Posted on Apr 8, 2016

Essential Services legislation to modernize Alberta's labour laws

Our government recently introduced important essential services legislation to 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 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 strike bans in the Labour Relations Code are unconstitutional.

I come from a union background and firmly believe in every worker’s right to strike. I also understand the need for uninterrupted access to essential services in the event of a work disruption. My wife works in health care and she needs to stay at work – to continue to save lives – independent of two parties’ ability to reach an agreement. That is why legislation that balances these two needs is so important.

Approximately 150,000 public sector employees in Alberta currently don’t have the right to strike, and their employers don’t have the right to lockout during labour disputes. Alberta legislation instead provides compulsory arbitration as a mechanism to resolve disputes. This is not good enough.

The courts have been clear: public sector workers have the right to strike. Alberta’s labour laws must be revised to ensure they comply with the Constitution and do not interfere with the rights of these employees. It is time Alberta catches up to the rest of the country when it comes to labour legislation.

Albertans shouldn’t have to worry about their care and safety when two parties can’t agree. Bill 4, An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services, will ensure that essential services like emergency health care are provided during strikes and lockouts. Determining which essential services will be maintained during 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.

After extensive consultations with Alberta’s public sector employers, unions and the general public we are acting to bring Alberta’s labour legislation in line with the courts and the rest of the country. We are ensuring stability for public services in our province.

I am proud to support legislation that 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.