ILO COMMITTEE OF FREEDOM OF ASSOCIATIONS COMPLAINTS SINCE 1982
Case No. 1601:CANADA / QUEBEC
Complainants:Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE)
After failing to reach a collective agreement by negotiation, CUPE members at Hydro-Quebec initiated a legal strike in November 1989.The strike was in compliance with the Canada Labour Code and the directives of the Essential Services Council (regarding provision of essential services for the public).Although an agreement was reached between the parties, the Government passed back-to-work legislation known as An Act Ensuring the Continuity of Electricity Services Supplied by the State-Owned Company Hydro-Quebec(Act No. 58) on May 4, 1990.
Act No. 58 violated employees' freedom of association by:
ßEnding a legal strike and banning strike action until December 1992
ßImposing wages and conditions of employment until December 1992, thereby denying the right to collective bargain in relation to conditions of employment
ßSetting harsh penalties for violation of the Act
Act No. 58 is a pointless and unjustified intrusion on free collective bargaining and legal strike action
The Government intervened to ensure public safety.Since the adoption of Act No. 58, the parties freely negotiated a collective agreement that superseded Act No. 58, and the Government passed Act No. 158, which abrogated Act No. 58.The Government requests that the CFA find it inappropriate to address Act No. 58 since it is not in effect or, in the alternative, find that the complaint is unfounded.
The CFA has recognized that the provision of electric power is an essential service, meaning that in this industry, workers' right to strike can be restricted and even denied.While a minimum level of service was mandated during the strike, the union did not consistently fulfil this obligation.The poor state of the power grid was such that complete resumption of normal operations was needed to prevent serious harm to the public.
In contrast to the complainants' contention that the parties had reached agreement on the eve of Act No. 58 being passed, no agreement was in sight.Adopting Act No. 58 was necessary to protect the general public.
The Act provided for wage increases to protect workers' standard of living.The penalties under the Act were never applied, but even if they had been, the penalty would have been proportional to the offence.
After the parties reached a negotiated settlement, the Government passed Act No. 158, which abrogated Act No. 58.
Provision of electricity is an essential service.Striking in this sector may be restricted and even prohibited, but this does not mean workers should be denied the right to collectively bargain.Act No. 58 did protect workers' living standards to some degree.As the Act has been abrogated and its penalties were never applied, further investigation is not warranted.
1.The present case does not warrant further examination.