In Ontario, the Labour Relations Act (“LRA”) requires employers and unions to work together and bargain collectively on establishing the terms and conditions of employment, including salaries, breaks, allowances and the grievance procedure.
The collective bargaining process generally includes five different steps:
- Notice to bargain
In this step the employer or union gives notice to the other party that they want to negotiate a new collective agreement or renew an old one.
If a collective agreement is not reached, the union or employer may request the Minister of Labour, Training and Skills Development (the “Minister”) to appoint a conciliation officer to assist both parties in reaching an agreement.
If conciliation does not fully resolve the problem, if both parties agree, they may request further assistance from the Minister to reach an agreement through mediation. This also helps to avoid work stoppages caused by strikes or lockouts.
- Strikes and/or Lockouts
If specific timing prerequisites are met and the parties still cannot reach a collective agreement, the employees may be able to initiate a strike, or the employer may be able to initiate a lockout.
- Interest Arbitration
Parties may also be interested or mandated to take part in interest arbitration if they cannot reach a collective agreement. The decision of an arbitrator in these circumstances is final and binding on all parties. To avoid a strike or lockout, parties entitled to strikes or lockouts may choose to partake in interest arbitration. Additionally, some essential industries do not allow for strikes or lockouts. Thus, in these industries, interest arbitration is mandatory. These industries are:
- ambulance workers, in certain circumstances
- employees of hospitals, as defined in the Hospital Labour Disputes Arbitration Act
- professional firefighters
- provincial correctional officers
- municipal police services employees
- provincial police services employees
- employees performing residential construction work in specific geographic areas
Collective Bargaining is often a long, high-stakes endeavour. We are called upon to act for our employer clients as external consultants or to lead the bargaining team. We also provide advice regarding the nuances of bargaining, such as the duty of good faith, unfair labour practices, and statutory freezes. Our lawyers can help in any stage of the collective bargaining process.