L'auteur commente la décision du Comite de la liberté syndicale touchant divers aspects du cadre juridique des relations du travail dans le secteur public au Québec: le niveau de la négociation collective, les restrictions apportées à l'exercice du droit de grève et la détermination des services essentiels.
The Freedom of Association Committee of the International Labour Organization (ILO) rendered a decision, in February 1987, concerning the legal framework of collective bargaining in Quebec's public sector set forth by An Act Respect ing the Process of Negociation of the Collective Agreements in the Public and Parapublic Sectors, S.Q. 1985, c. 12 (referred to as the Act). This case will be known as the Case no. 1356.
The ILO Constitution establishes freedom of association as one of the fundamental principles on which the Organisation is based. Consequently, membership in ILO entails that a State Member such as Canada has the obligation to implement that constitutional principle. In 1951, the Organisation set up a special machinery to insure the protection of this principle.
The machinery involves the examination of complaints by the Committee of Freedom of Association. This Committee is a 9-member Committee of ILO Governing Body and, like the Governing Body itself, its composition is tripartite: government, workers' and employers' appointees. Complaints are generally submetted by workers organisations of a national or an international level. These complaints may concern States which have not ratified ILO conventions on freedom of association. Since its establishment, the Committee has built up a corpus of decisions and principles covering most aspects of freedom of association and the protection of trade unions rights. The Committee has dealt with more than 1 400 cases. The decision of the Committee deals basically with three issues: level of collective bargaining, determination of salaries for the second and third years of a collective agreement and limitations of the right to strike in the social affairs sector. In the framework of the Act, the collective negociation must take place at the provincial level except those matters defined as being subject to a negociation at the local or regional level. Those matters are defined by the Act in respect to some classes of workers or by the parties in the course of negociation at the national level.
Strikes are prohibited in respect to a matter defined as being subject to a negociation at the local or regional level. The Committee doesn't see any violation of the freedom of association when matters subject to negociation at the local or regional level are defined by parties in the course of the negociation at the national level. In this case, workers' organisations have therefore agreed not to strike on those matters. For the Committee, the situation is not the same when the Act lays down matters subject to negociation at local or regional level. The Committee recommends the modification of the Act to allow parties to decide by mutuel agreement the level at which bargaining should take place.
The Act prohibits striking in the course of collective negociation related to the determination of the salaries for the second and third years of a collective agreement. In this respect, the Committee makes a distinction between the education sector and the other sector included in the scope of the Act. In the education sector, the Committee reaffirms that workers must enjoy the right to strike. It means that the Act is not in agreement with the well known principle in accordance to which the prohibition to strike should be limited to public servants and essential services in the strict sense of the term. The Committee considers that workers of the education sector does not fall within the definition of essential services. As regards to civil service and essential services sectors, the Committee acknowledged that the right to strike can be restricted or even prohibited if the said limitations are accompanied by adequate impartial and speedy conciliation and arbitration proceedings in which the parties concerned can take part at every stage and in which the awards, once made, are fully and promptly implemented. In the present case, in respect to public servants and social affairs sectors, the Committee recommends the establishment of such guarantees. This recommendation means that prohibition of strikes is possible. It also means that the procedure for determining salaries set forth by the Act (that is the regulation adopted by Government) didn't offer any «appropriate guarantees» to workers deprived of a legitimate means of defending their economic and social interest. In the social affairs sector, the Act lays down percentages of workers to be maintained at work in the event of a strike. These percentages vary between 55% to 90% depending on the nature of the establishment. According to the complaining organisation, these percentages nullify the exercise of the right to strike. The Committee does not express a specific opinion on that point but it handles the case exactly as if the act prohibited any strike in the social affairs sector therefore endorsing the point of view of the complaining organisation. Consequently, the Committee recommends the establishment of arbitration proceedings with awards binding on both parties. From this recommandation, it should be understood that ail the social affairs sector as defined by the Act is an essential service in the strict sense of the term. It has therefore always been possible for government to restrict or prohibit striking in so far as «appropriate garanties» compensate workers for the limitation thereby placed on their freedom of action.