Supreme Court strikes down Bill 29 provisions in landmark ruling

    VANCOUVER, June 8 /CNW/ - The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that
sections of Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act,
violate the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
    In a groundbreaking ruling extending the freedom of association provision
of the Charter to include the right to free collective bargaining, the Court
struck down key sections of the 2002 law that restricted and gutted the
bargaining rights of health care workers.
    It's a decision that has widespread implications for unions across the
    The Supreme Court has given the B.C. Liberal government one year to bring
the legislation into compliance with the Charter, but Hospital Employees'
Union secretary-business manager Judy Darcy says the crisis created by Bill 29
in health care should not be allowed to continue one day longer.
    "The verdict has been in on Bill 29 for the last five years - it's a bad
law that's wreaked havoc in health care," says Darcy. "Now the highest court
in the land has declared that this law violates the constitutionally-protected
charter rights of our members.
    "Hundreds of workers are currently facing termination in long-term care
facilities as a result of this legislation," says Darcy. "In the interests of
the continuity of care for seniors and fairness to workers we're demanding the
government declare an immediate moratorium on these layoffs."
    Bill 29 eliminated collective agreement provisions for health care
workers and paved the way for massive job losses and privatization.
    The controversial and unprecedented law excludes health and community
social services workers from labour laws that protect other workers in the
province. And it eliminated collective agreement provisions that safeguarded
workers and services from privatization.
    BC Nurses' Union president Debra McPherson says today's Supreme Court
decision "restores important collective bargaining rights to health care
workers regarding protection against layoffs and contracting out.
    "Governments can no longer unilaterally rip up collective agreements in
order to promote a privatization agenda that cuts services to the public and
erodes employees' living standards. And for the first time it recognizes that
collective bargaining is a right of all Canadians protected by the Charter of
Rights and Freedoms."
    B.C. Government and Service Employées' Union president George Heyman says
free collective bargaining has been critical to the protection of health care
and decent jobs.
    "Workers have fought for free collective bargaining for decades," said
Heyman. "This decision confirms that right is encompassed and protected by the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and cannot be arbitrarily trampled on
at the whim of government."
    Up to 8,000 health care workers were fired in the B.C. Liberal
government's first term as a result of Bill 29, which also facilitated the
most extensive privatization of health services in Canada.
    Cleaning, dietary and other hospital support services in the province's
largest population centres were contracted out to multinational corporations
which in turn slashed wages by half causing high staff turnover and
undermining service quality.
    The legislation has also encouraged the chronic flipping of commercial
contracts between long-term care operators and their sub-contractors as they
seek to undermine collective bargaining and keep wages low.
    Darcy says that Bill 29 has not only destabilized health care delivery
but has caused massive disruption for the thousands of workers who lost their
    "This ruling is a total repudiation of government's unilateral and
mean-spirited approach to health care workers," says Darcy.
    "The damage this legislation caused to the lives of union members and
their families continues to be felt. Many lost their homes. And the financial
stress often led to family breakdown and other personal hardships," says
Darcy. The unions say that government needs to consult with them before it
takes action to bring Bill 29 in compliance with the Charter.
    Health unions led by HEU, BCGEU and BCNU launched their charter challenge
in 2002.
    In its ruling this morning, the Supreme Court of Canada found that
sections of Bill 29 dealing with the elimination contract protections against
contracting out and the rights of senior employees to bump more junior
employees in the event of a reduction in the workforce - interfered with the
collective bargaining process.
    Earlier, the B.C. Supreme Court and the Appeal Court of B.C. ruled
against the unions but the Supreme Court of Canada granted leave to appeal the
rulings of the lower courts and the hearing was held in February, 2006.
    The unions argued that the legislation violated the equality and freedom
of association provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

    Key information on health unions'
    Bill 29 Charter challenge

    January 28, 2002
    Bill 29 eliminates negotiated protections for unionized health care and
community social services workers, including:

    -  20-year-old, contracting-out provisions that safeguarded health
       services from privatization;
    -  basic bumping provisions that have existed for 30 years, and
    -  labour force adjustment provisions and programs such as retraining and
       job placement.

    It imposes new transfer provisions that allow employers to move
caregivers around, both to different hospitals within one shift, as well as to
worksites hundreds of kilometres away for temporary assignments.

    March 19,2002
    B.C. unions representing more than 100,000 health care workers launch
legal action in B.C. Supreme Court alleging that the Campbell government's
contract-breaking legislation - the Health and Social Services Delivery
Improvement Act (Bill 29, January 28, 2002) is unconstitutional and violates
the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

        Freedom of association (Charter S. 2 (D)):

        Bill 29 eliminates the most fundamental collective rights of
        unionized health care workers -including exempting health care
        workers from successorship provisions contained in the B.C. Labour
        Code that apply to all unionized workers in any industry sector - and
        undermines the whole purpose of being a member of a union.

        Equality rights (Charter S. 15):

        Bill 29 - whether intentionally or not - negatively and
        disproportionately impacts women health care and community social
        services workers, and therefore violates the Charter's equality
        provisions. The legislation targets specific, female-dominated
        occupational groups by removing contracting-out protections and
        severely eroding job security provisions in their collective

    March 2003
    The International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency,
concludes that Bill 29 violates international conventions that protect
workers' rights to freely associate and organize.
    The ILO calls on the B.C. government to repeal or rewrite the laws to
bring them into line with international labour standards.
    Government fails to comply.

    September 2003
    B.C. Supreme Court dismisses unions' constitutional challenge; unions

    November 2003
    B.C. government passes Bill 94 - the Health Sector Partnerships Agreement
Act - which extends Bill 29 by allowing private-sector companies to cancel
commercial health support and care services contracts and terminate staff
repeatedly in order to avoid unionization and collective agreements that would
improve wages and working conditions.

    2002 - 2003
    Bill 29 precipitates the first wave of health privatization in the
province resulting in the closure of more than 50 health facilities, including
hospitals and long-term care centres, and the contracting out of hospital
security, laundry, housekeeping and dietary services in the Vancouver Coastal,
Fraser and Vancouver Island health authorities.
    Unionized staff in seniors' care facilities across the province are also
laid-off as operators sign support and care services deals with newly-formed
private contractors.
    Up to 8,000 health care workers - the vast majority women - lose decent,
family-supporting jobs in what is the largest mass firing of female workers in
Canadian history.

    July 2004
    B.C. Court of Appeal upholds B.C. Supreme Court ruling; unions petition
the Supreme Court of Canada for leave to appeal.

    March 2005
    The International Labour Organization (ILO) concludes that Bill 94
violates international conventions that protect workers' rights to freely
associate and organize, and again calls on the government to repeal or rewrite
the laws to bring them into line with international labour standards.
    Government fails to comply.

    April 2005
    Supreme Court of Canada announces it will hear the unions' Charter

    February 2006
    The Supreme Court of Canada hears the case.

    2006 - 2007
    Long-term care operators and sub-contractors continue to use Bill 29 and
Bill 94 to flip contracts and avoid union collective agreements and reduce
    More than 650 care staff are laid off at five long-term care facilities
in May 2007.

    May 2007
    In less than one month, more than 650 care aide staff are laid off at
five long-term care facilities in Nanaimo and the Lower Mainland.

    June 8, 2007
    The Supreme Court of Canada renders its decision.

For further information:

For further information: Margi Blarney, FIEU communications officer,
(604) 785-5324 (c); Brian Gardiner, BCGEU communications officer, (604)
788-1492 (c); Art Moses, BCNU communications coordinator, (604) 868-4259 (c)

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Hospital Employees' Union

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B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union

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