The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) is returning to court, this time the Québec Court of Appeal, to defend the right to collective bargaining. It seeks to challenge the Harper government’s decision to disregard an agreement negotiated in good faith between CUPE and Société Radio-Canada (SRC). The focus of the dispute is wage increases taken away from the employees.
The Superior Court previously ruled in CUPE’s favour, reminding the Harper government of the importance of freedom of association and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government is refusing to abide by this judgement and has appealed the outcome.
The Superior Court judge hearing the matter struck down numerous clauses of the Spending Control Act passed on March 12 and constituting an integral part of the 2009 budget. That legislation overrode the wage increases negotiated in the existing collective agreement and blocked subsequent negotiations on the wage component.
“The government claims that it has the right to violate rights won through collective bargaining whenever hard economic times come along,” explained CUPE representative Annick Desjardins. “The Court has already ruled that the government should have allowed SRC management to bargain with the union.
“Collective bargaining already has highly effective mechanisms for resolving any issues arising during challenging times. The parties need to be permitted to negotiate whatever the current context and associated constraints. The economic situation must never be used as an excuse to trample on workers’ rights without regard for the guarantees protected under the charters.”
In May 2009, CUPE filed a grievance to contest the decision announced by the SRC to withhold a 2.5% raise negotiated in 2007 and set to take effect on September 28, 2009. Under Bill C-10, the raise was then reduced to 1.5%.
The Superior Court declared Bill C-10 unconstitutional, thereby establishing that the 2.5% raise effective as of September 28, 2009, be granted to the members of CUPE Local 675 employed by the SRC.
“The Harper government is taking the bulldozer route,”added Isabelle Doyon, president of the union representing the SRC office workers and professionals (CUPE 675). “We’re not going to let this happen, and we’re ready to go all the way to the Supreme Court to defend our right to freedom of association.”
The Court of Appeal will hear the case this fall.
With more than 111,000 members, CUPE-Quebec represents approximately 8,150 communications workers in Quebec. CUPE is also active in a broad range of sectors, including health and social services, education, energy, Quebec government corporations and public agencies, air transportation, public transit, the mixed sector and universities.