The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), a federation of transport unions across the world, have launched an attack on Canada’s Liberal Government after the legislation was passed late on Thursday and will now likely be approved in the Senate on Friday.
The Back-To-Work legislation was first called for by the Maritime Employers’ Association (MEA) in after the unions and employers failed to agree a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in 2018. The Canada Industrial Labour Relations Board (CIRBD) rejected the MEA’s call to make declare dockers ‘essential workers’, which would curb their right to strike, in 2020 and the Canadian Government had resisted calls to intervene in the dispute.
A seven-month period of discussions failed to produce a resolution to a dispute that the dockers say is about their right to protect their working conditions, but the MEA claims is about pay. Yesterday’s vote, which saw the Liberal minority government supported by the Conservatives means that Ottawa will likely impose a settlement on both sides.
Paddy Crumlin, the ITF president and Dockers’ Section chair said, “Justin Trudeau’s government has launched an assault on the human rights of their own citizens to withdraw their labour, in direct breach of Canada’s own constitution, its laws, and its international commitments.”
In 2020 the CIRBD ruled that dockers, under Canada’s Charter of Rights, could withdraw their labour in the dispute with terminal operators.
Furthermore, the ITF, which works with affiliated unions in 150 countries, believes the proposed law was likely illegal.
“The emergency legislation states that ‘having regard to the negative impacts of a work stoppage at the Port of Montreal, the public interest requires an exceptional solution to address the matters in dispute so that a new collective agreement may be concluded’, on the purported basis that ports constitute an essential service,” said the ITF’s global Legal Director Ruwan Subasinghe, who is based in Montréal.
“Canada is a member of the ILO. It has ratified ILO Conventions 87 and 98. Canada is obliged to uphold Conventions 87 and 98. Those are core conventions,” Subasinghe said.
It is the Charter of Rights which has led to unions labelling the Back-to-Work legislation as a “Toxic’ strike ban” that violates Canada’s international obligations.
“The Liberals in Ottawa have made a shameful choice by siding with one of the most virulent, aggressive, anti-worker employers in North America - the Maritime Employers Association – to remove workers’ right to strike. In doing so, they are setting fire to Canada’s human rights and labour rights record,” added Crumlin.
Every worker in the world has a right to withdraw their labour, argued the union, and this legislation violates international agreements made by the Canadian Government, including,
- International Labour Standards which Canada is required to uphold as by virtue of its membership of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and having ratified ILO conventions 87 and 98; and
- rulings by ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association.
In addition the union said the ban on industrial action contravenes Canada’s own constitution, citing, Canada’s constitution (§2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).