International experts condemn Ontario's Prevention of Unionism Act
From Roy J. Adams, et al., 31 May 1998
International experts affirm that Ontario's Bill 22, the Prevention of Unionization Act, offends international human rights standards and is contrary to the letter and spirit of interntional labour law. The bill, which explicitly forbids workfare recipients to join a union, to bargain collectively and to strike was introduced into the legislature on May 14th and began second reading on May 28th.
According to Jack Donnelly, Andrew W. Mellon Professor, Graduate School of International Studies, University of Denver author of several books on international human rights standards and acknowledged as one of the world's top experts on the subject, "this bill is one of the clearest violations of international norms that I have ever seen in a country typically considered to be democratic." Donnelly is one of the several hundred petitioners who have sent notes to the government asking it to drop Bill 22. Other signatories are Bob Hepple, Professor of Law and Master of Clare College, Cambridge, generally considered to be one of the world's top international labour law scholars and Pierre Verge, Distinguished Professor of Law at Laval University and a member of the Royal Society of Canada.
According to public statements made by the Minister of Community and Social Services, Janet Ecker and her Parliamentary Assistant, Frank Klees, the Bill does not forbid workfare recipients from joining the union so long as that union does not attempt to influence the workfare process. This interpretation, however, is inconsistent with international norms and obligations. In response to a request for an assessment of Bill 22 by experts at the International Labour Organization, Society for the Promotion of Human Rights in Employment chairperson, Roy J. Adams, received a memo summarizing the language and jurisprudence under Convention 87 on Freedom of Association. Although ILO protocol would not allow the officials to comment directly on Bill 22, the memo contained the following statements:
"Article 2 of Convention No. 87 clearly states that workers and employers, without distinction whatsoever, shall have the right to establish, and, subject only to the rules of the organization concerned, to join organizations of their own choosing without previous authorization.' The scope of the provision is extremely broad, applying to all workers and employers. The only exception permitted is found in Article 9, namely the armed forces and the police."
"With respect to the right to bargain collectively, the Committee on Freedom of Association has stated that the right to bargain freely with employers with respect to conditions of work constitutes an essential element in freedom of association...' The only exceptions permitted to this principle are again the police and armed forces, as well as public servants engaged in the administration of the State (which is normally a very narrow group of public servants)."
"Finally, concerning the right to strike, this right has been found to arise out of the right of workers' organizations to organize their activities, and to further and defend the interests of workers, pursuant to Articles 3 and 10 of Convention No. 87... The right can be restricted or even prohibited again with respect to the police and armed forces and also in case of an acute national crisis, in essential services (as narrowly defined by the supervisory bodies) or with respect to public servants engaged in the administration of the State. All other categories should be entitled to strike to defend their social and economic interests."
These statements make it absolutely clear that Bill 22 is a violation of international human rights standards and offends against Canada's international obligations. It is also almost certainly a violation of the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms which contains an explicit reference to Freedom of Association.
The Society for the Promotion of Human Rights in Employment is an international organization whose mission is to promote awareness, understanding and respect for human rights in employment which include, but are not limited to, freedom of association, the right to organize and bargain collectively, and protection against child labour, forced labour and discrimination in employment. According to the international consensus each of these rights are fundamental and entitled to equal respect.
For further information contact
Roy J. Adams, Chair
Bernard Adell, Professor of Law, Queen's University