Forum explores the need for a Canadian Workers’ Rights Institute

The links between workers’ rights, such as the right to bargain collectively and fundamental human rights that are recognized internationally, will be the focus of a conference this week organized by York University’s Centre for Research on Work & Society. 

"Workers’ Rights, Human Rights: Making the Connection" will bring together labour and human rights activists and academics to discuss how to promote workers’ rights in Canada at a time when they appear to be in decline. The goal of the conference, which will be held in downtown Toronto on Friday and Saturday, is the establishment of a Canadian Workers’ Rights Institute to put core labour rights on the public policy agenda. 

A Canadian Workers’ Rights Institute would publicize international developments about the human rights nature of labour rights, remind governments of their responsibility to protect and promote those rights, and call on corporations to respect labour rights, says Professor Norene Pupo (right), director of York’s Centre for Research on Work & Society

"We want to raise awareness of workers’ rights as human rights, because people understand so well the need for human rights to be respected," says Pupo, a sociology professor at York. "Access to work that is safe and within employment standards is a human right. It gives people dignity and liberty and autonomy – all of those things that are protected as human rights." 

The conference will explore a number of domestic and international topics and trends, including: bridging the gap between labour rights and human rights; collective bargaining as a human right; the human rights responsibilities of business; and the implications of international and legal developments in the field.

Highlights include a keynote address on Saturday, Nov. 17, by Lee Swepston (right), senior adviser on human rights for the International Labour Organization. Swepston will address western countries’ tendency to consider civil and political rights to be "real rights" in contrast to economic, social and cultural rights, and how this perception is changing.

Also presenting to delegates is McMaster University Professor Emeritus Roy Adams (left), widely respected for his industrial relations research and a primary catalyst for this conference. Adams will deliver his address on Friday, Nov. 16. He will speak to conference delegates about the evolution and current status of collective bargaining as a human right.

During the two-day event, conference participants will discuss the implications of the recent British Columbia Health Services Decision rendered in June 2007, in which the Supreme Court of Canada struck down sections of BC’s Bill 29, the Health and Social Services Delivery Improvement Act. The court found that workers’ right to bargain collectively was part of their freedom to associate, a value protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On Saturday, a panel will address bridging the gap between labour rights and human rights. A keynote panellist participating in this event is Carol Pier of Human Rights Watch, who published a report documenting workers’ rights violations in the US, including at Wal-Mart stores.

For more information, visit the Workers’ Rights, Human Rights: Making the Connection Conference Web site, or contact Daphne Paszterko, project coordinator, Centre for Research on Work & Society, at ext. 55612, or e-mail

The conference runs Nov. 16 & 17, at the Best Western Primrose Hotel, 111 Carlton Street, in Toronto.