Saturday, June 09, 2007

Collective Bargaining: In Canada, It's Now a Right

According to the Supreme Court of Canada, that is, in a story that is going to send shockwaves through both the Canadian business community and labour community.

The right to collective bargaining in the workplace is protected by the Charter of Rights, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled yesterday, in a landmark judgment that left the labour movement flabbergasted.

In a 6-1 ruling that served notice on governments that they cannot save money by arbitrarily choking off workers' rights, the majority struck down a controversial B.C. law that had contracted out work in the health-care and social-work sector, throwing thousands out of their jobs.

"The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and Mr. Justice Louis LeBel wrote.

The court suspended the effect of its decision for one year to give the province time to pass acceptable legislation...

...In an extraordinary move, the court majority said it no longer had confidence in its previous rulings that had virtually extinguished any hope the labour movement had of using the Charter as a litigation tool.
It's the bolded part that really feels explosive to me. The Supreme Court changed its mind. That doesn't generally happen. It raises the question of what else is going to be changed by this Court now that that floodgate is opened.

Still, the most readily important aspect of this is that every "right to work" law just ended up being borderline unconstitutional, and labour now has a huge stick to wield when it comes to collective bargaining. This includes labour organizations in fields that (like policing) you aren't normally allowed to organize and strike in.

At some point, I'll have to read this decision; for now, for my (few, but valued) Canadian readers, trust me when I say that this is probably going to change a whole lot. Maybe not quickly, but a whole lot nonetheless.

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