Lightkeepers in Canada ARE Essential Services

Lightkeepers in Canada ARE Essential Services


In my Christmas Message 2011 I mentioned essential services while referring to lighthouses. It amazes me that Canada considers lighthouses essential services when the lightkeepers want to go on strike, but at any other time of the year they are trying to automate them.


According to the Canadian government: What is an essential service? This definition from their webpage Guidelines for Essential Service Agreements:

Subsection 4(1) of the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA) defines an “essential service” as “a service, facility or activity of the Government of Canada that is or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public”. (PSLRA, Section 4)


Services should be identified as essential where there are reasonable grounds for accepting the probability, or even the possibility, that human life or public safety would suffer if a work stoppage interrupted the duties of these employees.


It should be noted that positions where occupants are to be available during their off-duty hours to report to work without delay to perform the essential services are also included.


cannot go on strike



An employee occupying an essential position is prohibited from participating in strike activity. (Section 196 (j) of the PSLRA)




Some examples of government programs that may be considered essential include, but are not exclusively:


  • border safety/security
  • correctional services
  • food inspection
  • health care
  • accident safety investigations
  • income and social security
  • marine safety (under the department of Fisheries and Oceans – JC)
  • national security
  • law enforcement
  • search and rescue

Essential service designation is different from legislation that prohibits the right to strike.


For example, across Canada police, firefighters, and hospital employees don’t have the right to strike as stated in their collective agreements and their disputes must be settled through binding arbitration.


But for most sectors considered essential, some workers can still go on strike while the employees whose positions are determined to be vital by their employer must continue to work.


During a legal strike: (reference)

  • an employee occupying an essential position will continue to be entitled to all benefits contained in the collective agreement (PSLRA – Section 132)
  • employees not occupying essential positions, the employer regains complete control on the day the employees earn the legal right to strike due to the fact that the collective agreement ceases to exist

Most of the departments that are going to be listed as essential services are listed under Schedule 1 and Schedule 4 of the Canadian Financial Administration Act.


OK, so lightkeepers are designated as essential services. No problem. It is a Canadian law. Why do they have to go out of their way to rub it in by issuing a Notification? Below is a sample wording.

Sample Notification Wording (reference)

Pursuant to Section 130(1) of the Public Service Labour Relations Act (PSLRA), this notice is to inform you that the position you occupy has been identified as a position where essential services are provided. Essential services are defined as “a service, facility or activity of the Government of Canada that is or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public”.

As an employee occupying an essential services position, Section 196 of the PSLRA prohibits you from participating in a strike. Also, Section 201 of the PSLRA provides that should you contravene Section 196, you are guilty of an offence and are liable on summary conviction to a fine of not more than $1,000.

This notice is valid as long as you occupy this position or until you are notified otherwise, whichever occurs first.


Here is a copy of one that was given to me in 1998 when the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) served notice of strike. Note: they didn’t forget top mention the $1000 fine!



If you are interested in how the government designates a position as essential, then follow the rules here. Appendix C shows the form that is used.

 This government page states under Terminology

The definitions of various terms (e.g., arbitration, bargaining agent, bargaining unit, board (PSLRB), collective agreement, conciliation, employee, employer, safety or security, strike) used throughout these guidelines are found in the PSLRA (aka Bill C-25).

I think the definitions of the terms are scattered throughout the Bill, as I could not find a complete listing anywhere in the pages. If you happen to stumble across a listing of all definitions, please let me know.

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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