What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is a process in which a trade union and an employer negotiate a first collective agreement or the renewal of a previous collective agreement, which is a written contract of employment covering a group of employees who are represented by a trade union.
Either party may give notice to bargain within 90 days before the agreement is due to expire, or during any other time period specifically set out in the agreement. In either case, the union and the employer must meet within 15 days from the giving of notice, unless they agree to some other time period.
At the initial stage of bargaining, both parties will participate in an exchange of proposals. The proposals presented by the employer and the bargaining agent outline the items each party wishes to amend, delete or add to the collective agreement. In subsequent meetings, the parties continue their discussion with the objective of reaching an agreement.
When parties are unable to agree on the terms of a collective agreement
If the parties are unable to agree on the terms of a collective agreement, either the employer or the union may ask for assistance by asking the Ontario Minister of Labour to appoint a conciliation officer.
Conciliation is the first level of assistance provided by the Ontario Ministry of Labour to assist the parties in reaching an agreement. At the request of either party, the Ontario Minister of Labour will appoint a conciliation officer to assist the parties in reaching an agreement.
The parties must use the Ontario Ministry of Labour’s conciliation services before they can be in a position to engage in a strike or lock-out.
If, during conciliation, the parties are unable to agree on the terms of a collective agreement the conciliation officer will inform the Ontario Minister of Labour. The Minister would then generally issue a notice informing the union and the employer that he or she “does not consider it advisable to appoint a conciliation board”. This notice is often referred to as a “no board” report.
Arbitration is a quasi-judicial process in which a disinterested third-party (an arbitrator or arbitration board) hears evidence presented by both the union and the employer on issues in dispute, and makes a decision that is final and binding on both parties.
If the decision is not obeyed by the parties, the decision can be filed with the Ontario Court (General Division) and enforced as a decision of that court. Failing to abide by the decision can result in a contempt of court charge. (See Section 48 (18), (19) of the Labour Relations Act, 1995).
Section 1 (1) of the Labour Relations Act, 1995 defines a strike as a cessation of work, a refusal to work or to continue to work by employees in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding, or a slow-down or other concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit output.
The parties are in a legal position to strike or to lock-out beginning on the 17th day after the Ontario Minister of Labour mails the “no board” report.
Employees cannot lawfully strike unless a strike vote by secret ballot is taken within 30 days or less before the collective agreement expires or at any time after the collective agreement expires and more than 50% of those voting by secret ballot, vote in favour of the strike.
A strike vote must be by secret ballot and all people eligible to vote must have ample opportunity to do so. All employees in a bargaining unit are entitled to participate in such a vote. (See Section 79 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995).
During a strike, bargaining unit members will often form picket lines at University entrances. Picketers are legally permitted to carry signs stating the nature of the dispute, speak to people entering the property about their concerns, and ask people entering the property to join the picket line.
However, picketers are not permitted to:
- Picket on University property;
- Block access to the University;
- Use force, threats, or threatening gestures to prevent people from coming onto University property, including students, any employee wanting to attend work, and visitors;
- Otherwise engage in unlawful behaviour.
In the event of a strike, the University will make every effort to ensure that operations and classes continue.