Members of the Alberta Legislature have given first reading to the United Conservative Party Government’s Bill 9, the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act, which will delay collective bargaining and arbitration for tens of thousands of public employees including UNA members until the end of October.
While the government portrays the legislation as merely a procedural delay while it awaits the report of its so-called “blue ribbon” panel on the state of Alberta’s finances and claims it does not break public-sector contracts, the bill clearly breaches both UNA’s current collective agreement and the Charter rights of UNA members.
UNA’s collective agreement with Alberta Health Services included a wage-reopener provision in its final year, 2019, which allowed resolution of an impasse through interest arbitration. In the event the parties went to arbitration, the agreement stated: “The arbitration hearing shall be held by no later June 30, 2019.”
Bill 9 clearly amends this aspect of the collective agreement.
When the agreement with AHS was negotiated, UNA agreed to two years of zero pay increases in return for the ability to negotiate a wage increase in 2019.
So Bill 9 strips the contract of the provision on which UNA’s agreement to the previous wage freeze was based.
Final passage of Bill 9, which is likely next week, will put UNA’s negotiations on hold until Halloween. By then, the government is expected to introduce legislation allowing more aggressive government intervention in the public-sector collective bargaining and arbitration process, although the time line appears to have been designed to delay controversy until after the fall federal election.
UNA President Heather Smith told reporters and union members in the Rotunda of the Legislative Building that the level of interference in collective bargaining in this bill goes further than anything done by the Klein Government in the mid-1990s.
“Even in the dark days of the 1990s, the Alberta government never reached into collective agreements and violated the constitutional rights of public-sector workers,” she said earlier.
UNA and other unions will be meeting in the days ahead to chart their response to Bill 9 and more radical legislation anticipated after the federal election.
UNA has instructed its legal counsel to review its legal options for challenging this breach of the contract and violation of its members’ Charter rights through the courts.
PHOTO: UNA President Heather Smith addresses media about Bill 9 as other labour leaders and activists look on at the Alberta Legislature on Thursday, June 13.