Strong unions and labour rights

Key Message

Canada must support and promote strong unionism and ensure robust labour rights to strengthen communities and make Canadian society more inclusive and democratic.

Why strong unions and robust labour rights are important?

Unions are the cornerstone of a strong democracy, essential in the struggle to maintain democratic governance, fair working conditions, and greater economic equality for workers. The maintenance of union membership and density has been directly correlated to[i]:

  • More robustly developed welfare states;
  • Lower income inequality;
  • Less precarious work;
  • Safer workplaces.

What is the state of unionization and labour rights in publicly funded public education?

  • Teachers’ unions are part of a larger struggle to sustain democratic principles in the face of eroding bargaining power, increased demands on workers, decline in teacher mental health, and ongoing attempts to weaken solidarity amongst union members.[ii]
  • Labour rights issues in education are multifaceted and complex. Teachers’ experiences in the classroom, the amount and intensity of workload, and supports teachers receive are labour rights issues as they pertain to working conditions.
  • Demands on teachers over the last two decades have increased in many ways, but most notably through “labour intensification,” placing more work on teachers without extra time or supports.[iii] These changes have not been without consequence – some teachers continue to work harder until they burn out, while others decide to exit the profession.[iv]
  • As global education reform movements to increasingly privatize public education, slash budgets, and micromanage educators continue, teachers’ unions will need to “focus on long-term sustainability,” to develop strategies around union renewal, and ways to engage the membership and the public in order to “reframe the union narrative.”[v]

[i] Canadian Foundation for Labour Rights, 2013. “Unions have always been a positive force in society.” Accessed April 10, 2019

[ii] Kumar, Pradeep, Feb. 25, 2012. Union renewal: Meaning, rationale, strategies and experience. Accessed April 3, 2019

[iii] Stevenson, Howard, and Alison Gilliland, 2015. “The teachers’ voice: Teacher unions at the heart of a new democratic professionalism.” In Flip the System: Changing Education from the Ground Up, p. 108. Routledge.

[iv] Skaalvik, Einar M., and Sidsel Skaalvik. “Job demands and job resources as predictors of teacher motivation and well-being.” Social Psychology of Education 21, no. 5 (2018): 1251-1275.

[v] Bascia, Nina, and Howard Stevenson, 2017. “Organising teaching: Developing the power of the profession,” Education International Research: 1. Accessed April 5, 2019

What needs to happen to ensure strong unions and robust labour rights?

  • To oppose any attempts by governments and employers of teachers to unilaterally determine working conditions for teachers or to otherwise undermine the principles of collective bargaining.
  • To uphold free and uninhibited collective bargaining, and oppose any initiative by governments to reduce or limit the collective bargaining rights of teachers.
  • To support member organizations in collective bargaining who seek to address working and learning conditions through specific provisions such as class size and composition, hours of instruction and assignable time, preparation time, and supervision time.

What to ask your political party?

  • How does your party see unions as central to helping solve many of our societal challenges?
  • What will your party do to ensure that Canadians are empowered through union membership?
  • What will your party do to protect pensions?