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Lawyers take union battle to court

August 13, 2016

Lawyers employed by Legal Aid Ontario take their employer to court for refusing to bargain with their chosen bargaining agent.

The Toronto Star reports on the three-year struggle by lawyers employed by Legal Aid Ontario to unionize. Their employer, Legal Aid Ontario, a provincial government agency, refuses to recognize the Society of Energy Professionals, the bargaining agent chosen by the vast majority of LOA’s lawyers.

While lawyers are not “employees” under the Labour Relations Act, 1995, and therefore do not have access to the Act’s protections, the government of Ontario bargains voluntarily with associations that represent its own criminal and civil lawyers (the Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association and the Association of Law Officers of the Crown).

The lawyers have commenced a constitutional challenge, claiming that LAO’s refusal to recognize their chosen bargaining agent violates the guarantee of freedom of association in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The case is scheduled to be heard in early December.

The Star spoke to Steven Barrett, who represents the lawyers in the constitutional challenge:

The union remains hopeful that recently appointed Attorney General Yasir Naqvi will step in before the court date and allow for staff lawyers to commence bargaining with Legal Aid Ontario through the SEP, said lawyer Steven Barrett, who represents the staff lawyers in the constitutional challenge.

“I think with the new Attorney General, there’s a new opportunity to look at the matter fresh, and he should have an understanding of the importance of collective bargaining as the former Minister of Labour,” Barrett said.

“He should understand the legitimacy of collective bargaining and he should have a keen understanding of the obligations of the government. Otherwise, obviously we’ll be in court in December.”

The Star notes that LAO lawyers have also applied to the Pay Equity Commission, seeking a gender neutral job evaluation:

Barrett, who is also counsel for the pay equity complaint, explained that because more than 60 per cent of the legal aid staff lawyers are women, the job is considered a “female job class” under provincial legislation, which triggers the gender neutral review.

You can read the full Toronto Star article here.

You can read more about this dispute in this Law Times article from July, and in this Law Times article from 2013.


Steven Barrett

Practice Areas

Constitutional Law, Labour Law