The United Conservative Party Government has passed Bill 9, which delays collective bargaining and arbitration for tens of thousands of public employees including UNA members until the end of October.
MLAs gave the Public Sector Wage Arbitration Deferral Act first reading on June 13, indicating the government’s intention to pass the bill as swiftly as possible. Bill 9 was expected to become law following its final passage by MLAs on June 20.
UNA members joined other public sector workers in the public gallery of the Legislative Assembly during Question Period on June 20 to demonstrate their displeasure with the violation of their rights.
UNA and other unions will be meeting in the days ahead to chart their response to Bill 9. UNA has instructed its legal counsel to launch a legal challenge of this breach of the contract and violation of its members’ Charter rights through the courts.
While Finance Minister Travis Toews portrayed the legislation as a mere procedural delay while the government awaits the report of its so-called “blue ribbon” panel on the state of Alberta’s finances, and claimed 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.” Those conditions had been met when the government stepped in with orders to Alberta Health Services not to comply with the terms of the contract.
Bill 9 clearly amends this aspect of the collective agreement and further analysis of the bill suggests the government could roll back wages without going to the legislature, simply by amending regulations in a closed-door cabinet meeting.
With final passage of Bill 9, UNA’s negotiations are on hold until Halloween. By then, the government is expected to introduce legislation allowing more aggressive intervention in public-sector collective bargaining and arbitration, although the time line appears to have been designed to delay controversy until after the fall federal election.
The legislation impacts 24 collective agreements covering roughly 180,000 public sector employees, some directly employed by the government but most by public agencies like Alberta Health Services.