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Workers demand repeal of Bills violating international rights

UN body condemns Campbell's Liberals for legislation trampling workers' rights

The head of the province's labour movement today called on the BC Liberals to comply with international labour standards and stop violating the rights of thousands of public sector workers throughout British Columbia.

After extensive investigation, the United Nations body charged with upholding labour standards has concluded that six laws enacted by the BC Liberals violate international covenants to which Canadians are signatory. The Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO) says the BC government should repeal or rewrite legislation rammed through last year ripping up legal contracts, forcing an end to legal job action, and imposing settlements.

BC Federation of Labour President Jim Sinclair said yesterday's ruling by the ILO is unprecedented. "It's a very strong ruling that sends a clear warning to both the provincial and federal governments," he said. "Members of the international community are aware of what's going on here in BC, and the ILO clearly expects to see changes that restore respect for workers' rights."

The ILO found that the BC government violated the United Nations Convention on freedom of association when it enacted Bills 2, 15, 18, 27, 28 and 29. These Bills affected more than 150,000 workers in the health, education, and community social services sectors, and imposed contracts on teachers, health science professionals and nurses. In some cases, the government ripped up the very same contracts that it had itself imposed by legislation. All the Bills were found to violate international labour standards that are respected in democracies worldwide.

Sinclair pointed out that even while the government was under investigation by the UN for these Bills, it passed still more regressive legislation-this time attacking the rights of striking workers at UBC and restricting the rights of ferry workers.

"Now, because of the Campbell Liberals, Canada's reputation has been severely tarnished. We're an embarrassment in the eyes of the world," Sinclair said. "The government must immediately repeal or amend this legislation, or else Canada will join the ranks of those countries guilty of appalling labour practices."

Throughout the Americas, the only countries facing more active complaints than Canada before the ILO are Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Guatemala and Venezuela.

The ILO ruling is in response to a series of complaints filed last year on behalf of BC unions representing nurses, hospital workers, health care professionals, teachers, college educators and a broad range of community social service workers and other government employees.

In uncharacteristically blunt language, the ILO ruled that the BC government repeatedly violated their rights by refusing to negotiate contracts with their unions, and by using the legislature to arbitrarily enforce its will. The UN body was also highly critical of the government's counter-claim that the complaints were too frivolous and vexatious for the ILO to even consider.

As a remedy, the ILO has taken the unusual step of recommending that the government amend five Bills and repeal Bill 18, which imposed essential service designation on education. It noted in its report: "When a state decides to become a member of the ILO, it accepts the fundamental principles of freedom of association• and all governments are obliged to respect fully the commitments undertaken by ratification of ILO conventions."

This is not the first time the ILO has considered complaints about BC legislation. In the 1980s, it found Social Credit wage control programs and denial of collective bargaining rights for teachers to be contrary to international standards. The government of the day subsequently ended the wage controls and granted teachers bargaining rights in 1987.

The ILO is the second United Nations body to condemn the BC Liberal government in the last month. In a recent review of the state of women's equality in Canada, the UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women set a precedent when it singled out one province - BC - for particular criticism. The UN committee said it "is concerned about a number of recent changes in British Columbia which have a disproportionately negative impact on women." It urged the provincial government to analyze its policy changes and funding cuts "as to their negative impact on women and to amend the measures, where necessary."

The unions whose concerns were the subject of the ILO complaints are: The BC Government and Service Employees' Union, the BC Nurses' Union, the BC Teachers' Federation, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, the College Institute Educators' Association, the Health Sciences Association, the Hospital Employees' Union, and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

Click here for Backgrounders explaining the ILO process and details of the latest ruling. (PDF file - Adobe Acrobat required)

For more information on the International Labour Organization, go to: www.ilo.org.

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Contacts:
Jim Sinclair, President, B.C. Federation of Labour - 604-430-1421
Prof. Mark Thompson, Professor, UBC Faculty of Commerce and Business Administration - 604-263-6008
Derek Fudge, National Director of Policy Development and Liaison, National Union of Public and General Employees - 613-228-9800
Luc Demaret, ILO Media Liason, Geneva - +41.22.799.7912

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