Supreme Court of Canada rules against labour laws


Will Wall work with the Unions?

Woody would be proud! The union makes us strong, solidarity forever. / Al Aumuller

Woody would be proud! The union makes us strong, solidarity forever. / Al Aumuller

After being introduced in 2008, the controversial essential services law has been struck down by a 5-2 majority by the Supreme Court justices.

The essential services legislation says unions representing areas deemed essential services cannot “authorize, declare or cause a work stoppage.” Likewise, employees cannot “participate in a work stoppage.” This legislation takes the right to strike away from employees deemed essential. Unions and the employer are to work together to deem which employees are essential. If a decision is not reached, the employer, which in cases of essential services is the government, decides. This gives the government unilateral power to decide which employees can and cannot strike.

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) felt that the law violated charter rights and embarked on a legal process that has taken seven years.

The court’s decision was that the essential services legislation’s prohibition of the right to strike violates section 2(d) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, regarding freedom of association, which states that interruption of this freedom must be “minimally impairing.” The court’s final report cited the initial appeal in which the judge found the legislation was not “minimally impairing” and the government’s power over essential employees was not proportionate.

Labour critic and New Democratic Party member David Forbes framed the government’s handling of the essential services legislation as “rushing ahead on ideology which went too far and didn’t make a lot of sense.”

He also noted that between 2008 and now, many organizations expressed similar concerns to the government.

“There was a huge amount of wasted taxpayers dollars that should have gone into so many other needed areas.”

Part of the problem, according to Forbes, is that the Saskatchewan Party did not consult unions.

“Really, if you want a good essential services legislation, you need to have consultation with all the affected stakeholders.”

The SFL said it looks forward to working with the government on a replacement for the essential services legislation.

Moving forward, Forbes expects the Saskatchewan Party to “make sure the legislation does what it needs to do, and that is to provide essential services,” without infringing upon their right to strike.

However, Premier Brad Wall is seen by Forbes as “not admitting he made a mistake.”

He noted that Labour minister Don Morgan admitted, “They didn’t take the time to ensure good oversight of legislation.”

Wall recently stated that if they could not change current legislation to fit the Supreme Court’s decision, then “the only option we would have would be to use the notwithstanding clause.”

The notwithstanding clause allows the government to circumvent judicial review by overriding charter protections for a five year period. Using the clause would allow legislation already declared to be in opposition with the charter to stand.

The irony, according to Forbes is that, “on one hand we see that some of the government have been willing to work with unions, but Mr. Wall seems to be intent on not working cooperatively.”

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