USW files complaint with international labour organization against Quebec government

Legault’s interference at ABI bargaining violates ILO conventions: Union
||Last Updated: 06/12/2019
Labour relations
The complaint lists at least nine public statements by the premier between April 1 and June 3, said the union. GOOGLE STREET VIEW

The Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers (USW) filed a complaint on June 10 with the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the Government of Quebec.

The USW complaint cites violations of the ILO’s Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as well as the Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, said the union.

The USW complaint stems from Quebec Premier François Legault’s interference in negotiations in the 17-month lockout at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour, Que. More than 1,000 workers, members of USW Local 9700, were locked out of their jobs in January 2018 by ABI, co-owned by aluminum giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto.

“By his statements aimed at discrediting the trade union position by repeatedly describing it as ‘unreasonable,’ the premier came to put all his weight behind the company in a negotiation in the private sector. He took up the cause of the management party. This is contrary to international law and we are asking the International Labour Organization to take charge of the case,” said Alain Croteau, USW Quebec director.

The complaint was sent to the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO, the United Nations agency responsible at the global level for the development and supervision of international labour standards. The complaint refers to the many public statements made by Legault in April, May and June regarding the labour dispute that has been raging at ABI since Jan. 11, 2018, said USW.

“The government of Quebec, through the statements of its Premier François Legault, has failed to fulfil its obligations under the ILO declarations and conventions by disseminating inaccurate information on the issues at stake in the negotiations and by officially taking a position in favour of ABI, thereby publicly discrediting the union,” said Katherine-Sarah Larouche, of the law firm Philion, Leblanc, Beaudry. “The government of Quebec has thus obstructed the union’s right to the free exercise of the right to organize and its right to claim freely and on the basis of equality for the working conditions for ABI’s unionized employees.”

The complaint lists at least nine public statements by the premier between April 1 and June 3, said the union.

The lockout at ABI was triggered by Alcoa and Rio Tinto on Jan. 11, 2018, even though the union had indicated it did not intend to exercise its right to strike and that only a few issues remained outstanding at the bargaining table. The employer has since added several new demands, further reducing the prospect of a settlement. On March 11, 82 per cent of union members rejected an employer offer which was inferior to the one made before the lockout was imposed, said USW.

The Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers from all economic sectors.

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