Overview

Workplaces have evolved since the Labour Relations Code was last updated in 1988.

Since that time, Supreme Court of Canada decisions have enshrined the rights of Canadians to unionize and collectively bargain as Charter-protected rights.

It is incumbent on our government to ensure our laws are kept up to date.

Following a focused review of the Code that included 340 written submissions from business, industry, organized labour, non-profits and the general public, as well as technical advice from respected labour lawyer and former Labour Relations Board Chairperson, Andrew Sims, Q.C., a series of changes to the Code have been passed as part of Bill 17: The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act.

Andrew Sims mandate letter (0.1 MB)

Some of the changes that were part of the Act are retroactive to the date of the bill’s introduction on May 24. Others came into effect on the date of Royal Assent, which was June 7. Some changes take effect September 1 and the remainder come into effect on January 1, 2018.

Changes to existing laws

Below is an outline of the upcoming changes to the Labour Relations Code.

  • In unfair labour practice complaints involving discipline, dismissal or other alleged intimidation of an employee, the employer will be required to prove the action it took does not constitute an unfair labour practice, rather than requiring the employee to try to prove that it does. In these situations, the employer is the only party that really knows and can explain why the action was taken.
  • The definition of employee will be changed to include dependent contractors who only work for one employer. This change will allow contractors to unionize and bargain collectively.
  • All provisions of the Code dealing with Market Enhancement Recovery Funds (MERFs) in the construction industry will be removed, which will allow for development of unrestricted MERFs in the future.
  • The current provision of the Code that suspends the collection and remittance of union dues during an illegal strike will be removed.
  • Restrictions on secondary picketing will be removed with new powers to regulate substituted.
  • The process for certifying a new trade union will be changed. If between 40% and 65% of employees sign cards in favour of a union, a board-conducted vote will be required. If over 65% sign cards, no board-conducted vote will be required. In all cases, the Labour Relations Board will retain the ability to conduct a vote should there be doubt as to the authenticity of the support, or in any other situation the Board feels a vote is necessary.
  • To revoke a union’s certification, a minimum of 40% support of employees will be required in order to hold a secret ballot. If a majority of members support decertification in the secret ballot, the union’s certification will be revoked.
  • The restriction requiring employees in the construction industry to have worked for an employer for 30 days to participate in a union certification vote will be removed. In addition, employees will not have up to 90 days to reconsider their decision.
  • In cases where employers have engaged in unfair practices, the Labour Relations Board will be able to grant certification of a union without the need for a vote. Similarly, the board will be able to revoke a union’s certificate if the union has engaged in unfair practices without the need for a vote.
  • All collective agreements will need to be filed with the Director of Mediation Services.
  • A loophole that allowed international parent unions of an Alberta building trade union to avoid the existing registration bargaining system and bargain with employers directly will be eliminated.
  • The current 90-day ban on labour making the same or a similar application for union certification to the Labour Relations Board will be clarified and imposed.
  • The preamble to the Labour Relations Code will have 4 major themes:
  1. Good employer/employee relationships foster prosperity.
  2. Employers, employees and unions benefit from clear labour laws.
  3. The rights of freedom of association and free collective bargaining for workers who choose a union to represent them aid economic and social wellbeing.
  4. The Labour Relations Code provides fair mechanisms to choose unions, fair bargaining structures, and an equitable arbitration process to resolve disputes.

Additions to existing laws

The following will be added to the Labour Relations Code. They are intended to align Alberta with current practices in Canada, and to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the overall labour relations system.

  • First Contract Arbitration will be put in place to end difficult negotiations between an employer and a newly-certified union.
  • All continuing care facilities, including those operated by the non-profit sector and those that are privately owned, will be included within essential services provisions of the Code. Strikes will continue to be allowed, however essential service agreements must be in place to continue operation of the facility during labour disruptions.
  • Health-care laboratories and blood supply services will be included within essential services provisions. Strikes will continue to be allowed, however essential agreements will have to be in place to continue operation of the facility during labour disruptions.
  • The Code will be updated to allow the Board to facilitate a union’s ability to communicate with employees working in remote or inaccessible places.
  • When requested by a union, a collective agreement will have to provide for Rand Formula union dues checkoff for all employees in the bargaining unit. Religious exemptions will continue to apply. This automatic ‘dues check off’ is already in place in most collective agreements. Exemptions will exist for those with religious objections that will see the equivalent of dues directed towards a mutually agreed upon registered charity.
  • The Labour Relations Board will have specific authority to refer disputes where there have been egregious unfair labour practices to arbitration. This will align Alberta with the 1996 Supreme Court of Canada decision on the Royal Oak Mine case.
  • If a union had a review process approved by the Labour Relations Board, an employee will need to use that approved review process for complaints that the union did not fairly represent them, prior to taking such a complaint to the Labour Relations Board.
  • The Labour Relations Board has the ability to:
    • refer disputes to arbitration where there have been egregious unfair labour practices
    • require a party to produce all documents related to a matter coming before the Board; it also can restrict disclosure of certain sensitive commercial or labour relations information it receives
    • review arbitration awards, in the first instance, with limited further appeal to the Court of Appeal
    • manage proceedings that come before it, including the ability to defer a case where some other remedy, or more appropriate forum, may be available
    • proceed with an application after the death or incapacity of a Chair or Vice-chair
    • give priority to and expedite the resolution of complaints it related to discharge as an unfair labour practice
    • decline to dismiss applications if pre-hearing disclosure of relevant documents or other pre-hearing procedures have not occurred
    • order/direct a party to do or refrain from committing an action
  • Unions and employers will be allowed to ask for a supervised strike or lockout vote prior to the expiry of a collective agreement. Arbitrators will be able to extend the time available in a grievance matter even after the expiration of the time frame set in a collective agreement. They will also be able to make interim orders, expedite proceedings, set dates, work with the parties to resolve differences, and apply solutions in accordance with other employment legislation.
  • Electronic hearings and submissions will be allowed in grievance arbitration hearings.

How farms and ranches will be affected

  • Effective January 1, 2018 the Labour Relations Code will apply to the agricultural sector, however only farms and ranches with paid employees who are not the owner or related to the owner will be affected. Family members and unpaid farm and ranch workers, such as relatives, friends and neighbours helping out will not be affected. Waged, non-family employees will have the ability to unionize, set up bargaining units with their individual employers, bargain collectively and strike. Each bargaining unit must be comprised of employees of one employer only.
  • Government may implement Public Emergency Tribunals to pre-empt or end a dispute and impose an arbitrated settlement if a strike or lockout could harm livestock or threaten crops. (Effective June 7, 2017.)

For more information, see farm and ranch labour relations consultations.

Have more questions about the process?

To find information about specific processes related to the newly updated Labour Relations Code, visit the Alberta Labour Relations Board website.

The Board, as the independent body responsible for the application and interpretation of Alberta’s labour laws, will be responsible for applying the new changes.