Victory for workers! Supreme Court protects the right to strike

Today, the Supreme Court of Canada released a groundbreaking decision that enshrines the right to strike as a constitutionally-protected right. 

Important victory for workplace rights

“This is an important victory for all working people,” said Robyn Benson, PSAC National President. “We congratulate the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour for its tireless fight for workers’ rights across the country.” 

PSAC was one of several unions, civil liberties and business groups that intervened in this case. PSAC and other unions argued that the essential services law limited workers’ rights to strike and ability to negotiate.

The Court agreed with unions that the right to strike is necessary to allow workers to join together effectively to advance their workplace rights.

Backward essential services law

The decision dealt with essential services legislation passed by the Saskatchewan government in 2008.  Bill 5 allowed the employer to unilaterally decide which workers would be deemed essential. The employer could also increase essential service designations during a strike, meaning that they could determine how effective a strike would be.

The Court stated that: “The right to strike is essential to realizing these values and objectives through a collective bargaining process because it permits workers to withdraw their labour in concert when collective bargaining reaches an impasse.  Through a strike, workers come together to participate directly in the process of determining their wages, working conditions and the rules that will govern their working lives ….  The ability to strike thereby allows workers, through collective action, to refuse to work under imposed terms and conditions. This collective action at the moment of impasse is an affirmation of the dignity and autonomy of employees in their working lives.”

Impact on Bill C-4

The Saskatchewan law was very similar to Bill C-4, passed by the Conservative government in 2013. Like the Saskatchewan law, Bill C-4 also limits workers' rights by handing the government the unilateral right to decide which workers are essential and requiring non-essential employees to perform essential duties.

PSAC calls on the government to respect this decision by repealing Bill C-4 and restoring our democratic rights.

January 30, 2015