The Society along with Legal Aid lawyers responded to the Ministry of Labour’s Changing Workplaces Review (CWR) interim report following its July 27 release. The report is part of determining if and how to update Ontario’s employment and labour laws to reflect modern working conditions. The union called upon Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government to immediately end the exclusion of lawyers and other workers from the right to form a union.
The Legal Aid lawyers’ demand for the democratic right to form a union was specifically highlighted in Chapter 4.2 of the Ontario government-commissioned Changing Workplaces Review interim report, which was released July 27.
The right to form a union is constitutionally protected and should not be the subject of further political debate, said The Society in a media release on this issue.
Legal Aid lawyers, through The Society, filed a court challenge last year of the Wynne government’s continued suppression of their Charter rights. Precedents cited in that lawsuit, including Mounted Police Association v. Canada (Attorney General), were also noted in the CWR interim report.
“The law is so well understood now that even the interim report of the Changing Workplaces Review states unequivocally that all individuals have the right to collective bargaining,” said Society spokesperson Matthew Kellway. “But instead of respecting the law, the Wynne government is set to spend $1 million on legal fees to fight it.”
“For over three years, the Wynne government has denied Legal Aid staff lawyers their rights. That must end now with voluntary recognition of their right to bargain collectively.”
Under the present regime, groups of workers excluded from the right to form a union must receive the voluntary recognition of their employer to allow them to collectively bargain. In the case of Legal Aid lawyers, they have sought such voluntary recognition for years.“
About 80 per cent of Legal Aid Ontario lawyers petitioned our employer for voluntary recognition of our right to a union,” lamented Dana Fisher, a Legal Aid lawyer. “But for more than three years Legal Aid lawyers have been denied our constitutional right of free association because current laws do not require our employer to respect our democratic will.”
Legal Aid lawyers are the only significant group of Ontario public sector lawyers who have been denied voluntary recognition of their collective bargaining rights. Of the three major groups, Legal Aid lawyers are the most racially diverse group and at two-thirds female, Legal Aid lawyers have the highest proportion of women in their ranks. Legal Aid lawyers serve the poorest and most vulnerable Ontarians.
To show the broad public support for fairer labour and employment laws, the Ontario Federation of Labour is organizing the Rally for Decent Work on October 1 at Queen’s Park that all members are encouraged to attend.