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ILO loses patience with Ontario government for impeding part-time college workers’ right to join a union


ILO asks the Ontario government “to lift any obstacle in law and practice” which continues to hinder part-time college workers from exercising their right to join a union and bargain collectively

For the third time in seven years, the International Labour Organization (ILO), has reprimanded the Ontario government for impeding 16,000 part-time community college workers from exercising their basic human right to form a union and participate in collective bargaining.

The criticism was contained in an ILO report issued last week reviewing the extent of Canada’s compliance to the ILO’s most fundamental Convention – No. 87, Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize. The ILO expressed its concern with the Ontario government for allowing the College Employer Council (CEC) to continue using litigation at the Ontario Labour Relation Board (OLRB) as a means to denying these workers one of their fundamental human rights.

The ILO noted the government amended legislation in 2008 that gave the employees the right to bargain collectively and that the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) had filed certification applications over three years ago to represent both the part-time academic and support staff.

The UN agency, however, condemned the fact that certification has not been granted as a result of ongoing and costly litigation caused by the colleges.

The ILO report re-affirmed “the importance that part-time academic and support staff in Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) in Ontario fully enjoy without delay the right to organize, as enjoyed by other workers,” It asked the Ontario government “to lift any obstacle in law and practice which would hinder these rights as provided in the Convention”.

In November 2011 after reviewing the case for the second time, the ILO noted that it expected “the ongoing dispute will be resolved by the OLRB without delay, in consultation with the parties, in order to effectively guarantee that part-time academic and support staff employed in Ontario’s public colleges fully enjoy the right to organize.”

“Based on the premise that labour rights are human rights, the McGuinty government obviously has no shame in continuing to allow the basic human rights of these hard working public employees to be denied,” noted OPSEU President Smokey Thomas.

“Part-time college workers are not second class citizens.  Their struggle has gone on far too long,” added Thomas.  “They are no different than any other citizens of Ontario; the human rights of all citizens must be respected.   “It’s time for the Premier to recognize that you cannot pick and choose when it comes to human rights.”

Benoit Dupuis, Chair of OPSEU’s Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) Academic Division, expressed his frustration in the cavalier way the Ontario government has responded to the ILO.

“This is a well-respected agency of the United Nations,” noted Dupuis.   “All the Ontario government has done for the past five years is hide behind the College Employer Council to give the ILO the run-around with respect to unnecessary delays in granting part-time college workers their basic right to collectively bargain their wages and working conditions.”

“I’m glad the ILO has seen through the government’s bafflegab.  The latest ILO ruling said in no uncertain terms it’s time ‘to lift any obstacle in law and practice’ which hinders part-time college workers from exercising their rights.”

“I continue to be embarrassed by the McGuinty government,” stated Florry Foster, Chair of OPSEU’s CAAT Support Staff Division, in response to the latest ILO ruling.  “There is no other jurisdiction in Canada where part-time education workers are prevented from exercising their right to join a union.”

Thomas added, “You really have to question the state of democracy in Ontario when our government refuses to exercise its statutory powers to direct its own agency, the Colleges Employer Council, to stop its wasteful litigation and allow its part-time employees an opportunity to simply negotiate their wages and benefits.”