Robyn Benson, PSAC

Defending our rights

PSAC on the march.jpg

With the tabling of the Budget Implementation Act (Bill C-59) on May 7, the Harper government has tossed aside any pretence of collective bargaining. Sick leave is the immediate issue—forcing members to choose between going to work sick or losing pay—but there is even more at stake.

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the right of workers to bargain collectively. It has ruled that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees it. But this government apparently believes that rights can be taken away any time it wishes.

Bill C-59 allows Treasury Board to remove language from our collective agreements outside the bargaining process, end-running the Public Service Labour Relations Act. So we postponed our bargaining session in May—I hesitate to say “bargaining” table—after C-59 was introduced. It’s not bargaining when the outcome is determined by one of the parties in advance. That’s bullying.

Upholding basic rights has always meant a fight for the PSAC. Almost twenty-five years ago, public sector workers won the right to be politically active, after their case was taken right up to the Supreme Court of Canada. Even when various managers send threatening memos—and this is already happening in the lead-up the 2015 election—most of our members now know their rights. When managers cross the line, we’re on hand to remind them.

Pay equity was another glaring example. Treasury Board fought the PSAC for nearly fifteen years, until ordered to pay up by a federal court. $3.2 billion was paid out to members and former members. Canada Post wouldn’t settle with our members for 32 years, even though the outcome was inevitable—they had to pay out another $250 million.

We won. We keep winning. We don’t quit. Rights are non-negotiable.

Now comes this new challenge to our rights, one that strikes at the very heart of unionism. We’re going to win this one too. People fought and died to win union rights, and we would dishonour their memory and betray our members by giving in.

But a fight for rights is really everybody’s fight. Today it’s the federal public service unions, united in a solidarity pact to resist the great sick-leave takeaway. Tomorrow it could be unions across the country.

We have to show this government that Charter rights are not up for grabs. They can’t be taken away by passing a law.

Prepared to stand up? I sure as hell am.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on May 14, 2015 11:47 AM.

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