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OTTAWA / TORONTO – The international organization that oversees labour standards around the world says the Government of Ontario was unjustified in legislating union members on a legal strike back to work.

The International Labour Organization (ILO) ruling stems from a complaint from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) on behalf of its 3,400 members at York University, CUPE 3903. In 2008, CUPE 3903 members – who include faculty along with graduate, research and teaching assistants - went on strike after reaching an impasse in negotiations with university administration.

After 85 days on strike, Ontario’s McGuinty government ordered CUPE 3903 members back-to-work. CUPE filed its complaint with the ILO, claiming university administration was not serious about negotiating in good faith, and were depending on government intervention to violate union members’ collective bargaining rights. CUPE also contends the legislation set a dangerous precedent by forcing workers in non-essential services back-to-work while in a legal strike.

“The back-to-work legislation forced on our members is part of a pattern in Ontario, and is something we’re organizing against in our current round of bargaining. Our case was the fourth time in ten years the provincial government has used such back-handed measures on education sector workers,” says Karen Walker, chair of CUPE 3903. “The rights of every worker in Ontario and across Canada - like CUPW and CAW right now - are harmed when these unjustifiable moves are taken by governments.” 

In its ruling, the ILO found the repeated use of back-to-work legislation threatens labour relations stability in the province, and the actions of the McGuinty government against CUPE 3903 members was unwarranted.

The message from the international community is clear. These heavy handed tactics circumventing the rights of workers are not acceptable,” says Paul Moist, national president of CUPE. “I hope the Ontario government, and all governments in Canada, acknowledge this rebuke and commit to protecting the collective bargaining rights of workers across this country.”

The ILO ruling concludes by recommending the Ontario government “establish a voluntary and effective dispute prevention and resolution mechanism rather than having recourse to back-to-work legislation.”