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United Steelworkers Files Complaint with International Labour Organization Against Quebec Government

MONTREAL, 10 June 2019 – The Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers (USW) announced today that it has filed a complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) against the Government of Quebec.

The USW complaint cites violations of the ILO’s Convention on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize, the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work as well as the Tripartite Declaration of Principles Concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy.

The USW complaint stems from Quebec Premier François Legault’s interference in negotiations in the 17-month lockout at the ABI aluminum smelter in Bécancour, Que. More than 1,000 workers, members of USW Local 9700, were locked out of their jobs in January 2018 by ABI, co-owned by aluminum giants Alcoa and Rio Tinto.

“By his statements aimed at discrediting the trade union position by repeatedly describing it as ‘unreasonable,’ the Premier came to put all his weight behind the company in a negotiation in the private sector. He took up the cause of the management party. This is contrary to international law and we are asking the International Labour Organization to take charge of the case,” said Alain Croteau, the Steelworkers’ Quebec Director.

The complaint was sent to the Committee on Freedom of Association of the ILO, the United Nations agency responsible at the global level for the development and supervision of international labour standards. The complaint refers to the many public statements made by Legault in April, May and June regarding the labour dispute that has been raging at ABI since Jan. 11, 2018.

“The Government of Quebec, through the statements of its Premier François Legault, has failed to fulfil its obligations under the ILO declarations and conventions by disseminating inaccurate information on the issues at stake in the negotiations and by officially taking a position in favour of ABI, thereby publicly discrediting the union,” explained Katherine-Sarah Larouche, of the law firm Philion, Leblanc, Beaudry.

“The Government of Quebec has thus obstructed the union's right to the free exercise of the right to organize and its right to claim freely and on the basis of equality for the working conditions for ABI's unionized employees,” Larouche said.

The complaint lists at least nine public statements by the Premier between April 1 and June 3. In his interventions, the Premier misled the public on the issues in the negotiations, decrying the “union demands,” even though the union is not making any such demands in the current negotiations and is only reacting to the employer’s demands for concessions, many of which were added only recently, several months into the lockout.

“In these negotiations, it is the employer who is making the demands, it is the employer who even added new demands several months after triggering the lockout. The union has none. From the beginning, the union has only responded to the employer’s requests for concessions, opening the door to accommodations that Alcoa still considers insufficient. The Premier knows this, but he systematically repeats that union demands are unreasonable. He is misinforming,” said Dominic Lemieux, Assistant to the Steelworkers’ Quebec Director.

Lemieux recalled that during the negotiations, the union agreed to consider a member-funded pension plan where the risk is assumed by the workers, in order to replace the current defined benefit pension plan and meet the demands of Alcoa’s shareholders.

“By agreeing with the employer and putting undue pressure on workers through public opinion, the Premier has undermined the negotiation and mediation processes. Rather than considering the union’s counter-proposal, the employer has stuck to its positions and the lockout is dragging on. Worse still, the Premier’s interference casts doubt on the government’s objectivity on the file, at the very time when the Minister of Labour was filing a proposed settlement and the union is asking for the co-operation of the authorities to enforce anti-scab legislation,” said USW Local 9700 President Clément Masse.

The lockout at ABI was triggered by Alcoa and Rio Tinto on Jan. 11, 2018, even though the union had indicated it did not intend to exercise its right to strike and that only a few issues remained outstanding at the bargaining table. The employer has since added several new demands, further reducing the prospect of a settlement. On March 11, 82% of union members rejected an employer offer which was inferior to the one made before the lockout was imposed. 

The Syndicat des Métallos/United Steelworkers is the largest private-sector union in Quebec, representing more than 60,000 workers from all economic sectors.

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For further information:

Clairandrée Cauchy, USW Communications (Montreal), 514-774-4001, ccauchy@metallos.ca

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Communications Department - Québec
Clairandrée Cauchy
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