Restrictive Labour Laws

Labour Rights Under Attack

230 Restrictive labour laws

In the past three decades Canadians have seen a serious erosion of a fundamental and universal human right, their right to organize into a union and engage in full and free collective bargaining.  Federal and provincial governments have passed numerous labour laws since 1982 that have restricted, suspended or denied collective bargaining rights for Canadian workers.


Title Jurisdiction Type of Legislation Datesort ascending

Essential Health and Community Services Act (Bill 37, April)

The Act provides for a broad definition of essential services encompassing some 35,000 public employees who work in a range of occupations including nurses, hospital support workers, group home workers, home care workers, ambulance dispatchers and paramedics.  It mandates that essential services agreements be negotiated prior to any strike action through a process that is heavily weighted in favour of the employer. A union may apply to the Labour Relation Board for arbitration if it feels that the level of employees designated essential is so high that it has the effect of depriving employees of a meaningful right to strike.  If arbitration is granted, the Minister of Labour has the right to choose the method.  However the independence of whatever method is chosen by the Minister is undermined as the arbitrator is forced consider “the employer's ability to pay in light of the fiscal position of the government” in making an award.

Nova Scotia Restrictions on scope of bargaining April 2014

Essential Home-support Services (2014) Act (Bill 30, March)

The legislation ended a two-day strike of some 500 home care workers and forced the workers' unions and their employers to negotiate an essential services agreement prior to the commencement of a strike or lock out.  If the union and the employer are unable to agree to an essential services agreement, the dispute will be referred to the Labour Relations Board to settle the provisions of such an agreement.

Nova Scotia Suspension of bargaining rights March 2014

Budget Implementation Act (Bill C-4, December)

Sections of this 321-page omnibus federal budget legislation (2013) gives the federal government, as the employer, the unfettered right to decide what work is considered “essential” and how many and which workers are required to accomplish this work during a strike. It allows the federal government to increase the number of essential employees at any point in the bargaining process, even during a strike.

The arbitration option is removed for all bargaining units except those where 80 per cent of employees perform work that has been designated “essential” by the employer. Groups that do not meet the 80 per cent threshold are automatically put on the conciliation-strike route. In the few cases where arbitration will be allowed, the process will no longer be independent of government. Arbitrators will be limited to consider only two factors: recruitment and retention, and the government’s fiscal circumstances relative to its budgetary policies.

Federal Government Restrictions on scope of bargaining December 2013

An Act to Amend Chapter 475 of the Revised Statutes, 1989, the Trade Union Act, Respecting First Contract Arbitration (Bill 21, December)

This legislation amended the Trade Union Act to repeal the section of the Act which allowed for an unsettled contract in newly unionized workplaces to go to concilliation after 100 days and go to first contract arbitration after one year.   The amendment removes the time limits and now only allows first contract arbitration when one of the parties have been found guilty of bad faith bargaining.

Nova Scotia Suspension of bargaining rights December 2013

Public Services Salary Restraint Act (Bill 46, December)

This legislation eliminated the only dispute resoltion mechanism available to 21,000 members of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) employed directly with the provincial government - binding arbitration - and imposes a four-year contract, if by January 31, 2014,  AUPE refuses to accept the employer's last offer of  0%, 0%, 1% and 1% over four years.

NOTE:   Bill 46 was repealed in October 2014,– although it had been rendered meaningless by the contract agreement in April 2014 between the Alberta government and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees.

Alberta Suspension of bargaining rights December 2013

Public Sector Services Continuation Act (Bill 45, December)

This legislation places further restrictions on over 100,000 unionized public sector workers in Alberta who are already denied the right to strike.  It broadens the definition of strike to include"any slowdown or any activity that has the effect restricting or disrupting production or services."  It introduces for the first time in Canada, a vague legal concept of "strke threat" which makes it illegal to canvass the opinion of employees "to determine if they wish to strike", or freely express a view which calls for or supports stike action.  Bill 45 also imposes huge punitive fines on unions, their members and citizens who encourage or support an "illegal Stike or a "strike threat". 

NOTE: On March 31, 2015, the Alberta government repealed Bill 4.

Coincidently, only a few days before that the ILO issued a stinging rebuke to the government of Alberta over Bill 45, in response to a complaint the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) filed in February 2014 with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association against Bill 45.  On April 2, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench ruled that those legislation sections denying public sector workers the right to strike in both the Labour Relations Code and the Public Service Employee Relations Act violate the Charter.  The ruling was definitely influenced by the January 30th Supreme Court of Canada decision in SFL v. Saskatchewan. The Court has given the Alberta government a year to make changes that are in accordance with the Charter. 

Alberta Restrictions on scope of bargaining December 2013

Economic Action Plan 2013 Act (Bill C-60, June)

A section of this omnibus 2013 budget gives the federal cabinet the explicit power to give Crown corporations orders as to how they should negotiate with employees, both unionized and non-unionized, and would give the government the power to have a Treasury Board official sit in on collective bargaining sessions at Crown corporations.

Federal Government Restrictions on scope of bargaining July 2013

An Act respecting the resumption of work in the construction industry (Bill 54, July)

The legislation ended a two week strike by 77,000 construction workers in Quebec and imposed a one year agreement with a wage increase of two per cent.

Quebec Back to work - settlement imposed July 2013

Ambulance Services Continuation Act (Bill No. 86, July)

The legislation averted a pending strike by ambulance workers taking away their right to strike and forcing the dispute to final selection offer arbitration.  The two sides will now have to submit their final offers and the arbitrator will choose one option within 90 days of their appointment.

Nova Scotia Back to work - dispute sent to arbitration July 2013

Saskatchewan Employment Act (Bill 85, May)

The Act is a sweeping re-write of Saskatchewan’s labour laws, including the Trade Union Act, the Labour Standards Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Health Labour Relations Reorganization Act and the Construction Industry Labour Relations Act.  In total, 33 pieces of legislation were repealed and/or amended.

Among the changes, the legislation:

  • dramatically increases the number of employees who are not eligible for union membership by declaring their job duties 'confidential;
  • imposes a separate bargaining unit for supervisors;
  • encourages ‘carve-out’ raids that will allow for the break up existing unions into small fragments;
  • allows for decertification attempts anytime after the first 24 months of a certification order;
  • imposes increased restrictions on the bargaining process, such as a 14-day cooling off period before strike or lockout can occur and 48-hour strike notice must be provided.
  • allows an employer to identify any of its offers — including its first — as a ‘final offer’, and force a union vote on it; and
  • weakens workers' rights to reasonable work hours, overtime pay, meal breaks and weekends off.

Saskatchewan Restrictions on scope of bargaining May 2013