“The right to strike is an essential part of a meaningful collective bargaining process in our system of labour relations. The right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining; it is an indispensable component of that right. Where good faith negotiations break down, the ability to engage in the collective withdrawal of services is a necessary component of the process through which workers can continue to participate meaningfully in the pursuit of their collective workplace goals. This crucial role in collective bargaining is why the right to strike is constitutionally protected by s. 2 (d).”
The Supreme Court of Canada January 2015
Last month, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down a historic decision stating that the right to strike is protected under the Canadian Constitution. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides the right of freedom of association, which includes the right to strike. The right to strike is enshrined in international law by the United Nations through Convention 87 of the International Labour Organization.
On February 18, the global day of action in defense of the right to strike, the Confederation of Canadian Unions joins our brothers and sisters in the union movement in Canada and around the world in demanding that governments and employers respect our fundamental right to strike.
We must never forget that workers’ rights are human rights.
The Right to Strike in Canada
Although the recent Supreme Court decision on the right to strike is welcome news for workers and unions, it is still difficult for workers in many sectors to exercise their legal right to strike. Canadian federal and provincial governments constantly and continually use their legislative authority to undermine the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to attack our fundamental right to strike.
Since coming into power, the Harper Conservatives have used back-to-work legislation to break every major strike under federal jurisdiction. Even as this article is being written, the federal labour minister is stating the government’s intention to introduce strike-breaking legislation against CP rail engineers. The federal government Bill C-4 contains the same illegal provisions that the Supreme Court just declared unconstitutional and the government has no intention to scrap this illegal legislation.
Similarly, many provincial governments have similar essential services laws that violate Canadian and international law. It is largely because of interference by governments in our right to strike that Canada ranks below South Africa, Togo, Uruguay, and Russia in workers’ rights internationally.
The right to strike is ours. Governments must hear the Supreme Court and respect the Constitution. The days of unions and workers following and respecting illegal legislation purposefully drafted by governments to violate our constitution are coming to a close. The governments of Canada will respect the constitution in their Legislatures and in the House of Commons or the time will come when workers take to the streets to enforce their rights under the law.
The Right to Strike Internationally
The International Labour Organization is a United Nations body that deals with workers’ rights. It is a tripartite body comprised of equal delegations from workers, employers, and governments. Countries ratify ILO Conventions as a promise to enforce these labour laws in their domestic statues and courts.
Convention 87 of the ILO deals with freedom of association, which has traditionally been interoperated to include the right to strike. In recent years, the employer group at the ILO has challenged decades of past practice and history in claiming that Convention 87 does not include a inferred right to strike and that the right to strike does not exist under international law.
They have used this position to block discussion on violations of workers’ rights around the world that deal with the right to strike. The workers group of the ILO has asked that the matter be referred to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a ruling on whether the right to strike exists under convention 87. The employer group has so far blocked the referral to the ICJ. It is the CCU’s position that freedom of association is non-existent in the absence of the right to strike and that the ILO must refer the matter to the ICJ.