Public sector unions legally challenge Harper Conservatives’ Bill C-4

by: Obert Madondo |  | Published December 13, 2013, by The Canadian Progressive

[Image via: Public Service Alliance of Canada]

[“We are all affected” by the Conservatives’ assault on Canadian workers through Bill C-4. Image via: Public Service Alliance of Canada]

Through Bill C-4, the Harper Conservatives are employing the anti-democratic use of omnibus bills to radically change legislation to escalate their attacks on Canadians’ democratic and human rights.

This time, federal public employees are the target.

The omnibus Federal Budget Implementation Bill C-4, currently being rushed through Parliament, stripes federal employees of their collective bargaining rights guaranteed by the Canada Labour Code. It undermines workers’ health and safety.

“Bill C-4 undermines the right to collective bargaining, eliminates important human rights protections, and will make every federal workplace less safe for its workers and the Canadians they serve,” said the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in a press release.

PSAC is banding together with other public sector unions to challenge the constitutionality of Bill C-4 in the courts.

The coalition, which also includes the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) and Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), will mount its challenge in advance of the next round of collective bargaining with the Treasury Board in 2014.

PSAC explains the challenge:

The Bill was drafted with no consultation with public sector bargaining agents and eliminates labour rights gained over the last fifty years, and severely undermines the ability of federal employees to negotiate on a fair playing field.

The Bill gives the federal government’s Treasury Board the unfettered right to determine what constitutes an essential service, which workers are denied the right to strike, and which collective agreements will be decided through arbitration.  The Bill also changes arbitration by limiting the independence of arbitration boards.

Bill C-4 gives the Minister of Labour the authority to throw out any unsafe work refusal complaint without investigation, leaving employees who refuse unsafe work open to discipline, including dismissal.  If the Minister chooses, an investigation can be undertaken in secret.  The impact of these changes to health and safety protection will reach far beyond the federal public service to the 1.2 million private and public sector workers covered by the Canada Labour Code.

In several presentations before Parliamentary committees in the House of Commons and Senate, federal unions and legal experts called on Parliament to withdraw the provisions amending the Public Service Labour Relations Act and the Canada Labour Code from the omnibus budget bill.

The Canadian Bar Association heavily criticized the anti-democratic nature of the Bill in its recent letter to Parliament, and Sack Goldblatt Mitchell, a prominent labour law firm, said that the changes in Bill C-4 “will have a profound impact upon the ability of unions to bargain effectively with the Government and to protect and promote the rights of the employees they represent.”

The questions asked by Conservative MPs at these committees made it clear that the primary aim of the Bill is not to modernize labour relations, but rather to make it easier for the government to attack the pay and benefits of federal public servants.

In addition to preparing a legal challenge, federal public sector unions also agreed to join forces to defend collective agreements in the next round of bargaining, to inform federal workers and the public of the extreme and radical nature of these changes, and to vigorously defend health and safety in federal workplaces.

According to Jerry Dias, the president of the newly formed super union, Unifor, the Bill C-4’s amendment to the Canada Labour Code weaken workers’ rights and also “take away the independence of arbitration boards”.

“There can be no doubt that this bill is part of a broader attack on Canadian workers,” said Dias in November, “We must ask, what exactly is the goal of weakening health and safety laws and collective bargaining rights for Canadian workers?”

In the most recent past, the Conservatives have attacked workers’ rights through private members’ bill such as Bill C-377 and Bill C-525.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter: @Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.