Wal-Mart Canada under triple scrutiny

TORONTO, November 6, 2008 – Wal-Mart Canada’s bid to derail charges it broke Saskatchewan labour laws has been shot down by the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB). It comes just days after numerous objections were filed to thwart Wal-Mart’s banking ambitions, and ten weeks before charges against Wal-Mart will be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada stemming from the company’s closure of a unionized Quebec Wal-Mart in 2005.

That Quebec closure was also the subject of a just released ruling by the SLRB, that the impact of the closure may have also broken Saskatchewan labour law. The unfair labour charges were filed in Saskatchewan by UFCW Canada Local 1400 in 2005 after Wal-Mart first threatened and then eventually closed a Wal-Mart in Jonquiere, Quebec after workers there had formed a union.

Local 1400 charged the Jonquiere closure intimidated Wal-Mart workers in Saskatchewan and across Canada from unionizing. Wal-Mart countered by filing to have the case dropped, citing the charges as “frivolous”, while also objecting to the authority of the SLRB to judge the company on actions it had taken in another province.

In a written decision released October 24, the SLRB dismissed Wal-Mart’s objections to hearing the charges as, “…without merit. The Union has an arguable case…. The fact that the actions of Wal-Mart upon which the allegations are based were committed outside the geographic confines of Saskatchewan does not mean that…an employer with its head office elsewhere cannot, by acts committed at or by that office, intimidate its employees in a different province.”According to Wayne Hanley, the National President of UFCW Canada, “Wal-Mart can’t hide behind provincial borders. The company can’t pretend that when you shut a store right after the workers unionize that it doesn’t frighten other workers from doing the same. They did in Jonquiere four years ago. They did it again in Gatineau just last month. Wal-Mart continues to show across this country it has no respect for Canada’s labour laws, or the Charter rights that guarantee its workers the right to organize for collective bargaining.”

“Wal-Mart plays by its own rules, and as the SLRB noted last week, the impact of that can be felt across the country,” says Hanley. “Is this the kind of company Canadians would trust to be their next bank?” asked Hanley. UFCW Canada, the Canadian Labour Congress and a number of other groups are calling for public hearings into a recent application by Wal-Mart Canada to enter the banking business.

Further scrutiny of the company’s behaviour will happen in January, when the Supreme Court of Canada begins to hear charges that Wal-Mart violated the Charter rights of its Jonquiere employees when it shut their store after it unionized.