Restrictive labour laws in Canada

Summary of Legislation Restricting Collective Bargaining and Trade Union Rights in Canada 1982 – 2019***

The assault on the rights of working Canadians

In the past three decades Canadians have seen a serious erosion of a fundamental and universal human right, their right to organize into a union and engage in full and free collective bargaining.

Almost every jurisdiction in Canada has experienced a major violation of the bargaining rights of its citizens.  The federal and provincial governments in Canada passed 230 pieces of legislation since 1982 that have restricted, suspended or denied collective bargaining rights for Canadian workers.

Restrictions have been placed on the right of unions to organize.  Collective agreements have been torn up.  Freely negotiated wages and benefits have been taken away.  Employers’ proposals have been legislatively imposed on workers and the right to strike removed.  Both the private and the public sectors have been hit by this phenomenon. 

Back-to-work legislation

There has been a major change in the frequency and severity of back-to-work legislation in Canada in recent years.  Since the early 1980s, the number of instances of back-to-work legislation is higher than any other period in the history of labour relations in Canada.  In the last three decades, the federal government alone passed 20 pieces of back-to-work legislation while provincial governments across the country have enacted 74 pieces of back-to-work legislation.

Most of this legislation (50 of the 94 pieces of legislation) not only forced workers back to work after taking strike action, but also arbitrarily imposed settlements on the striking workers.

Suspension of the bargaining rights

A common phenomenon in the public sector throughout the 1980s and 1990s has been the suspension of collective bargaining rights.  With the exception of Saskatchewan, public sector workers across Canada gained the right to collective bargaining in the decade between 1967 and 1977.  In the four decades that followed, most public sector workers have had their collective bargaining rights suspended anywhere from three to ten years.

There have been 54 pieces of legislation passed in the federal Parliament and provincial legislatures that have suspended the collective bargaining rights of public sector workers.

Restrictions on the right to organize and collective bargaining

Since 1982, there have also been 82 instances where federal and provincial labour laws have been amended to further restrict unions’ ability to organize and bargain collectively.  Nine pieces of legislation have actually denied certain categories of workers the right to join a union and 10 pieces of legislation have restricted the certification process hurting the labour movement’s ability to organize the unorganized.  There have been 63 instances where the federal and provincial governments passed legislation that restricted the rules and/or scope of bargaining, denied the right to strike and limited the mechanisms available for settlement of disputes or allowed for greater government and/or employer interference in internal union matters.

*** For a summary of each of the 230 pieces of restrictive labour legislation passed by the Canadian Parliament and provincial legislatures between 1982 and 2019, go to Restrictive Laws.

Summary of Labour Laws restricting
Collective Bargaining and Trade Union Rights
1982 - 2019
(updated November 2019)

Type of Legislation Jurisdiction
Back to work - dispute sent to arbitration 12   4     3   17   4   2     2    44
Back to work - settlement imposed  8   5   4   3     5 17   4     1  3  50
Suspension of bargaining rights - wage freeze or rollback imposed  6 12   2   1


  7   6   2  2   9  3  54
Restrictions on certification process  1   1  1     1   3   1        2  10
Denial of workers' rights to join a union     1   2       3   3            9
Restrictions on scope of bargaining and other union activities  7 16   5  7  5   7   3   4  1   5  3  63
Total 34 39 14 14  10 42 34 12  3 17 11 230


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