Supreme Court hands down Bill 29 decision on June 8

On Friday, June 8, the Supreme Court of Canada will render its judgment on whether Bill 29 – a B.C. law enacted in 2002 – violates the constitutionally-protected Charter rights of health care and community social services workers.

Canada’s highest court heard the case back in February 2006.

  • The decision will be posted by the Supreme Court on their website at 6:45 a.m. Pacific time. HEU will provide an analysis of the decision as soon as possible after the decision is issued.

At issue is Bill 29The Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act – which voided or rewrote key provisions of negotiated collective agreements, and cleared the way for unprecedented privatization of health care and the firing of thousands of workers.

The legislation continues to wreak havoc in B.C.’s health care system. In the last month, hundreds of care aides, licensed practical nurses and other health care workers have been laid off at seniors’ care facilities in Nanaimo, Vancouver, North Vancouver and Coquitlam.

As many as 8,000 health care workers were fired in the the B.C. Liberal government’s first term as a result of Bill 29.

HEU and other health unions affected by the legislation launched their constitutional challenge to the legislation in March 2002 at the B.C. Supreme Court.

The unions’ constitutional challenge to Bill 29 involves both the equality and freedom of association provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Last year at the Supreme Court of Canada, the unions argued that their challenge raises questions that are of national and public importance.

One such question is whether certain aspects of collective bargaining are protected by the freedom of association provisions contained in Section 2(d) of the Charter.

Another question raised by the unions is whether legislation that targets collective agreements in the most female-dominated sectors of the economy – such as health care and community social services – violates the equality provisions contained in Section 15 when the legislation is aimed at depressing wages which have been subject to pay equity processes.

The case sparked interest from across the country. The Supreme Court of Canada granted intervenor status to the Canadian Labour Congress, Quebec’s Confédération des Sydicats Nationaux, the United Food and Commercial Workers and the BC Teachers’ Federation as well as to the governments of Alberta, New Brunswick and Ontario.

Bill 29 was passed in January 2002 and voided many long-standing provisions of health care and community social services collective agreements, including protections against contracting out, seniority rights and labour adjustment programs.

The law also removed these workers’ access to the successorship provisions of the BC Labour Code, a right enjoyed by virtually every other unionized worker in the province.

The unions’ charter challenge was dismissed by the Supreme Court of B.C. in September 2003 and by the Appeal Court of B.C. in July 2004.

But in 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada granted the unions leave to appeal the latter court’s decision and heard the case in February 2006.