Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Labour changes considered by Saskatchewan violate international labour law

July 17, 2012

If the Saskatchewan government implements labour law changes based on the direction set out in its Consultation Paper on the Renewal of Labour Legislation in Saskatchewan, the province will be in violation of international human rights standards.

This is according to a research study released today by the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE).

“Saskatchewan working people could fall below the international standards set by the United Nations International Labour Organization (ILO) if the government acts on some of the changes suggested in the consultation paper," said James Clancy, NUPGE National President.

"This would be a setback for workers in the province and would embarrass Canada on the international human rights stage. Canada has a reputation for championing human rights, not restricting them," Clancy noted.

The study, Saskatchewan's Labour Law Review in relation to its compatibility with ILO Freedom of Association principles and jurisprudence, assessed the legislative direction under consideration by government in light of Canada's international law commitments.

The right to freedom of association underpins workers' rights to organize and bargain collectively.

The study identifies specific areas of concern that could lead to the province breaching workers' rights to freedom of association. Implementing any of the following legislative changes would be seen as a violation of Canada's (and Saskatchewan's) commitment to adhere to ILO fundamental principles of freedom of association:
  • excluding some employees from the right to collective bargaining; 
  • restricting unions from democratically deciding how they spend dues revenues; 
  • allowing individual members to opt out of paying dues; 
  • allowing individual members to make decisions on what their dues are used for that are contrary to the financial decisions made democratically by the majority of union members; 
  • eliminating 'dues check off', the process where an employer deducts union dues from employees' pay on behalf of the union; and 
  • denying essential employees the right to strike without access to impartial third party arbitration. 
“It appears the Saskatchewan government has not given any thought to how these potential changes would measure up to Canada's commitment to respect international freedom of association principles,” noted Clancy.

“Some of the ideas being floated by the government will undermine unions' ability to represent their members, drive down wages and working conditions and will ultimately negatively impact the quality of life for all working families," he added.

"Getting rid of rights and protections that working families have counted on for decades is unwarranted. It erodes democratic rights and prevents us from addressing the biggest challenge we face, growing income inequality in Saskatchewan's booming economy," Clancy said.

The ILO has a special Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA) which examines complaints that a country has violated the ILO's principles of freedom of association. In the 60 years of its existence, the CFA has ruled on over 2,500 complaints. NUPGE's study analyzed the various legislative directions suggested in the government's consultation paper in relation to past jurisprudence established by the CFA in rulings on the 2,500 complaints it has examined over the years.

More information:

NUPGE Research Study: Saskatchewan's Labour Law Review in relation to its compatibility with ILO Freedom of Association principles and jurisprudence

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