By Вen Li
Workers in Canada are treated unfairly by businesses and governments, a recent report concluded. A third of the section on Canada in the recent International Confederation of Free Trade Unions’ annual report was devoted to each of Alberta and Ontario.
"According to the ICFTU, the Federal Government of Canada and the various provincial governments do not fully accept the trade union rights of public employees."
"The ICFTU specifically condemns the exclusion of basic labour rights for health-care workers in the Alberta Labour Code," stated Les Steel of the Alberta Federation of Labour. "The report should be a wake-up call to the Klein government."
While Steel holds the Tories responsible for the criticisms against Alberta, the Ministry of Human Resources and Employment asserts that the current legislation is adequate.
"Alberta’s labour legislation provides a balanced framework for employees and unions to negotiate," said spokesperson Annette Bereznicki for the Ministry. "[The] government encourages both parties to work together to come up with [an] agreement."
Alberta’s Liberals also expressed concern about the state of labour affairs.
"Responsibility lies with the Minister," said Alberta Liberal Labour critic Hugh MacDonald. "We would like to see a system of binding first-contract obligation [and] binding arbitration… the initiative starts with the minister."
"In Alberta, any issue included in a collective agreement can be addressed and resolved through arbitration," stated Bereznicki. "Issues that go before arbitration usually involve compensation and job security."
Bereznicki also denies that Alberta limits the rights of certain workers to organize, as asserted in the report.
Restrictions on strikes in Alberta by hospital employees and arbitration of specific grievances including job evaluations, pensions, promotions and organization are areas of concern in the report. Some of these issues were the subject of the recent Calgary Herald dispute.
"In November [of 1999], unions at the Calgary Herald newspaper went on strike of the employer’s refusal to negotiate a collective agreement," stated the report. "Alberta’s Labour Relations Code allows excessive government intervention in collective bargaining and provides ways for the employer to bypass the union… the scope for employer interference has made it virtually impossible for workers… to organize."
Such limits on workers’ freedoms, including bargaining imposed by legislation and the practice of only giving "preferential" jobs to workers returning from work actions, are also criticized, and the criticisms came with warnings.
"[This report was] only based on a partial view of the trade union situation [and] should be treated with caution," stated the authors of the report on 113 countries.
No complaints were actually submitted to the International Labour Organization by the ICTFU on behalf of Alberta workers during 1999/2000.
"Trade union rights are human rights," asserted ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan. "It is time [for leaders to] fully integrate this into their day-to-day practices."
The text of the 189 page report can be found at http://www.icftu.org/survey2000.asp.