The union representing workers for B.C. Ferries is before a B.C. Supreme Court judge arguing for the right to strike.
According to B.C. Labour Relations Board documents, the union applied for a review of a November 2016 arbitration in which the arbitrator determined that the union had “contractually agreed not to engage in strike activity during negotiations for a new collective bargaining agreement.”
Graeme Johnston, B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers’ Union president, the union and its legal team are presenting their case to Judge Grace Choi in a judicial review today and tomorrow, Nov. 28-29, in Vancouver.
Johnston said he wouldn’t comment on what was taking place behind court doors, but did say the union is extremely positive it has a winning argument and ferry workers will receive the right to strike in order to have free and fair collective bargaining, something constitutionally guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The union says it is being unfairly denied access to that right through a misinterpretation of the statutory obligations that people are held to under the labour relations code.
“So the Supreme Court of Canada has said that if you’re going to remove the right to strike, it must be done in the most express terms possible, [with] clear language, and it can’t be done by implication and in our case, what the arbitrator ruled and what the board upheld is the removal of our right to strike happened by implication,” Johnston told the News Bulletin.
If the union wins, it won’t be striking in the immediate future, said Johnston. Its current collective agreement expires Nov. 1, 2020 and the period of negotiations begins Aug. 1, 2020.
“Obviously no one ever wants to go on strike, but one thing I’d like to emphasize is that B.C. Ferries, even if the ferry workers do get the right to strike, B.C. Ferries is governed by essential service legislation, so what that means in practice is ferry workers recognize the essential nature of the work that we do and we want to make sure that say your grandmother gets to her hospital appointment or your business continues to run normally, but that you just may not get a hamburger on the ship while you’re going across,” said Johnston.
In a statement, B.C. Ferries said it values the work performed by its employees and respects the collective bargaining process and won’t discuss specifics of labour issues publicly, particularly those before the court.
“B.C. Ferries and the B.C. Ferry and Marine Workers Union are addressing a disagreement regarding an article in the collective agreement that refers to a dispute resolution mechanism that has been in place since 2006, which has resulted in no service interruptions to our customers for the past 17 years. We respect the legal process and will let it take its course,” the statement said.