Posted on Mar 15, 2016

Essential services legislation is fair to workers, employers and the public

Emergency room sign

In January 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the right to strike is a fundamental right for unionized workers. Two months later, the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta declared the strike prohibition in the Public Service Employee Relations Act and similar strike bans in the Labour Relations Code are unconstitutional. The courts have been clear: public sector workers have the right to strike.

As a former front-line health worker, I followed the court challenges closely. I knew these rulings would require legislators to modernize Alberta labour laws to bring us in line with the courts to protect the Charter rights of public sector workers delivering essential services.

Currently, Alberta legislation bans many public sector workers from striking, and instead provides compulsory arbitration as a way to resolve disputes. Bill 4, An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services, places greater responsibility on employers and unions to reach an agreement without resorting to arbitration. It will ensure that employers, government and unions work together for the benefit of all Albertans.

As a registered nurse for many years, most recently in the operating room at the Foothills hospital, I understand people have concerns about access to essential services during a work stoppage. Albertans should never have to worry about their care and safety. Bill 4 will ensure that essential services such as emergency health care are provided. 

Determining what essential services will be maintained will be negotiated by public sector employers and unions working together. If they can’t reach an agreement a neutral third party will resolve the dispute quickly and efficiently.

Front-line workers delivering these essential services have a strong, professional commitment that goes deeper than legislation. Their professional ethic is based on a profound and unwavering commitment to delivering the best care they can under any and all circumstances. The health and safety of Albertans are always top of mind, and they take this concern with them everywhere – including the negotiating table.

This legislation balances the right of unionized workers to exercise the fundamental Charter right to collective bargaining – including going on strike – with the assurance that essential services will be protected for the public.

I am proud to have co-sponsored this bill and am honoured to stand in support of it with the rest of my government caucus colleagues as we modernize our labour laws and work toward a more equitable province for all Albertans.