Collective Bargaining in Canada

Collective bargaining in Canada is the joint process whereby employees, collectively through their unions or "bargaining agents", negotiate with their employer the terms and conditions of their employment, such as, working conditions, hours of work and wages of the collective employees.

The keyword here is "collective", meaning that individually the employees will have very little influence or power over their terms of employment.

This bargaining process involves two parties that have incompatible as well as merging interests. Conflict arises out of the clash of economic interests of the workers seeking job security and better income and employers seeking to minimize costs and maximize returns on investment.

Definition of Collective Bargaining in Canada

Collective bargaining can be defined as "the negotiating process that determines the terms and conditions of employment between an employer or employers' association and a collective group of employees, or their representatives". (DQF)

The Collective Bargaining Unit

This collective group of employees that a labour union represents at collective agreement negotiations is called the collective bargaining unit.

In order to be certified as the bargaining unit, the union must prove that it has the support of the majority (50% + 1) of the employees.

The Collective Agreement

Collective bargaining is regulated within a well-defined legal framework, with labour legislation having a very regulatory role over the management-union relationship.

This legislation requires that the parties "bargain in good faith" and sets out the system and structure of this bargaining and how it is to operate.

The expected outcome of this bargaining process is the collective agreement, or collective bargaining agreement, covering the terms and conditions of employment. The collective agreement also covers the issues of union recognition, grievance procedure, as well as conflict and dispute resolution.

Decentralized Bargaining

Collective bargaining in Canada, as in the U.S.A., is decentralized in practice, with most of the negotiations taking place at the local level.

In some large national organizations a company-wide negotiating committee would negotiate on the main company-wide issues for a "master agreement", with local issues being negotiated at the local level.

Bargaining as a Constitutional Right

On June 8th 2007, the Supreme Court of Canada handed down its landmark decision which recognized collective bargaining as a right protected by the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For further information refer to: 'Collective Bargaining as a Constitutional Right'.

Characteristics of Collective Bargaining

  • Collective instead of individual negotiations
  • Regulated in a well-define legal framework
  • Both parties are required by law to abide by the terms of the collective agreement
  • The parties have to "bargain in good faith". This is a statutory requirement
  • Collective agreement contract signed setting out the terms of employment
  • Stipulates a time period that the contract is valid for
  • Strikes and lockouts prohibited during the duration of the collective agreement
  • Has a compulsory requirement for grievance arbitration and dispute arbitration

Need Help?

For assistance with the collective bargaining process in your organization or other labour relations issues in your organization, contact us.