A 2014 Supreme Court of Canada ruling in a case involving the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour asserted the right to strike for most public sector employees including, as it happens, academic staff at post-secondary institutions, and set a time limit for provinces to amend legislation that had incorrectly denied the right to strike to employees (and, by the way, right to lockout for employers). This deadline is looming in Alberta (happening in spring of the coming year) and so the provincial government has undertaken to amend the Post-Secondary Learning Act to come into compliance with the SCC ruling.
This is a profound shift in labour relations for CARI institutions since academic staff have waived strike rights for the past forty-some years in favour of adopting an alternate dispute resolution in the form of binding arbitration. This change will also grant strike rights to colleges and institutes that have up until now been legislatively precluded from striking. Any shift in labour relations of this magnitude will need to be handled delicately and with due consideration for mitigating labour unrest.
To that end, the government in early October released a discussion paper to the faculty associations, administrations and grad student associations of all post-secondary institutions in the province outlining essentially two approaches to developing compliance: one was bringing the PSE sector broadly under the labour code, and the other was to minimally tweak the existing PSLA into compliance. The discussion paper also invited respondents to offer up other possibilities for consideration, and set a deadline for receipt of responses by the Ministry of Advanced Education for the end of October (later amended to mid-November).
The faculty associations that together form CAFA (Alberta, Calgary, Athabasca, and Lethbridge Faculty Associations) clubbed together to produce a common response, and additional commentary as the individual Associations felt necessary, and submitted it at the end of October. The Executive Directors of each Association attended a meeting with the government and, subsequently, CAFA representatives and additional stakeholders were invited to roundtable discussions to discuss the Ministry’s options in determining how to comply with the SCC and to elaborate on their written submissions. The CAFA response favoured the so-called “option 1” in which minimal changes to the PSLA were called for, an approach apparently favoured by most of the administrations of the universities in the CARI sector, and by our counterparts in the colleges in the province.
At the CAFA council meeting held last Friday in Calgary, CAFA’s member Associations agreed to make public their common response to our members, and so if you are interested in seeing what we have told the government about what should be kept in mind when changing legislation to come into compliance with the SCC, you can find it on the CAFA website at https://www.ualberta.ca/CAFA/, or at the following direct link: https://www.ualberta.ca/CAFA/assets/cafapslasubmission—final-oct-2015.pdf.
Your ULFA Executive expects to provide additional detail about this matter, and some of the possible implications for us in our collective bargaining environment, at our fall general meeting. Once draft legislation has been made available to stakeholders, ULFA plans to hold townhall meetings to take the measure of our membership’s thoughts on the draft legislation, and subsequently convey that to our elected representatives prior to the passage of final changes to the PSLA.