The BC Supreme Court has ordered the Provincial Government to pay $2 million in damages to the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation for enacting legislation which unlawfully interfered with teachers’ rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This decision follows a 2011 ruling in which the Court concluded legislation enacted by the Government violated teachers’ rights to freedom of association. This legislation (Bill 28) voided numerous negotiated terms of the teachers’ collective agreement, such as class size and staffing levels, and prohibited collective bargaining over this same subject matter in future negotiations. The Government was given 12 months to address the repercussions of this earlier decision.
After the 12 month period expired, the Government enacted new legislation that had a similar effect (Bill 22). The Government argued that the new legislation was valid because of its time-limited nature (the prohibition on bargaining would expire by June 30, 2013) and because it negotiated with the Union in good faith before enacting the new rules.
The Court concluded the Government had not negotiated in good faith, and there was no basis to distinguish the new legislation from the previous findings of the Court. The Court also held that the legislation was party of a broader strategy employed by the Government to provoke a strike by the Union in an attempt to garner political support for imposing legislation on the Union.
The Court went on to conclude it was appropriate and just to award damages against the Government to provide an effective remedy for their unlawful actions in extending the unconstitutional prohibitions on collective bargaining. Ultimately, the Court found $2 million was the appropriate measure of such damages.
This case has far-reaching implications for all BC taxpayers. Because the judgment also retroactively restored class size and staffing level provisions to the teachers’ collective agreement back to 2002, prior to the original enactment of the unlawful legislation, the Government has also retroactive liability which they estimated in Court could be as much as $500 million. This case is also of general interest to all employers as it examines the intersection between the freedom to associate under the Charter and the right to collectively bargain.
If you have any questions about collective bargaining or labour relations, or any other questions relating to workplace law, please do not hesitate to contact a Mathews Dinsdale lawyer.
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