Posted on Apr 1, 2016

Bill 4 is fair to unionized workers, employers and the public

Health care worker in front of Alberta flag

Our government recently introduced important essential services legislation to modernize Alberta’s labour laws and ensure that employers, government and unions work together for the benefit of all Albertans.

Bill 4, An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services, was introduced in response to a January 2015 Supreme Court of Canada decision that determined that the right to strike is fundamental to meaningful collective bargaining. Two months later the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta declared that strike prohibitions and bans written into Alberta law are also unconstitutional. The courts have been clear: public sector workers have the right to strike.

Currently, The Public Service Employee Relations Act and the Labour Relations Code ban many public sector workers from striking. Instead they provide mandatory arbitration to resolve collective bargaining disputes. These laws must be revised to bring our province in line with the courts and ensure we do not interfere with the rights of public sector employees.

Bill 4 will treat all public sector workers equally. It will bring people to the table, like corrections officers, who were previously unable to take part in discussions about what essential services are, which employees are considered to be essential, and which services will be maintained during work stoppages.

As front-line workers, providing essential services is a crucial part of our professional ethic. We are deeply committed to delivering the best care we can under any and all circumstances.

I mention corrections officers specifically because in the past they have been excluded from legislation that would have greatly benefited them and their families. In 2012, when the previous government passed legislation to provide enhanced support for PTSD to first responders, corrections officers were not included. I believe this needs to change.

Bill 4 will ensure that instead of the top-down decision making approach being used, a collaborative process will be in place. Public sector employers and unions will work together to determine what essential services will be maintained in the event of a work stoppage. If they can’t reach an agreement, a neutral third party will resolve the dispute quickly and efficiently.

This legislation is particularly meaningful to me. Before being elected as your MLA for Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, I worked as a nursing attendant in long-term care. These vulnerable people need care under every circumstance. We, as front-line workers, recognize this but also want to have our rightful place at the negotiating table.

As front-line workers, providing essential services is a crucial part of our professional ethic. We are deeply committed to delivering the best care we can under any and all circumstances. The health and safety of our patients are always top of mind, and we take this concern with us everywhere – including the bargaining table.

I am proud to support legislation that balances the right of unionized workers to exercise the right to collective bargaining – including going on strike – with the assurance that essential services will be protected for the public.