Supreme Court decision good news for all workers

After five years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on one of the most outrageous legislative measures that the BC Liberals ever enacted; their contract ripping labour legislation passed in January 2002. The Court has found that the Campbell government violated the Charter rights of health care workers when it passed the Health and Social Services Delivery improvement Act (Bill 29).

After five years of legal wrangling, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled on one of the most outrageous legislative measures that the BC Liberals ever enacted; their contract ripping labour legislation passed in January 2002. The Court has found that the Campbell government violated the Charter rights of health care workers when it passed the Health and Social Services Delivery improvement Act (Bill 29).

The Supreme Court ruling is a major victory for health care workers who had provisions in their collective agreements ripped up by Bill 29. The legislation allowed their employers to contract out thousands of jobs and completely reorganize health care without having to abide by terms and conditions in signed collective agreements.

The legislation was part of a full-scale attack by the BC Liberals against unions across the province. The legislation even provoked otherwise conservative voices to wonder aloud if these measures made sense. For example, the Globe and Mail's editorial on the legislation referred to it as "legislative vandalism."

The appeal to the Supreme Court was supported by more than just health care unions. The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) was an intervenor as was our national organization, the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). Like other unions, we recognized that Bill 29 was an unprecedented attack that, if left unchallenged, would leave the door open to even more attacks.

The decision will have enormous implications for more than just health care workers. The Court has not only upheld the right of health care workers in BC to have their signed contracts respected, it is also sending a strong message to governments that the Court sees a strong link between freedom of association and collective bargaining.

In its reasons for judgment the Court said that "the history of collective bargaining in Canada reveals that long before the present statutory labour regimes were put in place, collective bargaining was recognized as a fundamental aspect of Canadian society, emerging as the most significant collective activity through which freedom of association is expressed in the labour context."

The ruling also sends a strong message to other employers besides government. The Court's reasoning suggests that when an employer actively engages in anti-union tactics (either during an organizing drive or during first contract bargaining) those tactics may well be a violation of workers' Charter rights. For example, the Wal Marts of this world may find themselves on the wrong side of the law if they continue to fight unionization in Canada by deploying tactics designed to frustrate the legitimate rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.

For our part, today's decision has obvious implications for another piece of legislation, The Public Education Flexibility and Choice Act (Bill 28). That legislation, like Bill 29, overruled provisions in our collective agreements that dealt with class size. Although we have succeeded in preventing post-secondary employers from using the legislation, today's decision adds to our case that the legislation should be scrapped altogether. In the coming weeks we will be reviewing our legal options and consider how to press ahead with our concerns with this legislation.

About FPSE

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC is the provincial voice for faculty and staff in BC teaching universities, colleges and institutes, and in private sector institutions. FPSE member locals, represented by Presidents' Council and the Executive, represent over 10,000 faculty and staff at 18 public and 12 private sector institutions.