The Grievance Arbitration in Canada

The grievance arbitration is the mechanism set up to handle any deadlock in a disagreement dealing with the interpretation or application of a collective agreement.

Provisions are made for arbitration in the collective bargaining process. The Canada Labour Code, and the Labour Relations Code, or Acts of the various provinces and territories, require collective agreements to make provisions for the settlement of disagreements such as grievances and disputes. Therefore, you will find grievance procedures in practically every collective agreement in Canada.

What is a Grievance?

A grievance can be defined as any disagreement over the interpretation, and/or application of the terms of the collective agreement.

What is arbitration?

Arbitration in labour relations refers to the process by which labour disagreements between management and labour are referred to an impartial adjudicator (arbitrator) or arbitration board, whose decision will be final and binding on both parties. Normally, both parties would agree on the arbitrator, but failing this then the Minister would then appoint the arbitrator, as set out by legislation.

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Grievance Arbitration

The process for filing a grievance will be outlined in the collective agreement signed between the management and the union. The arbitration process only comes into play when there is a deadlock in the disagreement.

Also, it is important to note that the arbitration process does not cover all labour related disputes. It only covers those disputes covered in the collective agreement. All other disputes would fall under management's prerogative.

In the absence of any specified procedure, then the parties can refer the disagreement to an arbitrator chosen by them. Failing this, the Minister would then appoint an arbitrator.

Although all the jurisdictions require provisions in collective agreements for dealing with disagreements regarding interpretation, application, and administration of the agreement, the manner in which they are handled in the different jurisdictions can vary.

Grievance arbitration also called rights arbitration is one of two core areas of arbitration in Canada namely:

Interest Arbitration involves disputes regarding the establishment of the terms and conditions of a collective bargaining agreement.

Rights arbitration involves disputes concerning the interpretation of an existing collective agreement.

Steps Taken Before Going to Arbitration

Not every grievance goes to arbitration. Only those grievances that cannot be resolved, through the organization's internal grievance procedure, go to arbitration.

Collective bargaining agreements usually makes allowance for an internal grievance procedure, a process consisting of a number of steps in which the grievance will be reviewed at successively higher levels of the organization.

At any stage the grievance can be settled or withdrawn, but if the matter cannot be resolved, it can be heard before a neutral arbitrator or arbitration board. The decisions arrived at through arbitration are binding on both parties and becomes part of the collective agreement.

Research has shown that the vast majority of grievances are settled short of arbitration.

For more information related to grievance (rights) arbitration see: