Recent court rulings that show the "enlarged scope" of associational rights for workers buttress the position of the B.C. Teachers' Federation in its case against the B.C. government over teachers' rights to bargain working conditions, a lawyer for the union has argued.
In light of two recent rulings regarding collective bargaining rights for Mounties, the B.C. Court of Appeal in January asked lawyers for both the province and the BCTF to file further submissions in their case now before the appellate court. In documents filed Jan. 26, the province argued that, with one of those rulings, the Supreme Court affirmed the government's position that teachers are guaranteed the right to bargain working conditions but have no constitutional guarantee of a specific outcome.
In submissions filed Friday, a lawyer for the union noted that the government had bargained in bad faith and that a B.C. Supreme Court judge twice concluded that 2002 legislation introduced by the government stripping teachers of certain collective bargaining rights was unconstitutional. The Mounties rulings showed that freedom of association guarantees a meaningful process of collective bargaining, the lawyer argued – something that did not take place with the government.
"The appellant was given 12 months to remedy a significant long-term breach of teachers' fundamental freedom of association," read the submission in part.
"Instead, it used the period to threaten the continuation of the unconstitutional legislation to try to gain the BCTF's agreement to surrender the rights that had just been vindicated. Moreover, the appellant acted to further its 'short-term financial interests' and its 'desire to achieve policy goals unfettered by employee rights' under the guise of 'meaningful consultation.' It then simply repeated the unconstitutional legislation."
On Jan. 16, the Supreme Court of Canada issued two RCMP-related rulings: Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada (MPAO), which gave Mounties the right to unionize, and Meredith v. Canada (Meredith), which ruled in favour of the government on legislation that unilaterally rolled back Mounties' wage hikes.
In MPAO, the court ruled 6-1 that the RCMP's internal program for negotiating workplace issues is constitutionally inadequate, and federal public-sector legislation precluding Mounties from applying for statutory bargaining rights violates the right to freedom of association.
The BCTF argued in its latest submission that that ruling is consistent with the reasoning and findings of the trial judge that sided with the union.
"Legislation that disrupts the balance between employers and employees will breach [freedom of association]," the submission stated. "The radical deletion of important working conditions terms in a collective agreement, and the future prohibition of bargaining the subject matter on those terms, frustrates the [freedom of association] purpose of palliating an historical inequality, with or without the one-sided pre-legislative discussions that took place in this case."
The government has until Wednesday to file a brief reply.