Legislation that breaks contracts violates rights of employees under 2007 Supreme Court ruling.
by Melanie Ogilvie and Ish Theilheimer
OTTAWA, April 21, 2009, PublicValues.ca, with YouTube video — The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) has taken the unusual step of launching a charter challenge against the federal government. The Institute has filed an application with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, challenging the constitutionality of the Expenditure Restraint Act, a part of the budget, which received Royal Assent on March 12, 2009.
PIPSC contends that, by restricting the ability of public sector unions and employees to negotiate pay rates and compensation with their employers, the Expenditure Restraint Act violates the rights to freedom of association guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, compromises the essential integrity of the collective bargaining process, retroactively invalidates provisions of existing collective agreements, and undermines future bargaining. PIPSC claims it also entrenches gender discrimination by limiting pay equity protections through such measures as prohibiting unions from assisting their members to file or proceed with pay equity complaints, effectively turning the clock back 20 years and destroying pay equity.
"We're saying that restraint is not right," says PIPSC acting president Gary Corbett. "The courts have decided it's a fundamental right to be able to collectively bargain," he added, referring to a similar case launched - and won - by nurses in British Columbia in a significant court decision in 2007. "But this particular legislation denies that right."
Public Values interviews PIPSC's acting president Gary Corbett:
Corbett says the federal government may be bringing in this legislation in the face of court decisions due to the very instability of the government. "Because it's a minority situation," Corbett said, "you might find that some of the opposition parties aren't willing to go into - force an election - on this particular matter. So that's part of what's going on. I think the other thing that's going on is the whole ideology that the government can impose whatever it likes on democratic society, but that's not how it works. So we're taking it to the courts."
Asked about the union's chances, Corbett said both internal and outside legal experts in the field that were consulted believe the Institute will win in court. "We expect that this, while it will take some time. . . we are going to win in this. After that, I'm not sure what the government is going to do," Corbett added, "but if it won in BC, it stands to reason that the same principles will apply with the federal bullies."
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada represents 57,000 professionals and scientists across Canada's public sector.
Ish Theilheimer has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since founding it in September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca.
Melanie Ogilvie is Associate Editor of PublicValues.ca.