The Ontario government’s use of a special legal provision to eliminate the ability of education workers to go on strike is a powerful, politically-charged move that is unprecedented in the history of labor disputes. , according to legal experts.
On Monday – in response to the strike of 55,000 education workers represented by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) – the provincial government introduced a return-to-work law and included a clause CUPE’s ability to introduce any legislation can be overruled. a legal challenge to the law.
The inclusion of the dispute clause in the back-to-work law means that the union can no longer use the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to argue that an employee has the right to strike, as part of of the right to bargain together for the greater good. work ethic.
“It’s a very political and controversial move by the government to say, ‘We don’t care if this law violates Charter rights, we’re going ahead,'” said Margot Young, a law professor. at the University of British Columbia’s Allard School of Law.
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Professor Young added that the five-year term limit in any case meant that CUPE and its members in the education sector would not be able to challenge the labor laws for the next five years.
Unions across the country have succeeded in mobilizing workers in a way not seen in many years of work in a climate of rising inflation and discontent among workers – especially those on the front lines of the pandemic.
And there are big wins in terms of price. The BC General Employees’ Union, for example, negotiated a double-digit wage increase of 14 per cent over three years for 33,000 public sector workers who went on strike a month. of September, rejecting the 11-per-cent offer from the government.
Last week, CUPE asked for an 11.7 per cent annual wage increase for qualified education workers in Ontario, but was blocked by the government and the union called a strike. Doug Ford’s government responded to that with back-to-work laws.
Unions are protesting this new move. The Ontario Federation of Labor said it was a “sad day” for workers and called on the government to withdraw the rules and “communicate honestly.” The English Catholic Teachers Union of Ontario accused the government of abusing its right to violate the bilateral trade agreement.
“This is a very aggressive statement by the Ford government to stop the strike, especially in the context of education workers, who are not considered as important as health care workers,” said said Eric Tucker, professor emeritus at York University, an expert in employment law. .
There is a legal precedent for unions to challenge back-to-work laws, Professor Young and Professor Tucker say. In 2016, for example, an Ontario court ruled that federal laws imposed on members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers were not illegal because it violated workers’ freedom of expression.
The problem for unions is that even if they mount a legal challenge to the law, the challenge can take years in the courts. “In most cases, the return-to-work law will be valid and that will stop,” said Prof. Tucker. “In some cases unions have broken these rules and not returned to work, but it’s unusual because of financial penalties for disobeying,” he added.
The Ontario government’s Student Arrest in the Classroom Act imposes a $4,000 fine on an individual for assault – and the law states that every day an individual violates the law by assault murder, a separate crime. “You can imagine why the workers want to follow the law,” said Prof. Tucker.
But CUPE said regardless of the law, its members plan to strike this Friday.
Below Mr. Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party, the Ontario government seems to have pushed for better working conditions in some sectors. In the past year, the state has passed a right-to-own law, including a law requiring employers to tell their employees how to conduct electronic surveillance. But Monday’s response to CUPE’s strike is likely to strengthen the Ford government’s stance on workers, labor experts say.
Alison Braley-Rattai, a professor of labor studies at Brock University, said the use of the poem even as a “nuclear option” is “not appropriate to the goal of not disrupting the school year.”
Professor Braley-Rattai told the Globe and Mail that when it comes to labor disputes, applying this clause is unprecedented. “Section 33, the paragraph though, was so little applied that, in the first decades of the Charter, some thought it was political suicide. But I think this is starting to change, and I expect more information from the right governments,” he added.