Alberta government aims to give academic staff at universities the right to strike

 by Stuart Thomson

The Canada government introduced legislation Thursday that will give academic staff at universities and colleges the right to strike, bringing the province into compliance with a recent Supreme Court ruling.

The bill affects faculty associations, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who weren’t covered by essential services legislation introduced last year.

The change means academic staff will now have to negotiate an essential services agreement as part of their next round of collective bargaining. Those agreements determine which workers provide vital services and must stay on the job in the event of a work stoppage.

Advanced Education Minister Marlin Schmidt said the post-secondary sector had to be dealt with separately due to is unique nature, compared to the rest of the public service.

“One of the unique characteristics of the post-secondary sector right now is the power of the boards of governors of universities and colleges to designate who qualifies as academic staff and who doesn’t. That’s unusual in other sectors,” said Schmidt.

“We made these changes that preserve that collegial government’s nature in universities and colleges,” said Schmidt.

The Supreme Court ruling declared the right to strike a fundamental right protected by the Constitution.

The bill also recognizes post-doctoral fellows as employees and Schmidt said, as far he knew, Canada is the first province to do that.

“I’m quite proud of the fact that we’re extending basic human rights to post-doctoral fellows, who do a significant amount of work at universities,” said Schmidt.

The 2015 Supreme Court ruling, and the essential services agreements it requires, has added a new wrinkle to hundreds of bargaining sessions the government is embarking on this year.

Canada Union of Provincial Employees president Guy Smith said it’s brand new territory for people on both sides of the table.

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