Sample HR Management Paper on Canadian Labour and Human Rights

Canadian Labour and Human Rights

The debate, on whether all the employees have the collective right to bargain on working terms and the conditions, has transformed a large part of the Canadian labor sector in the past three decades. Some labor representatives believe that all the employees have the collective right to bargain on the support for human and the equality of the rights. This has set the precedence for the reframing of labor rights as human rights. This paper reviews the major aspects around the reframing labor rights and human rights in Canada. It will also focus on the implications of New Zealand’s minority unionism model for workers and unions.

Question 1: Arguments For and Against Reframing Labour Rights as Human Rights

In the past two decades, the debate for and against reframing labor rights as human rights has had unprecedented attention among scholars and labor movements. In Canada, human rights laws have become a dynamic force within the labor law system. Fudge (2014) explains that the freedom to form unions and participate in collective bargaining, commonly known as labor rights, should be informed by the interests of the workers. The proponents of reframing labor rights as human rights also claim that employees should not be treated as economic interests, but as individuals who bear fundamental human rights. One of the ways to link labor rights and human rights is through practicing collective bargaining that promotes workforce autonomy.  It deserves constitutional protection because it promotes self-governance. When employers gain absolute power over employees, social problems begin to become evident because the master-servant relationship is perpetuated. This relationship creates an environment where the employer assumes the authority to enforce all rules of employment including wages, promotion opportunities, and retrenchment. These are powers that are not only degrading to employees but are also prone to misuse to the extent of limiting employee welfare. Without self-governance, employees are reduced to commercial items and are seen as lumps of labor whose acquiescence is for sale. It is for this reason that labor rights should be reframed as human rights. 

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms constituted in 1982 created the foundation upon which individual rights can be legally recognized. The emphasis on individual rights, as recognized in the charter, went on to make a mark on Canada’s labor law system to the extent that human rights, and accompanying values, have had a huge impact on industrial relations. Therefore, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms has fuelled the movement to reframe labor rights as human rights in Canada with the aim of appreciating the individual employee as more than an economic interest.

The freedom of association that is promoted by reframing labor rights as human rights is protected by the International Labour Organization (ILO) which Canada is a member of. The ILO Declaration states that labor should not be taken as a commodity. It also promotes the role of workers to engage in unions of their choice and take part in collective bargaining. Specifically, the declaration recognizes the rights of employees and employers to collective bargaining that is aimed at eliminating discrimination with respect to employment and occupation. Despite being a major signatory to the declarations, Canada was slow in championing workers’ rights when they became inconvenient. The consequence was the denial of workers’ right to collective bargaining as employers took over the power to influence the unions. When workers are deprived of such rights, they are prone to mistreatment by employers because they have no power to negotiate the terms and conditions of employment. Their grievances cannot be filled at any time they are employed, and this is similar to involuntary servitude. Maul (2012) states that the workers’ right to collective bargaining is a channel of imposing corresponding duty on the employer. Therefore, the labor rights should be reframed and viewed as human rights for the welfare of employees.

Labour rights should always be viewed as human rights. Canada appreciates the right of the citizens to freedom of association and this freedom extends to including the right of employees to engage in a union and bargain collectively. By extension, the freedom of association becomes a universal human right because Canada is a democratic nation and the right ensures the employees to join the unions that champion their rights. Fudge (2012) notes that labor rights are critical components of human rights because they help to protect the socio-economic well-being of individuals. It is, therefore, impossible to claim there are human rights without providing an enabling environment for labor rights to be enforced.  Reframing labor rights as human rights ensures that workplace rules do not have an adverse effect on the individual employees. Mantouvalou (2013) argues that the concept of constructive discrimination establishes that employment rules, while appearing neutral at face value, could still have a negative influence on the groups that are protected by human rights laws. It is for this reason that labor rights are seen to form the core of the fight for human rights in a democratic society. Employees can now join unions and engage in collective bargaining to protect themselves from discrimination or any other unlawful practices. The Supreme Court has been justified in reframing labor rights as human rights through the Charter of Rights.

