Home / Workplace Directory / Canadian Media Guild / If the federal government is above the law, aren’t we all?

If the federal government is above the law, aren’t we all?

By Dan Oldfield

“Civil disobedience becomes a sacred duty when the State becomes lawless and corrupt.”
— Mahatma Gandhi

The right of working people to withdraw their labour is fundamental. It is preserved in law and ensures a relatively level playing field between employees and employers to negotiate working conditions and wages. The government’s application to the Canada Industrial Relations Board to prevent a perfectly legal job action by Air Canada flight attendants is a unilateral move to deny our collective and hard-won rights. Worse, the labour board is playing along.

The federal government has thrown out the rule book and is stripping rights away from Canadian citizens. In doing so, it is inviting a black eye for a nation respected around the world for upholding human rights.

When the law is ignored and government agencies created to preserve the law fail to uphold it, we all lose. If they can take away this right, what prevents them from taking away other rights?

And if there are no rules for government and its agencies why should there be rules for the rest of us?

A labour board spokesperson (interestingly, not the board chair) has said the Minister of Labour has the right to prohibit or end a job action. In supporting this proposition, the board apparently relies on two sections of the Canada Labour Code: Section 87.4 (sub-section 5) and Section 107, ironically entitled ?Promotion of Industrial Peace.? A careful reading of both fails to reveal any provision granting the Minister of Labour the unilateral power to deny employees the right to strike.

Section 87 does not authorize the government to stop a legal strike. It deals with essential services. At no time did the employer, Air Canada, ever seek to have any of the work performed by flight attendants defined as essential services. To do so would be absurd since stopping a strike at Air Canada has nothing to do with ?prevent(ing) an immediate and serious danger to the safety or health of the public.?

Section 107 allows the minister to do things that seem likely to secure labour peace and promote conditions favourable to settling disputes. The minister can refer questions about a particular dispute to the labour board, but not to deny the right to strike.

It should now be abundantly clear that we are being governed by a group of politicians who have little regard for the rule of law. While legal challenges are warranted — and we should join the fight — those challenges will no doubt take years to get resolved. A lot of harm can be done in the meantime. We citizens have an obligation to stand up to this political bullying. In the words of Gandhi, we have a sacred duty to do so. If it takes civil disobedience to be heard, then so be it.

Dan Oldfield is the Senior Staff Representative of the Canadian Media Guild and has had three decades of experience in Canadian labour relations.

Find Member Resources

Popular Topics

Scroll to Top