Canadian Manufacturing

Canada plans to end 68-year snub of UN workers’ rights convention

A Labour advocates says the feds' decision to sign Convention No. 98 will help Canada more effectively insist its trade partners respect and enforce labour rights; an important tool with upcoming NAFTA renegotiations

May 10, 2017  by Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA—After 68 years of resistance, Canada is changing its mind and plans to ratify an international treaty that affirms the labour rights of workers—a move that sets it apart from its NAFTA partners in the U.S. and Mexico.

The Liberals say Canada’s decision to accede to a key International Labour Organization convention—known as Convention No. 98—shows its support of the right of workers to organize.

But Canada had been one of about two dozen countries, including the U.S. and Mexico, that have resisted joining the treaty since the early years of the founding of the United Nations.

The government has previously said the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a good enough vehicle to ensure the protection of the freedom of assembly and association.


However a briefing note prepared for the government in 2015 argued that the time had come to join the 1949 convention.

The memo, prepared by the Privy Council Office, says joining the treaty would enable Canada to better work towards protecting workers’ rights around the world.

It says there are limits to the strategy of enshrining rights in free trade agreements, which has long been Canada’s traditional preferred method for ensuring workers are protected.

Labour Minister Patricia Hajdu was to announce Canada’s intention to join the convention at an event Tuesday in Toronto. Canada will sign on formally in Geneva next month.

“Our government understands that organized labour is key to healthy labour relations that benefit people in workplaces all across the country,” said Matt Pascuzzo, a spokesman for Hajdu.

“We are committed to ratifying Convention 98 and sending a clear message to the world about the right of workers to organize in Canada.”

The Canadian Labour Congress applauded the move, but called it long overdue.

“Internationally, this ratification means Canada can more effectively insist that trade partners like the United States and Mexico must respect and enforce labour rights,” said CLC President Hassan Yussuff.

“This is key as we face the prospect of the renegotiation of NAFTA.”