The Quebec Court of Appeal has upheld a 2003 Bill that restructured bargaining units in the province’s health and social services sectors. The decision, made last week, overturns a 2007 decision by the Quebec Superior Court, which had originally rendered the bill "unconstitutional and invalid."
Bill 30, An Act respecting bargaining units in the social affairs sector and amending the Act respecting the process of negotiation of the collective agreements in the public and parapublic sectors, shrank the number of health-care bargaining units from 3,671 to 1,200. It created four bargaining units per establishment, with the membership of each unit defined according to a series of job titles.
The bill gave administrators the ability to transfer staff between departments and hospitals and grouped professions normally in separate bargaining units together. In doing so, some workplace issues that had to be bargained at the provincial level were bargained at the local level.
The Bill also removed the right to strike from health-care workers and imposed interest arbitration should an impasse be reached at the local bargaining level.
Last week, the Quebec Court of Appeal declared Bill 30 constitutional on all accounts. The Court considered the Supreme Court of Canada’s 2007 B.C. Health Services decision and the recent Fraser decision, saying it is completely valid for the government to redefine bargaining units as no particular bargaining scheme is entrenched in the Charter. The Court also upheld the local bargaining process imposed in the Bill.
“This judgment is disappointing," said Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights Board of Directors member Matthew Gapmann in a press release issued by the National Union of Public and General Employees.
“We thought that the constitutional challenge to Bill went to the heart of freed of association," said Gapmann, who is also a lawyer with the law firm that represented several unions in the challenge of Bill 30. "Unfortunately, this application of the Fraser case not only confirms a limited scope for BC Health Services, but also seems to increase the range aspects of collective labour relations that can be attached by the legislature."
“It is hard to fathom how subjects like determining bargaining units and levels of negotiation cannot be viewed as being of fundamental importance to the exercise of basic associational rights,” he said.
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