AS (2015) CR 06
2015 ORDINARY SESSION
Wednesday 28 January 2015 at 3.30 p.m.
Equality and the crisis
Protection of the right to bargain collectively, including the right to strike
The following texts were submitted for inclusion in the official report by members who were present in the Chamber but were prevented by lack of time from delivering them.
Mr DOWNE (Canada) – I want to discuss the protection of the right to bargain collectively and the right to strike. I am grateful for this detailed report on the issue.
In Canada, the right to bargain collectively is a constitutionally guaranteed right, based on the freedom of association included in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This right has been confirmed by our supreme court in recent decisions. In the opinion of our highest court, “recognising that workers have the right to bargain collectively as part of their freedom to associate reaffirms the values of dignity, personal autonomy, equality and democracy that are inherent in the Charter.”
Recently, the supreme court was asked to determine whether the right to strike is also a constitutionally guaranteed right. The court is expected to render its decision later this year. Therefore, whether the right to strike benefits from the same constitutional protection as the right to collective bargaining remains an open question, but one that should be resolved shortly.
In Canada, labour relations are largely a provincial responsibility, with the federal government regulating about 10%. This state of affairs can present certain challenges, as well as certain opportunities, because there exists a broad spectrum of rules applying to the workers’ right to unite, to bargain collectively and to strike.
The economic climate is also tied to labour relations. Slow economic growth in the last few years has resulted in significant challenges for many countries around the world, including Canada. With an increase in its real GDP of only 2% in 2013, Canada has seen slow growth in job creation, with high unemployment among young people, and its lowest wage growth since 1997.
In response to these challenges, Canada has implemented certain changes, such as increasing employee contributions to public sector pensions and streamlining collective bargaining at the federal level by expanding the category of services considered essential, making it illegal for those workers to strike. As a result of some of these measures, 2013 saw the largest number of workers involved in work stoppages since 2004. Despite this period of fiscal restraint, Canadians remain strong supporters of workers’ rights as an important foundation of our labour structure. Some 4.7 million workers were covered by 1 014 collective agreements in 2013, corresponding to 31.2% of the labour force population.
No one can predict with certainty how our global and interconnected economy will evolve. It is all the more important to ensure that we, as parliamentarians, foster an ongoing dialogue between workers and employers in the spirit of democratic values.
Ms KYRIAKIDOU (Cyprus) – International human rights standards have been undermined by the economic crisis. In European Union countries subject to a bail-out plan, the quality of social services delivered and the protection of basic human rights is, at best, fragmented. Hundreds of thousands of people live in poverty, while youth unemployment in particular has soared. The right to work, the right to social security, the right to housing and the right to health are no longer universally applied.
At the same time, attacks on foreigners and migrants and the rise of populist and extremist rhetoric have allowed hate speech to become widespread, especially through the use of online social media. People and politics have become polarised. Corruption is rampant. Increasingly disillusioned with the conduct of public policies, people abstain from crucial votes. Violence is on the rise and democratic values and principles are threatened. This has been widely documented at the national level, but also within this Assembly, which has consistently looked into ways to better protect populations and vulnerable groups from the aftermath of austerity policies. Until such thinking subsides, vulnerable groups need to be vigorously protected. As Mr Villumsen rightly points out in his excellent report, we must invest in equality as a way to tackle the crisis and we must commit specific resources in order to ensure that the public safety net remains resilient and capable of absorbing the needs of a population in despair.
People are disillusioned because the State has fallen short on the provision of fundamental human rights. It would be beneficial if our member States adopted guidelines or nationally tailored action plans in cases of prolonged economic instability to assure minimum protection of the more vulnerable segments of our societies. Human rights and equality impact assessments, carried out in conjunction with the recommendations of relevant NGOs and national human rights institutions, could prove to be a responsible policy tool. Committing to social dialogue with all stakeholders and partners is equally important. Maintaining budgets for meaningful social interventions is crucial and, in the long term, the only viable economic alternative.
Mr LOUKAIDES (Cyprus) – I warmly congratulate our two colleagues, Andrej Hunko and Nikolaj Villumsen, for the excellent work they have done and for their reports on two issues of vital importance for the lives of millions of working people on our continent.
The global economic crisis has undoubtedly enormously increased social inequalities and discrimination, unemployment and poverty. In addition, the neo-liberal so-called remedies of international financial institutions and European governments have brought about the opposite results to those expected. Austerity, privatisations and the deregulation of labour relations have dramatically worsened the situation, particularly in the countries under memoranda. The most vulnerable groups of European societies, namely women, youth, the elderly, people with disabilities and migrants have been disproportionately affected and a large section of them are now literally on the verge of destitution and social marginalisation.
Therefore, not unjustly, the crisis is considered as representing a threat to human rights, equality and democracy in the modern world. However, this assumption reflects only half the truth. The other half is that not everyone has been affected by the crisis in the same way and to the same degree. On the contrary, some have benefited from the crisis and the compression of wages, the abolition of labour achievements and the degradation of working conditions. Those gaining from the crisis are none other than powerful employers, financial capital and corporate interests which, as a rule, remain connected to governments and mainstream mass media.
That is why today, more so than in the past, we should protect trade union freedoms and working people's rights. The right to trade union organisations, collective bargaining and the right to strike, represent protective shields for working people. These are also the tools with which in previous decades working people have struggled and achieved precious gains and rights that contributed decisively to the high standards of living of the people of Europe, at least until these rights were undermined by neo-liberal policies.
The two draft resolutions include provisions that are in the right direction and we are pleased that they enjoy broad consensus. We support the call to all member States to sign and ratify the revised European Social Charter and ensure that its implementation and the right to collective action are pursued. The draft recommendation to our parliaments to ensure that the economic and fiscal policies of our governments are assessed with regards to their compliance with human rights and equality is also extremely important.
Ensuring equality before the law, social rights and trade union freedoms represents the only effective and socially just solution to the current crisis. It is also the most promising investment for the future of Europe and its peoples.