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The Liberal government has found itself the subject of an international labour complaint for violating the rights of employers.

An employers’ association representing around half a million Canadian workers, mostly in unionized organizations and all regulated under the Canada Labour Code, lodged a formal complaint against the Liberals, claiming they are failing to uphold key labour conventions. 

In a historic first, the Federally Regulated Employers – Transportation and Communication, or FETCO, has filed a formal complaint against the federal government with the International Labour Organization, a United Nations labour agency. 

“After trying to bring the government to a more balanced approach in the labour space for these last few years, we just felt like we were left with no other choice,” said FETCO president and CEO Derrick Hynes. “The government could have avoided this if it went back to developing labour policy via a meaningful tripartite consultation, as it has done in the past.”

FETCO currently has 38 federally regulated member employers with over 500,000 employees across Canada. Some of the employers include Air Canada, WestJet, Rogers, Telus, and CBC.

FETCO emerged in the late 1970s after labour relations executives in federally regulated companies recognized the need for a unified employer voice in shaping federal labour policy. Over its history, FETCO has become the employer-side voice in federal labour relations. 

The labour association filed a complaint, under Article 24, against the federal government with the International Labour Organization on Wednesday. Hynes said this is an unprecedented move that was not taken lightly.

The complaint argues that the Liberals are in violation of three conventions, including freedom of association and collective bargaining.

“The Government of Canada has for years failed to meaningfully consult FETCO concerning international and domestic labour standards and policy including, but not limited to, during the development of legislation and regulations that impact employer interests,” reads the complaint.

The complaint accuses the federal government of a pattern of engaging with stakeholders only as a formality. 

However, the Liberals’ “most flagrant and ongoing failures to meaningfully consult with FETCO,” according to the complaint, involve the implementation of Bill C-3 (paid medical leave) and Bill C-58 (prohibition on replacement workers).

“Both of these initiatives have a massive impact on the interests of federally regulated employers, and yet both were announced without any consultation whatsoever with FETCO. Furthermore, the proposed Prohibition on Replacement Workers will result in major, permanent changes to the collective bargaining framework for all federal employers,” reads the complaint. 

Hynes said that 96% of collective bargaining ends without any form of work stoppage, but C-58 would destabilize that. 

While Bill C-58 is a big concern for FETCO, Hynes said it is just one of several issues.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts. There have been many files over the past number of years in which we have tried to engage meaningfully with the government and do not feel as though they’ve come to the table in a genuine way to hear us,” said Hynes.

However, Hynes said that Bill C-58 does serve as a perfect example of when the government does not meaningfully consult with other parties.

“The decision to ban replacement workers is clearly a purely political decision. In order to keep the government afloat, the current government has agreed to this with the NDP,” said Hynes.

While the Liberals held some meetings with stakeholders, Hynes said that employer concerns were “completely disregarded.”

He added that the Liberals’ own research proves that banning replacement workers leads to more strikes and longer strikes, adding instability to the labour market.

FETCO requests that the Committee on Freedom of Association of the International Labour Organization declare that the Liberals breached their obligations and mandate meaningful consultation on Bill C-58 and all future labour or employment legislation.

The International Labour Organization can declare the government in breach of its obligations, recommend measures for compliance, and monitor the government’s adherence to these recommendations. 

True North reached out to the Ministry of Labour for comment but received no response.