OPSEU to file Charter challenge over college back-to-work law

OPSEU College Faculty - collegefaculty.org

Toronto – The Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) is challenging the Ontario government’s latest back-to-work legislation in court.

The province ended a five-week strike by Ontario college faculty November 20 by passing Bill 178, the Colleges of Applied Arts and Technology Labour Dispute Resolution Act, 2017, on November 19. OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says the law violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, specifically Section 2 (d), which protects freedom of association.

“For over a decade, the Supreme Court of Canada has viewed collective bargaining as a protected right under the Charter,” Thomas said. “More recently, the court has extended that protection to the right to strike.

“In the case of the colleges, the provincial government had the power to direct the employer to make the moves necessary to bargain a settlement,” he said. “The government chose legislation instead. They trampled on the right to collective bargaining when they clearly had other choices.”

On November 16, hours after 86 per cent of college faculty had rejected the colleges’ contract offer, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne met with both sides and gave them three hours to settle the strike.

“The government never gave collective bargaining an honest chance after the contract was rejected,” Thomas said. “That three-hour deadline was a sham designed to provide legal cover for legislation that was already a foregone conclusion. Instead of directing the colleges to settle, the government let them walk away from the table, then came back with a hammer.”

The colleges are Crown agencies that receive nearly half their overall funding from the provincial budget and are in no way independent from government, Thomas said. The government has the power to direct the colleges to take specific actions any time it chooses to do so, he added.

News of the Charter challenge was met with thunderous applause at the Ontario Federation of Labour convention in Toronto this afternoon.

Thomas said it was “ironic, but not funny” that the government had passed Bill 148, which improves certain labour standards, “just a few days after it had walked all over the Charter rights of more than 12,000 workers.”

Bill 178 gave OPSEU and the colleges 90 days to settle the current contract dispute at arbitration.

For more information: Warren (Smokey) Thomas, 613-329-1931