The union's role in protecting human rights

Unions cannot contract out of human rights legislation. Collective agreements for unions, whether silent on the issue of human rights or inclusive of only certain human rights, have been interpreted as protecting all of the human rights that are covered within a particular province's human rights legislation. A collective agreement is subject to the statutory provisions of human rights legislation and other employment-related statutes.

While parties may contract to protect a greater amount of human rights within a collective agreement, the Alberta Human Rights Act is the fundamental law that governs if there is a conflict between the AHR Act and other contracts or legislation.

It is discriminatory for a union to:
  • participate in the creation of a discriminatory policy in the collective agreement or other organization policy;
  • refuse to fulfill its duty to accommodate to the point of undue hardship;
  • retaliate by reducing services to a member who has made a human rights complaint;
  • exclude, expel or suspend a member based on one of the protected grounds; or
  • refuse to file a grievance when the refusal is based on a protected ground, such as gender or race.

Courts and human rights tribunals have found discrimination when unions have:

  • excluded females from membership lists (Sacrey v. UFCW, Local 1252 (1988), 9 C.H.R.R. D/4981, Newfoundland Board of Inquiry);
  • provided a male musician because of a customer's request, even though a female musician had been referred to that job (Bankowski and AFM, Loc. 247 (Re) (1994), 21 C.H.R.R. D/1, British Columbia Human Rights Commission);
  • refused to refer a woman to a job on a boat where there were no separate sleeping quarters for women (Oster v. I.L.W., Local 400 (2001) 212 F.T.R. 111, Federal Court Trial Division affirming (2000) C.H.R.D. No. 3, Canadian Human Rights Tribunal);
  • discriminated against a member who was transsexual (Ferris v. Office and Technical Employees Union, Loc. 15 (1999), 36 C.H.R.R. D/329, British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal);
  • participated in a discriminatory buyout package that excluded members on sick leave. Canada Safeway Ltd. v. Alberta (Human Rights and Citizenship Comm.) (2000), 44 C.H.R.R. D/272, Alberta Court of Queen's Bench (affirmed by Alberta Court of Appeal (2003), 47 C.H.R.R. D/220; leave to appeal dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada [2003] S.C.C.A. No. 448);
  • opposed the employer's attempt to reasonable accommodation (Renaud v. Central Okanagan School District 23 (1992), 95 D.L.R. (4th) 577, Supreme Court of Canada).

Revised: March 23, 2013


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