Supreme Court decides right to strike in Saskatchewan case

The high court will decide an appeal of the province's controversial essential services law that restricts who can strike

OTTAWA – The Supreme Court of Canada rules later today on whether the charter protects the right to strike, a decision that could affect public sector employees across the country.

The high court will decide an appeal by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour of the province’s controversial essential services law that restricts who can strike.

The Saskatchewan Party introduced the new law after winning power in 2007, which says employers and unions must agree on which workers are deemed essential and cannot legally strike.

If the two sides can’t agree, the government gets to decide who is an essential worker.

The law came after some high-profile labour unrest in Saskatchewan, including a strike by thousands of nurses in 1999 and another by highway workers and correctional officers in late 2006 and early 2007.

Court challenges began in 2008 after the law was enacted, and the Regina Court of Queen’s Bench struck it down as unconstitutional in February 2012.

The court did uphold the principle of essential services and gave the government 12 months to fix the law.

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal overturned the lower court ruling in 2013, so the labour federation appealed to the Supreme Court.

Today’s ruling will affect bargaining across the country.

It comes after just two weeks after the Supreme Court’s landmark labour relations ruling in a case involving rank and file officers of the RCMP.

The Supreme Court overturned a previous ruling of its own from the 1990s which upheld an exclusion that barred the Mounties from forming unions like federal public servants, who gained the right to collective bargaining in the late 1960s.

The ruling did not explicitly state that RCMP members have the right to form a union, but the justices effectively cleared a path to that possibility.

The RCMP ruling did not address the right to strike, something that today’s ruling seems certain to address.

Today’s ruling could send ripples across the country.

Last April, Nova Scotia followed other provinces when it enacted its own essential services law for health care workers.

It joined Newfoundland and Labrador and British Columbia as provinces that have essential services laws.

Looking for more?

Get the best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.