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Jan 30, 2015

Supreme Court Of Canada Recognizes A Constitutional Right To Strike in Historic Win for Canadian Workers

In an historic win for workers' rights, the highest court in Canada has recognized constitutional protection for the right to strike. In Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, 2015 SCC 4, the Supreme Court of Canada recognized that the workers' right to strike is an essential part of a meaningful collective bargaining process. The Court ruled that "[a]long with their right to associate, speak through a bargaining representative of their choice, and bargain collectively with their employer through that representative, the right of employees to strike is vital to protecting the meaningful process of collective bargaining within s. 2(d)" of the Charter.

Emphasizing that the right to strike is essential to realizing the Charter values of human dignity, equality, liberty, respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy, the Court overturned nearly 30 years of jurisprudence which had denied constitutional protection for the right to strike. The Court acknowledged the fundamental nature of the freedom of workers to collectively withdraw their labour:

"Through a strike, workers come together to participate directly in the process of determining their wages, working conditions and the rules that will govern their working lives ... The ability to strike thereby allows workers, through collective action, to refuse to work under imposed terms and conditions. This collective action at the moment of impasse is an affirmation of the dignity and autonomy of employees in their working lives."

According to the Court, government laws or action which substantially interfere with the right to strike will be in breach of s. 2(d) of the Charter, which now guarantees the freedom of workers to collectively withdraw their labour. As noted by the Court, "the suppression of legal strike action will be seen as substantially interfering with meaningful collective bargaining".

The Court also found that where strike action is limited in a way that substantially interferes with a meaningful process of collective bargaining, it must be replaced by one of the meaningful dispute resolution mechanisms commonly used in labour relations.

This is a huge victory for workers' rights and the labour movement as a whole.

Paul Cavalluzzo and Adrienne Telford represented the Canadian Union of Postal Workers and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers before the Supreme Court of Canada in this appeal.

The full text of the decision can be read here.



Related Practice Areas

Charter/Constitutional Law