International survey criticizes Alberta labour laws

EDMONTON - The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) was critical of Alberta labour laws in its annual global survey of labour rights released today.

"The ICTFU survey details attacks on labour rights and on individual union leaders in 113 countries," said Alberta Federation of Labour Secretary Treasurer Les Steel. "And there, along with grim examples from countries like Ethiopia, Columbia and Nepal, is Alberta," said Steel.

Although Canada only merits one-and-a-half pages in the massive 189 page report, Alberta is singled out for the first third of the Canadian section. (see attached)

"The ICFTU specifically condemns the exlcusion of basic labour rights for health care workers in the Alberta Labour Code," noted Steel. "It also criticizes 'excessive government intervention in collective bargaining', the provision of 'ways for the employer to bypass the union as collective bargaining agent', and the lack of automatic certification remedies for the Labour Relations Board."

"The attention paid to Alberta in the ICFTU report should be a wake-up call to the Klein government," said Steel. "Our labour laws are an international disgrace."

"Workers rights in Alberta clearly need to be strengthened and more effectively enforced," concluded Steel.

For more information contact:

Les Steel, Secretary Treasurer at (780) 483-3021 or cell (780) 499-4135

Canada: Annual Survey of Violations of Trade Union Rights (2000)

Cases before the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association
The federal government of Canada and the various provincial governments do not fully accept the trade union rights of public employees and regularly use legislation to restrict them.


Alberta restricts strikes by public hospital employees, including kitchen staff, porters and gardeners. While arbitration is provided to settle labour disputes for public employees, the following are excluded from what can be arbitrated: work organisation, the assignment of duties, the determination of the number of employees, job evaluations, job selection, appointment, promotion, training, transfers and pensions. The law provides lengthy and strict limits and guidelines which arbitrators are bound to follow in deciding awards.

In the private sector, Alberta's Labour Relations Code allows excessive government intervention in collective bargaining and provides ways for the employer to bypass the union as collective bargaining agent. The scope for employer interference has made it virtually impossible for workers in the retail and banking sectors to organise against determined opposition from employers. A 1998 revision of the code removed the jurisdiction of the Labour Relations Board to automatically certify a bargaining unit where serious unfair labour practices had been found.

In November, after failing to reach a first collective agreement in over one year of negotiations, trade unions representing workers employed at the Calgary Herald newspaper went on strike.

Section 88 of the code presumes the use of strike-breakers by the employer and provides that strikers only be given "preference" over strike-breakers in getting their jobs back after a dispute. The strikers must apply in writing with restrictive time limits. The authorities also use injunctions against strikes and strikers, and make excessive use of the police during strikes. Alberta does not allow workers in agriculture and horticulture to organise nor to bargain collectively.

New Brunswick

New Brunswick is another province that does not allow agricultural and horticultural workers to organise nor to bargain collectively.


The Manitoba Public Schools Amendment Act of 1997 restricts the powers of interest arbiters in disputes.


In Newfoundland, many public sector workers cannot join the union of their choice and the right to strike is restricted in the public service because the employer has broad powers to designate essential services. The provincial government has reported to the ILO that it was establishing an effective procedure for defining essential services.


In Ontario, agricultural workers, domestic workers, architects, dentists, land surveyors, lawyers and doctors are excluded from the legal framework protecting trade union rights. The Ontario Labour Relations and Employment Statute Law Amendments, 1995, excluded these categories of workers from the protection of the Ontario Labour Relations Act and from other statutes regulating collective bargaining for employees in specific sectors.

The existing organising rights of these workers were terminated as a result of this law, and collective agreements that were in force were nullified. The same legislation also removed existing protection of trade union recognition and collective agreements for contract service workers, such as cleaning crews, food service workers and security guards, in the event of a sale of business or of a change in contractor.

The Savings and Restructuring Act 1996, the Public Sector Transition Stability Act 1997, the Public Sector Dispute Resolution Act, 1997, and the Social Contract Act, 1993 deal with compulsory interest arbitration in specific areas of the public sector. They allow the authorities to interfere in the establishment of labour tribunals and arbitration boards.

The Education Quality Improvement Act of 1997 interfered into the collective bargaining of teachers.

The 1998 Back to School Act brought strikes and lockouts to an end in secondary schools in eight school board jurisdictions.

In 1999, Ontario adopted the Act to Prevent Unionisation with respect to Community Participation under the Ontario Works Act, 1997. This amended the 1997 Ontario Works Act so as to prohibit people taking part in community participation (work-fare - compulsory work as a condition of receiving benefits) from joining unions, bargaining collectively or striking.


The Maintenance of Saskatchewan Power Corporation's Operations Act, 1998, which extended an expired agreement, imposed new wage rates, and took away the right to strike for three years.

Federal government

The federal government regularly passed back-to-work legislation to end strikes. In March legislation forced striking employees back to work at the federal treasury, and at the Canadian Grain Commission in Vancouver.

Throughout the period under review the 1997 Postal Services Continuation Act interfered with collective bargaining in the postal sector.

The federal government has recently amended the federal labour code to define activities to be maintained during strikes. Although the change does not expressly prohibit employers from using replacement workers during strikes, it only bans them where the aim is to undermine a union's representational capacity.

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