Opponents of reframing labor rights as human rights claim that the move is misplaced. Youngdahl and Compa (2009) state that replacing solidarity as an anchor for labor justice with individual rights will be the end of union movements. He adds that when employees are left to fight individually, they lose since they do not have the power of the union. The switch from labor rights to human rights also undermines the material dimension of collective employee action and the primary role of economic conflict in the occupation relationship. The assumption that power comes from human rights is flawed because the rights are ineffective in correcting the inequalities in power that are a major force in the Canadian social classes. The class-based approach of advancing employees’ rights is undermined when labor rights are reframed to be human rights, and this sets the precedence for the onset of defensive battles in the period of neoliberal globalization.

Labour rights should not be reframed as human rights because the move tends to create a selfish view of individualism that complicates the situation of finding a common ground of obligation to each other. Where labor unions hold nascent power, human rights limit the view of fighting for fellow workers. Taking part in a struggle as an individual limits the realization of answers to economic concerns troubling more than one worker where the concept of labor rights would have promoted a stronger ethical foundation in a society that seems to favor individualism. It is through the labor unions that employees can have their welfare protected because they can muster the passion needed to counter institutions that discriminate against the less powerful. Emphasizing on individual rights limits the ability of employees to work with others against oppressive institutions. Therefore, reframing labor rights as human rights leaves employees unprepared to deal with different aspects of power.

Question 2: Advocate for the Labour Rights as Human Rights

As a labor leader, I would hold the view that labor rights are human rights. They are entitlements that are related directly to the role of being an employee. However, some of these rights can be exercised individually while others can only be exercised better collectively. Some of the rights such as striking, working in an occupation that is freely chosen, fair treatment, protection from arbitrary dismissal, privacy, and a right to be represented by a trade union have unique foundations that require distinct approaches. As a labor leader, I would rely on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to advocate for the convergence of labor rights as human rights. Specifically, I would lead through the informative article 23 that recognizes that individual employees have the right to work in a role freely chosen, should receive fair pay, should be remunerated fairly, and should be free to form and participate in trade unions. The UDHR provisions add that workers have a right to rest and leisure. From the UDHR perspective, it is evident that labor rights are human rights and the list is extensive. I would also rely on the ILO to advocate for labor rights as human rights. Specifically, I would use the Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work that recognizes the right of employees from employment discrimination. It also contains the freedom of association and collective bargaining. Therefore, as an advocate, I would list these documents to interpret the human rights in the Canadian context.

As a labor advocate, equal treatment and improvement of employee welfare would form part of my philosophy. This is an approach that would not deny the employees their right to join unions of their choice. It would also be an approach that does not outlaw the employees’ right to strike or impose collective agreements that represent an employer’s final offer. I would ensure that the unions change so that collective bargaining is not applied between the employer and the state agents. I would advocate for employees to have procedural right toward collective bargaining. This is because, in a democratic society that appreciates human rights, employees must have the power to establish a wider range of organizations that mind about the arrangements they make with employers. This is the new model of non-statutory unionism that has been advocated by the Supreme Court in Canada and which has come to be recognized as effective. Kolben (2009) states that employees have increasingly preferred to have informal non-statutory collective representation. This is an approach that I would adopt as a strategy that advocates for the preservation of workers’ rights and preferences. Ideally, a political economy that is compliant of the ILO is supposed to promote an environment where conditions of employment for all employees are negotiated through independent representatives of their choice. This is an ideal situation where labor rights have been considered as human right so that employees are not seen as mere economic items to be exploited. Most of the times, employees tend to be unorganized to the extent that they have minimal influence on the conditions they work under in their respective organizations. I would advocate for the employers to bargain in good faith with those who are trusted by workers to negotiate on their behalf.

