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Industrial Relations in Canada

Presentation by
Ginette Brazeau, Director of Legislation, Research and Policy
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
Labour Program
Human Resources and Social Development Canada

Constitutional Jurisdiction
Canada has
ten provinces and
three territories
The Canadian
assigns jurisdiction
for certain industries
exclusively to the
federal government
and others to
the provincial

The Legal Framework

The Canadian collective bargaining system is HIGHLY
DECENTRALIZED, but federal and provincial labour
relations legislation share common characteristics.
They all:
Establish certification procedures for a union to obtain
recognition as the representative of employees in a
particular workplace
Set the minimum duration for a collective agreement
Establish procedures for legal strikes and lockouts
Establish ways of resolving disputes during collective
bargaining (conciliation and mediation) and during the life of
a collective agreement (grievance and arbitration procedure)
Define unfair labour practices
Create a labour relations board, which has quasi-judicial
status, to interpret the law and prescribe remedies for

The Legal Framework (contd)

In most Canadian jurisdictions, separate labour relations
acts govern public sector employees
Some jurisdictions have separate acts for para-public or
quasi-public sector employees (employees who work for
government-funded organizations, but
dont directly work for the government)
Some jurisdictions have additional labour relations
legislation that applies to particular occupations or
industries (e.g. construction). This legislation usually
addresses specific conditions in occupations or industries
that would not be adequately covered under general
labour legislation


The Federal Jurisdiction

There are a number of federal labour relations statutes:
The Canada Labour Code regulates the federal PRIVATE
sector (inter-provincial transport (ground, air, marine and rail), telecommunications,
broadcasting, banking, Federal crown corporations such as Canada Post, National
Museums, and Industries declared by Parliament to be for the general advantage of
Canada or two or more provinces (e.g. Nuclear, Grain) ;

The Public Service Labour Relations Act regulates the

bargaining relationship between the federal government and
its own employees;
The Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act
apples to employees of Parliament; and
The Status of the Artist Act gives collective bargaining rights
to self-employed entrepreneurs in the cultural sector.

The Federal Jurisdiction (contd)

About 1.3 million employees are subject to federal
jurisdiction legislation
Approximately 40% of them are unionized
Nearly 1,500 collective agreements are negotiated
under the Canada Labour Code - between 500 and
600 each year

Principles of Canadian Labour Relations

Found in the Preamble Canada Labour Code, Part I:

Canada is signatory to ILO convention No. 87 concerning Freedom of
Association and Protection of Right to Organize;
promotes common well-being through the encouragement of free
collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of disputes;
recognizes and supports freedom of association and free collective
bargaining as the bases for the determination of good working conditions
and sound labour-management relations;
deems the development of good industrial relations to be in the best
interests of Canada in ensuring a just share of the fruits of progress for

The Canadian Model

Main aspects:
A certified bargaining unit is a group of workers,
generally in a single workplace, considered
appropriate for collective bargaining (community of
The certified bargaining agent (union) has the
exclusive right to bargain on behalf of all of the
employees in the bargaining unit.
The certified bargaining agent is entitled to collect
union dues through a check-off system (Rand
The certified bargaining agent is subject to a duty of
fair representation.

The Canadian Model


Collective bargaining in Canada is generally

decentralized: in most cases, bargaining takes place
at the plant or enterprise level, between an
employer and a certified bargaining unit
Collective agreements take the form of fixed term,
legally binding contracts prescribing wages, hours of
work and other working conditions, as well as
matters such as union recognition, job security and
work rules.

The Canadian Model (contd)

The parties have the duty to bargain in good
faith and make every reasonable effort to
reach a collective agreement
Strikes and lockouts are illegal during the term
of the collective agreement
Some jurisdictions, such as the federal
jurisdiction, provide for mandatory conciliation
before the parties acquire the right to strike or


Union Recognition
Employees in a workplace, by majority support, may choose to be
represented by a trade union.
Certification of bargaining agent is a democratic process:

requires 50% +1 majority

evidence can be based on signed membership cards
secret ballot vote can be ordered by labour board
Unions and bargaining units are independent and free from employer



Union Recognition (contd)

If a majority of employees are dissatisfied with their
union representation, they may select another union
to act on their behalf or they may apply to decertify
their bargaining agent
Labour Board is empowered to hear and decide
applications for certification and decertification of
bargaining agents and complaints against the
bargaining agent made by employees.


