Board does not have the power to overturn the number of employees that are so designated.

Trade union rights in practice and violations in 2008

Background: In practice, violations appear to be on the rise and offending legislation and practice remain in force because the current political climate in the country continues to legitimatise them. The current Conservative Government announced retroactive budgetary measures that would retroactively circumvent negotiated settlements in the public service to 2007 and 2008.

Restrictions of collective rights in the postal sector: Canada Post continues to hire and use temporary workers hired by private companies to handle and process custom mail. Article 13.5 of the Canada Post Corporation Act, revised in 2007, restricts certain temporary and contracted-out workers from joining a union or engaging in collective bargaining. Further, in 2008 Canada Post threatened to unilaterally review the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) collective agreement, relative to "competitiveness" issues. The CUPW have launched appeals for review with the Canada Industrial Relations Board, but a ruling had not yet been issued by the end of 2008.

Quebec: In 2008, the Quebec City news division of TQS Television restructured its financial affairs, through a formal Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act (CCAA) Plan of Arrangement to avoid bankruptcy. By using the provisions of the CCAA, a corporate entity may declare bankruptcy, thus allowing a new owner to bypass the currently valid collective agreement to restructure operations, lay off workers and abrogate its responsibility for severance payments. Originally about 60 workers at the Quebec City News were members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) 3946. A collective agreement with no-contracting-out language and with provisions for severance pay was in force. Yet under the provisions of the CCAA, the company was restructured, most staff members laid off and new staff hired outside of the bargaining unit. Only four members of the bargaining unit remain on staff. The CUPE Local has appealed to the courts about the missing severance pay and has appeared before the Canada Industrial Relations Board with charges of bad faith. No decision has been taken by the end of the year.

Copyright notice: © ITUC-CSI-IGB 2010

Search Refworld