March 24, 2005 11:30 ET

Canada's hidden human rights deficit: Freedom of Association

Unions launch campaign to fight Wal-Mart and reform Canada's labour laws. Extensive new study documents serious erosion of human rights. Attention: Agriculture Editor, Assignment Editor, Business/Financial Editor, News Editor, Government/Political Affairs Editor OTTAWA, ONT.--(CCNMatthews - March 24, 2005) - The basic human right to freedom of association has been abused and eroded by Canadian governments at all levels over the past two decades, says an extensive new study by two of Canada's largest unions. Abuses are also rampant in the agriculture industry and among private sector employers like Wal-Mart.

Freedom of association includes the right to join a union, bargain collectively and withhold services by going on strike.

The study, by the 340,000-member National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) and the 230,000-member United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW Canada), cites 170 pieces of legislation that have denied or undermined these basic rights since 1982. The study is entitled Collective Bargaining in Canada: Human Right or Canadian Illusion.

The abuses have occurred despite the fact that freedom of association is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Canada has signed and pledged to uphold.

Governments at all levels have created the situation and bear responsibility for it, say NUPGE president James Clancy and UFCW Canada national director Michael J. Fraser.

In releasing the study, the unions announced a national labour movement campaign to restore the right to freedom of association. The campaign will include a national lobbying effort to persuade legislators that the time has come to change direction and make progressive labour law reform a top priority.

"Freedom of association as a human right is embodied in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and many other global documents," says Clancy. "Governments and employers have an obligation to respect and promote freedom of association, yet there's no question this basic right is under sustained attack in Canada."

The study also examines Canada's embarrassing record of compliance with the International Labour Organization's (ILO) freedom of association principles. The ILO is an agency of the United Nations governed by a tripartite body with representatives from the government, labour and employers of member countries.

A total of 185 ILO Conventions have been enacted over the years. Since 1982, the ILO has enacted 30 conventions, all of which have been supported by Canadian governments at ILO conferences. Yet only two of the 30 have been ratified by Canada.

The gap between what Canada promises and what Canada actually does needs to close, says Canadian Labour Congress president Ken Georgetti.

"The Prime Minister says governments shouldn't pick and choose which rights to defend, that our leaders have a duty to stand up for the rights of our citizens. We agree and look forward to working with him and Minister Fontana toward upholding Canada's international reputation as a defender of human rights, including the rights of workers," says Georgetti.

Because Canadian governments have neglected their obligation to uphold the basic right to freedom of association, employers in Canada have developed a 'culture of impunity' and routinely engage in the wholesale denial of workers rights, the labour leaders say.

The most striking current example is Wal-Mart, which has announced the closure of an outlet in Jonquière, Que., rather than deal with a legally-formed union. NUPGE has signed a formal organizing protocol with UFCW Canada to support an ongoing drive to organize Wal-Mart workers across Canada.

"When Wal-Mart denies Canadian workers their right to join a union and bargain collectively, it is thumbing its nose at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the basic rights of all workers and families in Canada," says Fraser. "It's an outrage that Canadian governments are tolerating this routine denial of basic rights by Wal-Mart. Canadians deserve better."

Starting today, Canadians can tell Wal-Mart to clean up its act by visiting the Canadian Labour Congress web site at www.clc-ctc.ca With the click of the mouse they can send a fax to Wal-Mart's Canadian headquarters as well as their local Member of Parliament.

The UFCW - NUPGE Canada study and related documents can be found at: www.labourrights.ca
/For further information: Derek Fudge, NUPGE, (613) 228-9800, dfudge@nupge.ca . Jeff Atkinson, CLC, (613) 521-3400 ext. 425, jatkinson@clc-ctc.ca . The UFCW – NUPGE Canada study and related documents can be found at this website: www.labourrights.ca / IN: AGRICULTURE, ECONOMY, JUSTICE, LABOUR, RETAIL

Contact Information

  • Bob Linton, UFCW CANADA
    Primary Phone: 416-675-1104
    E-mail: blinton@ufcw.ca