Friday’s Supreme Court decision enshrined the right of public sector workers to strike, and so back-to-work powers should be used “sparingly’’ by Ontario if contract talks this year with its unions result in a strike, a labour expert argues.
Laurel MacDowell, a retired University of Toronto professor with expertise in Canadian labour history, notes that Friday’s ruling comes at a time when there’s been a “shift’’ in how governments view back-to-work legislation.
“Back-to-work orders have always been something governments can do in the public sector if they think they can argue that the continuation of the strike is not in the public interest,’’ MacDowell said in an emailed statement to the Star after the court ruling.
In the recent past, governments that are “basically anti-union’’ have not been inhibited about passing back-to-work legislation, MacDowell went on to argue.
“But I think (there’s been) a shift, and that an unfair move would not sit well with the public at the moment, because the economy is bad. So I expect the Ontario government at this time would be reluctant to force . . . striking workers back to work,’’ she added.
The province is continuing to negotiate with public sector unions this year, and has said there will be no wage increases. Meanwhile, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) recently threatened that a “government-wide strike’’ could come as a result of any moves by the province to eliminate and privatize public service duties.
Friday’s ruling is an “important precedent for Ontario and other provinces’’ should there ever be future calls for back-to-work orders, MacDowell says.
“The power (to bring back-to-work legislation) should be used sparingly because if it isn’t, it means in effect such workers do not have the right to strike,’’ she said.