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Workers' Human Rights

Torch of Liberty

As recently mentioned in previous articles, I have been in touch with the Molson head office in an attempt to discover their own opinion as to why they think they have a right to violate the inherent and inalienable human rights of their employees.

Their first response was to tell something of a whopper (or make a whopper of an error), and imply that the UDHR only applies to certain classes of people who, throughout history, have been vulnerable to discrimination based on immutable personal characteristics.

The UDHR itself makes it quite clear that the rights it speaks of belong to everyone. In fact the word "everyone" is used 30 times throughout the document.

The position the Molson Company then fell back on, was that workplace human rights issues are of Provincial jurisdiction and that the Province of British Columbia is not a signatory to the UDHR. My own studies (remember I'm not a lawyer) indicate that this is essentially correct, however it is understood internationally, that state parties to international human rights laws have an obligation to incorporate such laws into their domestic law and policies. Any failure of a state or province to incorporate some aspect of international law, does not make that law disappear, in fact a judge (if it came to that) could, and might very well interpret existing provincial human rights law in the light of (for example) the UDHR. In the leading case of Baker v. Canada the Supreme Court of Canada established that "any unlegislated treaty can be used to interpret the meaning of Canadian federal and provincial statutes".

Several international instruments clearly state that a country cannot use its constitution as a reason not to fulfill international legal obligations. The UDHR itself states that "Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration" and that "no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs..."

Human rights are inalienable, this means that they cannot be taken away, and that they cannot be bargained away and furthermore they cannot be given away by those who possess them.

So what happens when a collective agreement embraces a two-tier system?

The sad fact is that workers' human rights are violated. But those human rights can not in fact be bargained away, and so they do not disappear, they merely continue to be violated, and continue to be violated until the collective agreement is brought into line with international human rights standards.

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It's difficult to believe, that any dedicated union committee, that believes in union principals, could knowingly bargain away the human rights of its members. So why does it happen? I personally believe that much of the answer lies in ignorance. Although governments have an obligation to ensure that Human Rights (especially the UDHR) are taught in the class room, this in fact rarely happens, so those of us who grow up to be activists in working class matters often do so in ignorance of the many valuable rights that we have in our toolbox. So when the die seem stacked against us we end up capitulating where we could have stood on firm ground. I myself only became aware of the human rights connection regarding two-tierism in the past couple of years. Although I was acutely aware that something was fundamentally wrong and unjust, it took some time to stumble upon the corroborating documentation.

Today that ignorance need no longer exist!

It goes without saying that the purpose of a union is to look after the rights and interests of its members in the work place, and that obviously includes human rights.

So it should therefore be expected that contracts negotiated by knowledgeable parties should not contain two-tier language and should fully comply with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in particular article 23(2) "Everyone, without any discrimination, is entitled to equal pay for equal work."

That this does not always happen represents failure, not just on the part of unions and their members, but more importantly, it represents failure on the part of companies to comply with international ethical standards, and failure on the part of their partners in crime, the government, to incorporate international instruments into domestic law.

Now speaking of government I would like to draw your attention to a new web site that exposes the many failures of Canada's governments to live up to human rights obligations.

The site, labourrights.ca is co-sponsored by nupge and the ufcw of Canada, and is dedicated to exposing the gross failures of the federal and provincial governments of Canada to live up to their human rights obligations.

Here are a few of the facts and deductions to be found there...

I recommend that you check out this informative site, and while you're at it, check out the Workers' Bill of Rights and sign it.

Here's the links...
labourrights.ca
Workers' Bill of Rights


In Solidarity,
John Barker

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Feb 2006