Alberta’s Bill 9 and the Issue of Workers’ Rights
Alberta Court Grants Injunction Suspending Bill 9
Information picket against Bill 9, Misericordia Hospital, Edmonton, August 30, 2019.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) was successful in its application for an injunction against Bill 9, the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act. The Kenney government immediately appealed the July 30 injunction. The Court of Appeal said it will soon issue a ruling as to whether the injunction remains in place.
As a result of the injunction, arbitration hearings on wage reopeners for public sector workers were rescheduled and concluded on August 12. Release of the arbitrator’s decision cannot take place before the Alberta Court of Appeal issues its ruling.
Justice Macklin stated in his decision confirming the injunction that Bill 9 makes collective bargaining between government and employee representatives effectively impossible. He concluded that if governments can tear up collective agreements on a whim, then collective bargaining would become meaningless.
The Justice found that the time lines for arbitration were a substantive term in the collective agreement, which Bill 9 unilaterally nullified. The delay in arbitration was “wholly the result of the unilateral act of one of the parties [the Alberta government], and could not be compared to a delay caused by a scheduling issue, illness or witness unavailability…. Having given up its right to strike and two years of no increase in wages, [AUPE] will have lost the one benefit it did gain — having an arbitration take place within specified timelines. Further, it may be difficult, if not impossible, to confidently negotiate detailed terms and conditions of a collective agreement knowing that at any time after an agreement was reached, the terms and conditions could be unilaterally amended or nullified by legislation.”