Survey of CAPE members - “We will not be able to force the government to back down”

Many respondents to the survey on possible strike action indicated that they did not want to engage in strike measures because they felt that nothing could make the government back down.

There is no doubt that the employer, because it is the government of Canada, is in a position to pass legislation to prevent strike action or to declare initially legal strike measures illegal. In recent labour disputes at Canada Post, Air Canada and Canadian National, in fact, the government used the state of the Canadian economy as a pretext to interfere with the collective bargaining process.

Fortunately, the Supreme Court of Canada subsequently made it quite clear, in a decision involving the government of Saskatchewan, that “the right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right.” A number of experts believe that the impact of this Supreme Court ruling will be felt in the current round of collective bargaining with Treasury Board and that the federal government will thus be prevented from unduly depriving you of your constitutional rights. Having amended the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA) to impose conciliation/strike as the sole dispute resolution mechanism in the current round of collective bargaining, the government could not readily claim the need to prevent strike action once it has made it the only recourse available to the vast majority of federal public servants. In fact, the Supreme Court decision points out that, since the Saskatchewan government had taken away the right to arbitration – just as the federal government has done – it could not also limit the right to strike.

The Conservative government’s reaction to a public service strike cannot be predicted, of course, but it is clear that this Supreme Court ruling has limited its options.