Toronto – January 30, 2015 – In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that unionized workers have a clear right to strike where their services are not deemed essential.
On the heels of a successful case that overturned the exclusion of rank-and-file RCMP officers from joining unions like other federal public servants, with a 5-2 majority the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that "the right to strike... promotes equality in the bargaining process" and noted that the Court "has long recognized the deep inequalities that structure the relationship between employers and employees, and the vulnerability of employees in this context."
The ruling came as a result of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour challenging a regressive 2008 law – passed by Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party government – that limited the right to strike for public sector workers who perform essential services. In 2007, the newly-elected Saskatchewan Party enacted legislation which maintained that unions and employers were first to negotiate which workers were deemed essential and therefore could not legally strike. However, the legislation also maintained that where the parties could not agree on the "essential" designation, the government would make a final decision.
The majority of the Supreme Court made it clear that "the ability to strike is a fundamentally important right for working people," says Paul Meinema, the National President of UFCW Canada. "I applaud the Supreme Court of Canada for recognizing that while a strike may not guarantee a resolution to a labor dispute, that the potential for a strike provides a better balance for negotiations between unions and employers," Meinema adds.
"While the right to strike is typically the last resort when trying to negotiate a fair and equitable collective agreement, unions have maintained this right on behalf of their members in order to bring some balance to negotiations," says the National President. "The Supreme Court clearly understands the complex balance of the labour relations process, and today's decision reflects that understanding."