The Alberta government recently introduced Bill 4, An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services, which proposes to extend the right to strike to certain public-sector workers.

Alberta has traditionally banned strikes and lockouts involving most public-sector employees. However, in the 2015 decision Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v Saskatchewan, 2015 SCC 4, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the right to strike is constitutionally protected, and thus struck down Saskatchewan’s essential services legislation on the basis that it infringed on the protected right in a variety of ways. The purpose of Bill 4 is to bring Alberta into compliance with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Bill 4 proposes to amend Alberta’s Public Services Employee Relations Act and the Labour Relations Code. It extends the right to strike (and the corresponding employer right of lockout) to health care workers employed by Alberta Health Services and other approved hospitals, employees of the provincial government and agencies, boards and commissions and non-academic staff at post-secondary institutions. The right to strike does not extend to Firefighters, non-Alberta Health Services ambulance operators and their attendants, police officers, academic staff and graduate students at post-secondary institutions. Those workers remain subject to compulsory interest arbitration to resolve impasses in collective bargaining. Under Bill 4, those who can strike must first negotiate an agreement with the government so that essential services could be maintained in the event of a strike or lockout.

Bill 4 passed its first reading on March 15, 2016. The second reading has been adjourned to April 4.

Written with Ruoxi Wang, associate.

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