Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Student worker steward concerned Bill 17 violates charter, restricts right to choose representation

- Advertisement -

A member of the University of Lethbridge graduate student employee bargaining team is concerned a recent bill from the province goes against workers’ charter right to freedom of association.

Bill 17, the Labour Statutes Amendment Act, includes a section which would allow academic staff, graduate students and postdoctoral fellow associations to continue representing their respective members in collective bargaining indefinitely.

Jenn Prosser, the chief steward for graduate student workers at the University of Lethbridge, believes the bill will restrict graduate student workers’ right to choose representation in collective bargaining.

Prosser points to a 2015 Supreme Court case as a precedent, where the court struck down a law that forbade RCMP members from unionizing, saying it violated the Charter of Right and Freedoms.

- Advertisement -   Article continues below ad

“They are pursuing something that has been found to violate the charter. They are actively choosing as a government to restrict our freedoms and restrict our rights as workers and take away our choice,” she said. “Fundamentally, in Alberta, we know that that is not how Albertans feel their government works best.”

The bill could put graduate student associations in a difficult position of balancing the needs of workers, as well as students, according to Prosser. “Sometimes those goals aren’t necessarily the same.”

She also noted that in 2017, the previous government passed legislation that gave faculty associations, graduate students and post-doctoral fellows the right to strike — but there was a window where graduate student workers were not able to choose their own unions, until July 1, 2022.

Bill 17 would keep that as status quo, allowing graduate student workers to only be represented by the University of Lethbridge Graduate Student Association (ULGSA).

- Advertisement -   Article continues below ad

Prosser said she is concerned about a lack of consultation with academic workers before the bill’s introduction on April 21. She issued a news release about the bill on May 13, inviting Demetrios Nicolaides, minister of advanced education and Kaycee Madu, minister of labour, to the University of Lethbridge to consult with graduate workers. 

Nicolaides was at the university for a media event on May 17 to announce funding for high demand programs in southern Alberta, but Prosser said there was no response to her request.

READ MORE: Provincial funding to open new seats in high demand post-secondary programs

RELATED: Critics take aim at provincial funding into post-secondaries

- Advertisement -   Article continues below ad

“We are really hoping that Kenney’s resignation and the leadership review sends a really strong signal to the rest of the government caucasus and the cabinet that the agenda that’s been pursued is not in the best interest of Albertans,” Prosser said. She added she hopes the bill can be stopped before it passes.

“That would be obviously our best case scenario and would be the scenario that prevents the government from having to go to another legal battle about the violation of our charter rights.”

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Now playing play

Now playing play

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -