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Alberta’s largest union welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down a Saskatchewan law severely restricting workers’ right to strike.

Alberta’s largest union welcomes the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision to strike down a Saskatchewan law severely restricting workers’ right to strike.

“This ruling calls into question all kinds of existing legislation here in Alberta,” said Edmonton lawyer Patrick Nugent, who serves as outside counsel for the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. “We’ll be reviewing it very carefully in the coming weeks to see how it applies here.”

The ruling strikes down Saskatchewan’s essential services legislation, which severely limited public sector employees’ right to strike. AUPE intervened in support of the position ultimately adopted by the Court and made oral submissions at the hearing.

The Supreme Court ruling says, “The right to strike is not merely derivative of collective bargaining, it is an indispensable component of that right. It seems to me to be the time to give this conclusion constitutional benediction.” (para. 3)

It also states: “The fact that a service is provided exclusively through the public sector does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that it is properly considered ‘essential’. In some circumstances, the public may well be deprived of a service as a result of strike action without being deprived of any essential service at all that would justifiably limit the ability to strike during negotiations.” (para. 85)

The court determined that the legislation violated the Charter right to freedom of association.

The majority of public sector workers in Alberta, including direct government employees, health care workers and post-secondary employees, currently do not have the right to strike.

“The right to strike is constitutionally protected in Canada,” said Nugent. “Some governments try to get around this by imposing sweeping legislation declaring ‘essential services.’ This ruling sets a higher threshold for what can be declared essential and establishes that even when a prohibition on striking is justifiable, there must be a fair, meaningful mechanism for resolving disputes.”

He added: “a truly fair and equitable process would be unlikely to include legislated terms and conditions such as wage freezes or rollbacks.”

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