Free and fair collective bargaining makes a comeback in Ottawa

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As Parliament kicks into another year, federal civil servants are halting legal action against the government over controversial legislation around sick and disability leave entitlements.

Bill C-59, implemented in June under the Conservatives, enables the government to bypass collective agreements and directly impose new rules around sick and disability leave for federal public servants.

Changes desired by the then-Harper government included reducing the number of paid sick days from 15 to six and ending the ability of workers to accumulate paid sick leave.

It also granted the Treasury Board the power to impose or ignore clauses that had been added to the collective agreement through bargaining, a clear attack on the collective bargaining process.

Canada's 17 public service unions filed a constitutional challenge against it.

The unions also sought an injunction to prevent powers granted by C-59 being enacted until after the challenge was heard.

Last week, the unions announced the constitutional challenge had been put on hold after the Liberal government promised to urgently repeal the relevant section of C-59.

An email sent to the unions on behalf of Scott Brison, president of the Treasury Board, stated the Trudeau government "remains committed to bargaining in good faith with Canada's federal public sector."

"To this end, this government intends to make the repeal of C-59 one of their first orders of business," the message continued.

The government also confirmed no changes to sick and disability leave would be made under C-59 before it was repealed.

While the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) -- the largest union representing federal pubic service workers -- applauded the government's repeal promise, it raised concerns that a similar commitment had not been made to Bill C-4.

The legislation, also subject to a constitutional challenge, drastically changed collective bargaining rules in the public service when it passed in 2013.

"Treasury Board President Scott Brison has committed only to engage in consultations on Bill C-4 with 'public sector partners,'" PSAC stated on its website.

"Bill C-4 undermines the constitutional rights of federal public service employees to collective bargaining, including the right to strike."

"It also gives government negotiators an unfair advantage at the bargaining table." The government should address C-4 directly rather than spend money on litigation, the union said.


Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.

Photo: flickr/ hku rbr

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