CN Workers Railroaded?
Feb 27, 2007
Roughly two weeks after walking off the job, striking CN Rail workers are back at work after a tentative deal was struck with the United Transportation Union this past weekend. Disputes over the contract still exist, however, and some workers, mostly in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, aren’t prepared to give up on the strike. Even those that have gone back to work in other parts of the country aren’t entirely happy with the deal.
If an agreement hadn’t been reached, it appears that the Federal Government was preparing to introduce back-to-work legislation to force an end to the strike. Presumably because of the economic disruption caused by the job action in areas such as Southern Ontario, the Harper Government was considering the option of forcing workers back to their jobs.
Back-to-work legislation is nothing new in Canada. In fact, according to the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), governments of all levels in Canada have intervened at least 87 times in labour disputes over the last 25 years. Federal and provincial governments have passed 175 pieces of legislation since 1982 that have suspended, restricted or denied the collective bargaining rights of Canadian workers. These measures can take the form of either forcing workers back to the job or imposing settlements against their will.
Canada is one of 178 member states of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a specialized agency of the United Nations that works to improve working conditions, living standards and the equitable treatment of workers worldwide. Under the ILO, workers and employers participate as equal partners with governments to formulate labour standards.
These minimum standards of basic labour rights cover such areas as freedom of association, the right to organize, collective bargaining and the abolition of forced labour. Although the ILO does not have any legal authority to enforce its recommendations or to introduce any type of sanctions on governments that violate its basic sanctions, it does offer a solid moral guideline as to what constitutes appropriate labour-related behaviour. ILO member nations are encouraged to ratify these standards and are obligated to put them before their Parliament for consideration. Once ratified by a country, its government is expected to treat it as an international treaty.
Given the apparent contradiction between any introduction of back-to-work legislation and the basic tenets of the ILO, combined with the fact that the CN strike had been declared legal by the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, it would seem that the Canadian Government was prepared to violate national and international obligations with regard to the rights of workers. Fortunately for them, it appears that this matter will be settled without them having to take such an extreme and unnecessary measure.
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