The Provincial Government of Alberta ran into a bit of a surprise “glitch” when they attempted to comply with the 2015 ruling (Bill 7) from the Supreme Court. That ruling maintains that the right to strike is a fundamental right and that all public sector workers have the right to strike. They were not prepared for the contradictory nature of this right when placed beside old labour burdens placed on university academic staff in Alberta.
Unfortunately, the entire labour relations protocol for academic staff in Alberta was so massively out of line and out of proportion with the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling, that the Supreme Court decided to override all the inherent complications by ordering the changes to take place immediately.
University of Alberta Academic staff, and other Alberta universities, for instance, were the only entities in Canada that required drastic attention. The reason for this was that the Alberta Academic Staff were governed by the Province’s “Post-Secondary Learning Act” (PSLA), which was completely out of line with the Labour Relations code.
The Board of Governors at each Alberta university, according to the outdated PLSA, was noted for only allowing each university complicitly and individually to allow Academic members to strike. This gave the employer the exclusive right to decide whether its members could strike or not. The Board of Governors at each university in Alberta maintained that right. So rather than hashing-out a time-consuming, rule-by-rule examination of each point of the PLSA’s out-dated strike formalities, the Supreme Court gave a blanket order to bring the Alberta universities in line with other Canadian universities to save time, minutiae, and trivialities.
At the crux of what the Alberta government needed to change, was the requirement that any disputes in bargaining between the Alberta universities and their academic staff, be settled through compulsory binding arbitration. This essentially removed the right to strike. This was also, the area where the Supreme Court needed to override to bring Alberta to be parallel in labour negotiations; rights that other provinces already possessed.
After more than an entire year of consultations and research, and by eliminating a contradictory clause called “collegial governance”, which allowed continual conflicts of interest because it ignored the fact that academics must play a role in part in the governing of universities, be it through participation on academic boards, for instance, or the fact that professionals, including engineers and architects who are employed as instructors on campus are actually prohibited from belonging to unions to which they already mandatorily belonged. This became a conflict of interest, as it made no logical formation with the rules themselves, nor did it fall in line with the rest of the country, being that such professionals are fully contributing members of the academic staff associations.
Clearly, the legislation could not effectively or efficiently meet such out-of-sync challenges without ordering that the Alberta universities’ format be overridden, effective immediately.
Now, the Academic staff at any Alberta university will possess the right to strike, the same as any other Academic staff in any other university in the Country. The Supreme Court Bill (Bill 7), states that this change, “ultimately extends to academic workers in Alberta the rights that the academic staff across the country have enjoyed for years”.
This article was written by Donna Murchie.