The Supreme Court of Canada ruled last week that the Saskatchewan Public Service Essential Services Act (PSESA), which limited the ability of public sector employees who perform essential services to strike, violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. At the same time, the court upheld an act that increased the level of required written support, and reduced the time period for receiving support, to certify a union.
In striking the PSESA, the court held that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Section 2(d), free association, protects a fundamental right to strike, and that the PSESA wasn’t saved by Section 1, the “reasonable limits” provision. The court wrote that the right to strike is “an indispensable component of” the right to bargain collectively, and “essential to realizing” the values of “human dignity, equality, liberty, and respect for the autonomy of the person and the enhancement of democracy.” The court also noted that “international obligations also mandate protecting the right to strike . . . .”
The court said that the breach of Section 2(d) wasn’t justified by Section 1, which “guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in [the Charter] subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” The court wrote that the maintenance of essential public services is obviously “pressing and substantial,” but that the PSESA wasn’t sufficiently tailored. In particular, the court said that the PSESA allows too much given in defining “essential services” and the employees who perform them.
Two justices dissented, arguing that the political branches should have the flexibility to determine the scope of workers’ ability to strike.