Bill 4 is fair to unionized workers, employers and the general public

Written by Graham Sucha, MLA for Calgary-Shaw

Our government recently introduced important essential services legislation to modernize Alberta’s labour laws and ensure that employers, government and unions are working together for the benefit of all Albertans.

In January 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the right to strike is a fundamental right for unionized workers. Two months later, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta declared the strike prohibition in the Public Service Employee Relations Act and similar strike bans in the Labour Relations Code are unconstitutional. The courts have been clear: public sector workers have the right to strike.

Currently, Alberta legislation provides compulsory arbitration as a mechanism to resolve disputes. Bill 4, An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services, will place greater responsibility for reaching a settlement in the hands of employers and unions. It is also the fiscally responsible move, minimizing the need for mandatory arbitration, keeping negotiations out of the courts, and saving us all money.

The government held extensive consultations with Alberta’s public sector employers and unions regarding an essential services approach. Albertans were invited to express their views in an online survey. After carefully considering this input, we are now considering how to modernize Alberta’s legislation and ensure stability for public services in this province.

Before being elected as an MLA for Calgary-Shaw, I managed a restaurant. Even though we didn’t employ unionized workers, I still support a fair and just work environment. I hold in high regard the rights of employees and employers. I also respect the right of Albertans to have reliable access to the essential services they need. These pillars were one of the ways we maintained an efficient profitable business.

This legislation is an important step towards determining what essential services are, which employees are considered to be essential, and which services will be maintained during work stoppages. This will be decided by public sector employers and unions working together, but if they can’t reach an agreement a neutral third party will resolve the dispute quickly and efficiently.

An example of inconsistency about what constitutes essential services comes from my parents. For over twenty years both my mother and father worked as support staff at the University of Calgary. Under current legislation they were considered essential and did not have the right to strike. However, at that time, paramedics in the City of Calgary could. That meant that someone who hung art at the museum couldn’t strike, but people involved in saving lives could. We need to fix this.

Bill 4, An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services, is fair to unionized employees, employers and the general public. It ensures access to essential services such as emergency health care will continue to be provided in the event of labour disputes.

I am proud to support this legislation, which balances the right of unionized workers to exercise the right to collective bargaining – including going on strike – with the assurance that essential services will be protected for the public.