Managing the right to strike while protecting essential services

Written by Chris Nielsen, MLA for Edmonton-Decore

Before being elected as MLA for Edmonton-Decore, I worked as a shipper/receiver for over 26 years.

I also served as shop steward and volunteered on various committees within Local 401 of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

Workers’ rights have always been a top priority for me.

I strongly support the collective bargaining process and the rights of both unions and employers.

I also know that Albertans need to have reliable access to essential services in the event of a work stoppage.

This is why the essential services legislation recently introduced by our government is so important. It will modernize Alberta‘s labour laws and ensure that employers, government and unions work together for the benefit of all Albertans.

In January 2015 , the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the right to strike is a fundamental right for 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 forbids strikes and lockouts in the public sector. It requires compulsory arbitration to resolve disputes. Bill 4, An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services, will change this by placing greater responsibility for a settlement in the hands of employer and union negotiations, minimizing the use of compulsory - and often costly - arbitration.

This legislation will create a collaborative atmosphere where employers and unions work together to reach an agreement that is fair for both sides.

This legislation is being brought forward after extensive consultations with Alberta‘s public sector employers, unions and the general public.

If passed, this would bring Alberta‘s labour legislation in line with the courts and the rest of the country.

It would ensure stability for public services in our province.

Albertans shouldn’t have to worry about their care and safety when two parties can’t agree.

Bill 4 will ensure that essential services like emergency health care are provided to the general public during strikes and lockouts.

Determining what essential services will be maintained during work stoppages will be decided by public sector employers and unions working together.

If they can’t reach an agreement a neutral third party will resolve the dispute quickly and efficiently.

This legislation would create a fair and level playing field. It would provide Alberta workers basic rights they have been denied, allowing them to bargain with their employers in good faith. It will create a collaborative atmosphere where employers and unions work together to reach an agreement that is fair for both sides.

In summary , this legislation helps us achieve our goals: comply with the Supreme Court of Canada; protect the public and the services you rely on; and balance the right of unionized workers to a fair collective bargaining process.

Column originally published Edmonton Sun, March 23rd, 2016, Page A15