How Many Humans Does it Take Before They Have Rights?

Welcome back to the  Point-of-View series, in which I chronicle my opinions and ‘points of view’ about various topics.  

How many humans does it take before they have collective human rights?

1,000? 100? 10?

According to Canadian law only 1.   Because what constitutes a human right changes when more than one person asks for it at a time.

In a democratic society, as individuals we have been granted Rights and Freedoms through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Individual human rights are tied to the dignity and inherent humanity of people.  Collective rights on the other hand aren’t seen or treated as important as individual rights.

Collective rights as those that can be exercised as a group.  Realistically, these aren’t all that different from individual rights.

I, as myself, can associate with other individuals as I see fit.  But I, as a union member, cannot.

.I have the individual right to negotiate terms of employment above and beyond the minimum requirements, but my coworker and I together cannot bargain for each other, together. as a group. Because when I speak it will be as for the group.  In a group you lose your individuality, your individual rights

Collective bargaining is such an example.  Bargaining, solely, is a given human right.  Bargaining collectively?  ha. Only according to the ILO (International Labour Organization).

I believe that Collective Bargaining should be a Human Right.

The ability to bargain collectively was imbued upon individuals and organizations through the Wartime Labour Relations Regulations by Order in Council PC 1003.  Through this federal legislation Unions were formally recognized as the exclusive bargaining agents for their members and employers were ordered to enter into negotiation with the Union.  This institutionalized Collective Bargaining as a statutory (legally enforceable) right.

Legal rights are easily taken away by the government.

In 1998 Canada ratified the International Labour Organizations Declaration of Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work.  This document has addendums C87 and C98 that later of which indicates that the right to bargaining collectively is a human right rooted in enabling rights that make decent working conditions possible.

Canada had a strong hand in forming the content of the ILO’s fundamental rights at work.

Yet!  Canada refuses to acknowledge that collective bargaining is a human right.

Apparently what is good for the international labour collective isn’t what Canada actually wants at home.  Good for the goose but not the gander.

In 2004 the United Nations sub-commission on Human Rights issued a document laying out the international human rights responsibilities of business.  “Controversially, it claimed that corporations had legal responsibilities to respect and conform to human rights standards.  Business retorted that it was not the police and could not be expected to fulfill the functions of the state.” 

The resistance labour meets in the employer is inherent to the system.  It is this level of antagonism that recognizing and enforcing collective bargaining as a human right would help eliminate.

The human right of Unions to bargain collectively was most recently mentioned in the 2007 Supreme Court of Canada’s BC Health Services Decision, where the court found that “Canada’s adherence to international documents recognizing a right to collective bargaining supports recognition of that right” and that “the Charter should be presumed to provide at least as great a level of protection as is found in the international human rights documents that Canada has ratified.” 

As the ILO states “the recognition of the right to collective bargaining is the key to the representation of collective interests”  building on the Freedom of Association that acknowledges organized labours’ rights and finally make collective representation meaningful instead of lip service to workers.


Additional Resources


Overview of Labour Law in Canada – Queens’ University

Canada and the ILO

Business and Human Rights – Harvard University

The Future of the Wagner Act – Brian Burkett

ILO Freedom of Association


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