As a labor advocate, I would promote collective bargaining as a human right. In a democratic society such as Canada, it is imperative that everyone is allowed to exercise their respective human rights as freely as possible. About two decades ago, the ILO was reaffirmed in Canada so that a set of labor rights should be taken as human rights. One of the keys among these included freedom of association and the appreciation of the right to bargain collectively. As a labor advocate, I would ensure that this undertaking is followed so that each of the workers’ rights is accorded and treated with respect. I would ensure that the workers’ right to bargain collectively does not only appear in theory. Collective representation is also another aspect that would form a major part of my approach in Canada where workers’ rights have been ignored to some extent. This is the strategy that would ensure that individual rights are protected, preserved, and respected across the working environment.

As a labor advocate, I would follow the route which promotes the universal aspect of human rights. According to Savage (2008), human rights have a strong feature that deters individuals from committing moral wrongs. Given this definition, it can be seen that some labor rights are qualified as claims that deter moral wrongs. For example, a human right that can be seen to be that compelling includes the right to be free of ill-treatment. Together with being free from torture, freedom from torture is a universal human right that needs to be constitutionally protected and advocated against by labor leaders. As a labor leader, I would adopt the approach that every employee has the right to be protected from practices that propagate abuse of any kind in the workplace.

There is no doubt that some labor rights are universal and even timeless entitlements. This is an important feature in recognizing that labor rights are human rights. Given that some of the labor rights are promoted and recognized as stringent normative entitlements, labor advocates have to take it upon themselves to ensure employees can access their rights freely. As an advocate, I would ensure that employees take on a participatory approach in matters that concern their welfare. Furthermore, human rights are informed by humanity and are, therefore, inalienable and universal. It would be my responsibility to ensure that the international standards of human rights are observed when the employees and the employers interact in the workplace. Improving the welfare of the employees would be my main objective.  

Question 3: Implications of New Zealand’s Minority Unionism Model for Workers and Unions

The New Zealand labor unionism is developed under the Employment Relations Act of 2000 of New Zealand. The result of the Act for both employees and employers are often explored, and comparisons with Canada made. The main attention paid to New Zealand employment system is lessons of the country’s experiences and particularly in relation to the 2015 Supreme Court’s decision of freedom of association decision which called upon question of Canada’s labor relations framework.

New Zealand has had experiences with laws that promoted many labor law reforms including minority unions. Its 1991 law was modelled on Chicago school ideas, and this law had a lot of features that could explain the destruction of New Zealand Unionism other than minority unions. New Zealand has replaced the law with the aim of creating a union-friendly labor law. The features of the new law include union access to the workplace with an intention to make organizations and representations easy, but the practice of minority union continues. The New Zealand minority unionism approach seems to balance the rights of unionism and employers in a way that freedoms in various areas are maximized to the best. The model encourages a positive relationship between the union and the employers in such a way that they have become more open and in agreement with the goals and objectives of each other. Stringent and aggressive rules are the causes of resistance which is never the objective of the employer and union relationship. The New Zealand inter-union collaboration addresses the problems of the nature and design of the inter-union collaboration where non-exclusive and non-majority association exists. Collaboration is, therefore, common in bargaining, lobbying as well as organizing. On the other hand, the Canadian certification system allows workers to organize, bargain and strike only when there are unionization favours by the majority of co-workers. This interferes with the International Labour Organisation standards where freedom of association does not qualify for the majority support. The New Zealand implications in that area are for the Canadian Unions to adopt an open system where collective bargaining is unrestricted by legislation or judicial interference. Also, the labor leaders need to adopt an approach that accommodates all the issues of labor rights. The labor rights are a type of the human right which should be pursued vigorously to convey the truth of issues. If unions resist change and try to hold the old system, they will be resisted by the emerging organizations aimed at representing workers’ interests. If, on the other hand, they respond to the shortcomings of their system and adopt structures that accommodate the issues raised by workers, they will promote balance between the social and economic challenges.

