The Canadian Supreme Court on January 16 affirmed that joining a union for the purpose of bargaining collectively is a basic civil right protected and guaranteed by the Canadian Constitution.
The ruling was issued in a case involving officers of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who had been barred from joining a union and bargaining collectively.
“This is definitely a historic moment for working people and labor in Canada,” said James Clancy, president of the National Union of Public and General Employees. “Not only has the Supreme Court affirmed the fundamental labor rights of working people, it has reinforced the positive roles that unions and collective bargaining play in Canadian society.”
Section 2 of the Canadian Constitution is the Charter of Rights and Freedom that guarantees certain basic civil rights. Section 2(d) of the Charter guarantees the right of free association.
The right of free association is generally understood to mean the right to join groups, such as labor unions, for the purpose of taking collective action.
Nevertheless, personnel policies of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) forbid officers from joining unions for the purpose of collective bargaining.
Two voluntary associations of RCMP officers in a suit to overturn the policy argued that the RCMP was denying them a right guaranteed under the country’s constitution.
“We conclude that the s. 2(d) guarantee of freedom of association protects a meaningful process of collective bargaining that provides employees with a degree of choice and independence sufficient to enable them to determine and pursue their collective interests,” said the Court in its decision.
The Court also noted the important role that collective bargaining plays in giving workers a voice on the job.
“Only by banding together in collective bargaining associations, thus strengthening their bargaining power with their employer, can (employees) meaningfully pursue their workplace goals,” states the Court. “Just as a ban on employee association impairs freedom of association, so does a labor relations process that substantially interferes with the possibility of having meaningful collective negotiations on workplace matters.”
The Court also observed that collective bargaining gives employees “the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work. Put simply, its purpose is to preserve collective employee autonomy against the superior power of management and to maintain equilibrium between the parties.”