Today the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) struck down the Saskatchewan government’s essential services legislation and ruled in favour of the case put forward by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL), SEIU-West and other intervenors.
This is a great victory for SEIU members; together, many of us struggled under this regressive legislation during our 2008 round of provincial health provider bargaining. Since this time, we have worked very hard to change the bargaining environment.
This decision enshrines the right to strike as a Charter protected right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is in addition to the protection of the right to organize and the right to bargain collectively.
Today’s decision from the SCC recognizes the relevance of labour relations history in Saskatchewan, and across Canada; it also acknowledges the impact of international law that protects the right to strike globally; and it ensures the democratic rights of working men and women are protected.
The SCC has said that the right to strike can be restricted – but only if there are mechanisms in place that provide alternate and fair resolution strategies to ensure a continued balance of power between workers and employers.
From the perspective of SEIU-West, this decision reinforces that the Saskatchewan’s government essential services legislation was ideologically based, not based on good public policy. Flowing out of this legislation, there was no extended improvement to match the directed essential services staffing levels in our workplaces. We saw clearly that this legislation was simply put in place to neuter unionized workers in their right to collectively bargain.
The SCC recognized that the employer/employee relationship is deeply imbalanced and that the possibility of a strike enables workers to negotiate with their employers on a more level playing field. Individual employees alone typically lack the power to bargain and achieve gains with a powerful employer. But we have seen how, together, working people can improve their lives and our ability to work together for change is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
There is much work to do in our review and consideration of the long-term impact of this legal decision. This decision means that we will now renew our offer to sit down with the Government of Saskatchewan, and consult on what good public policy looks like in managing the issues around labour. This illustrates that SEIU-West members will not take a back seat when their collective agreement rights or their constitutional rights are taken away.
This victory belongs to our members and to all working people; it will set a historical precedent for the broader community of labour, for many years to come. As a leader within SEIU-West, I am proud to share this well deserved and long awaited news with you today.