Studies have tried to explain why the unionization rates have been declining in western democracies. The causal factors examined include the labor regulation market, employer attitudes, and workers’ aspirations. Thus, the decline in unionization has been caused by the enactment of less friendly labor market regulations. The 1990 New Zealand Employment Act took into account the halving of union densities that was continuing to decline in the decade. The 2000 new regulation, as a result, was designed to oversee collective bargaining and union membership. This significantly improved union membership. This is an implication to every western country to reverse its decline in unions and most importantly replace it with the New Zealand model which brings significant changes to union membership and encourages collaboration.

The New Zealand model has shown a clear preference for workers and employees to individual bargaining which shows their attitude towards collective bargaining. In some other countries, an employee resists collective bargaining which affects the firm’s policy and practice due to the resistance of the management’s decision-making policy and this consequently affects the implementation of the management policy. Resistance is always there, but the New Zealand Model does not articulate it as much because unions and employers are not aggressively pushed to collective bargaining. Labor unions should not be constrained by the actions of representatives. Labor relations should be kept to the level of the firm so that they contribute to its efficiency. According to Kelsey (2015), when a management looks at unions, it sees a reflection of attitudes. Unionism serves as a social and economic good. Unionism is beneficial for the prosperity of an organization and its productivity which may lead to overall improvement performance of the organizations. The attitude of New Zealand employers may seem incompatible with personalities, incomprehensive and to be working outside the agitators, but employees and employers have different goals, and from their relationship, they seek cooperation.

The promotion of the New Zealand Employment Contracts Acts has been based on the philosophy of the unitary nature of the workplace. The viability of the enterprise is their highest priority. The unitarists and conflicts within the workplace is a sign that parties have no mutual existence or some outside force has blinded them in seeing the mutuality. The New Zealand unionism is an incarnation of union within the workplace. It shares insights advanced by the proponents of the law who find it unnecessary to allow intrusion into employee-employer relationship such as unions. The law implies that labor laws should be less destructive and be based on defining and enforcing labor rights. Workers should be the ones organizing how to enforce the results of their negotiations within the workplace. This system would facilitate seeking to establish a system that enables employers and employees to determine how they relate. Issues like efficiency, when it comes to bargaining and in establishing the terms of the workplace, would be based on the decision to unionize. This system is very beneficial to both workers and organizations because workers are self-managing, fulfilled at the individual level and with the ability to work as a team to solve problems. They are strong and loyal and if handled well can facilitate defusing of controversy and come up with mutually satisfactory results. Good employer-employee relationship and unionism prevent divisions resulting from outside constraints, a system that should be removed from its existence in any country’s legislative system.

Conclusion

Labor rights are human rights, and Canada has the legal and moral obligation to protect them. Therefore, labor rights should be reframed as human rights in accordance with different international agreements on human rights. The failure to recognize labor rights as human rights will be viewed as a serious erosion of the universal human right of employees, the right to organize unions and to participate in collective bargaining.

References

Fudge, J. (2012). Constitutional rights, collective bargaining and the Supreme Court of Canada: Retreat and reversal in the Fraser case. Industrial Law Journal, 41(1), 1-29.

Fudge, J. (2014). Labour rights as human rights: Turning slogans into legal claims. Dalhousie LJ, 37, 601.

Kelsey, J. (2015). The New Zealand experiment: A world model for structural adjustment? Bridget Williams Books.

Kolben, K. (2009). Labor rights as human rights. Va. J. Int’l L., 50, 449.

Mantouvalou, V. (2013). Labour rights in the European convention on human rights: an intellectual justification for an integrated approach to interpretation. Human rights law review, 13(3), 529-555.

Maul, D. (2012). Human rights, development and decolonization: the International Labour Organization, 1940-70. Springer.

Savage, L. (2008). Labour rights as human rights? A response to Roy Adams. Just Labour, 12.

Youngdahl, J., & Compa, L. A. (2009). Should Labor Defend Worker Rights as Human Rights? A Debate.