Bargaining Rights and Obligations

Once a union has been certified, either party can give a Notice to Bargain both employer and union are required to bargain in good faith and make
every reasonable effort to negotiate a collective agreement
During bargaining, the employer cannot unilaterally change any of the
employees terms and conditions of employment
Complaints of unfair labour practices (eg. failure to bargain) can be made to
the labour board, which has the power to order appropriate remedies
Neutral third party assistance (conciliation/mediation) is provided free of
charge by the government to assist the parties in their negotiations (public
interest in the peaceful resolution of collective bargaining disputes).



Strikes and Lockouts

Strikes/lockouts are not permitted until certain requirements have been met:
Mandatory conciliation process has been completed
Union has obtained a positive strike vote from its members
The party initiating the work stoppage has given the other party and the Minister
of Labour 72 hours notice
If there are services affected that are essential to public health or safety, the
parties must have reached agreement as to how those services will be provided
during the work stoppage.

Note legal obligation: during a strike or lockout, the union, the employer and the
employees must continue to supply services, operate facilities or produce goods
to the extent necessary to prevent an immediate and serious danger to the
safety or health of the public.



The Collective Agreement

The goal of bargaining is to achieve a Collective Agreement:
Legally-binding contract establishing
terms and conditions of employment, including wages, premiums, benefits and other
monetary terms; and
work rules, including hours of work, seniority, promotion etc.

Minimum duration of 1 year (but longer collective agreements are more typical)
Strikes and lockouts are illegal during the term of the agreement
Any disputes over the application or interpretation of the collective agreement
must be submitted to grievance arbitration



IR Indicators Across Canada

Canadas unionization rate today is approximately 31.8%, more than
twice that of the United States (13.8%).
Recent public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Canadian workers
believe unions are worthwhile (Vector Research 2003).
Since 1975, there has been a significant drop in both the number of work
stoppages and the person-days not worked, indicating stability in the
labour-management relations climate.
Since 1995, average duration of collective agreements has increased
from 24 to 38 months, reducing the number of bargaining sessions &
thus reducing the potential for work stoppages.



Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

Our Mission:
The Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service
(FMCS) is responsible for providing dispute
resolution and dispute prevention assistance
to trade unions and employers under the
jurisdiction of the Canada Labour Code.



Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

FMCS services:
Conciliation and mediation assistance to parties engaged in collective bargaining
Preventive mediation and grievance mediation services aimed at resolving differences
and improving industrial relations during the closed period of a collective agreement
Appointment of grievance arbitrators
The Labour-Management Partnerships Program, which provides seed funding for
innovative projects designed to improve labour-management relationships
Research to aid in the development and implementation
of industrial relations policy



FMCS Conciliation Process

Mandatory before parties can strike or lockout during a collective bargaining
Government-appointed neutral assigned to meet with the employer and
union to help resolve their differences and achieve a collective agreement
Government conciliators and mediators have considerable skill and
expertise in resolving labour disputes are located in
5 regional offices across Canada
FMCS settles over 90% of collective bargaining disputes without a work



FMCS Preventive Mediation Program

Relationship-by-Objectives (RBO)
Committee Effectiveness (CET)
Negotiation Skills training
Collaborative Problem-Solving
Grievance Mediation
Designing Grievance Resolution Processes
Joint Planning for Organizational Change
Creating Respectful Workplaces



Canadian free market economy
The Canadian IR system is a structured framework for interaction between
employers and unions that works
The collective bargaining process has a negative economic impact if bargaining
fails, however these same economic pressures strongly influence the parties to
reach a settlement
Positive labour-management relations and cooperative workplaces contribute to
higher productivity
Government, through the FMCS, plays a key role in promoting effective workplace