Canadian Industrial Relations in the Year 2000: Towards a New Order?

Canada’s industrial relations system faces a rapidly changing external environment in this last decade of the 20th century. Significant and far-reaching changes in our economic, political and legal environment are already being felt and even more changes appear to be on the horizon. The question squarely facing Canada’s industrial relations community is the extent to which these important changes will reshape our existing industrial relations order. This existing order, what I will refer to as the ‘old industrial relations order,’ has been with us since the 1940s. As we approach the year 2000, however, changes in the external environment will penetrate to the very roots of the ‘old industrial relations order.’

This essay explores the question of how much of this existing system will remain in its present form by the end of the present decade. It begins with an examination of some of the more marked characteristics of the industrial relations system that has served us, for better or worse, for close to half a century.

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Women’s Issues and Collective Bargaining

The purpose of this paper is to examine the bargaining agenda of selected major Canadian unions on women’s issues and the effectiveness of their efforts towards incorporating these issues into their collective agreements. The first section highlights the union agenda and the common provisions the unions have been pursuing at the collective bargaining table. The second section analyzes the frequency of the collective agreement clauses on women’s issues overall and of selected unions. The final section summarizes the finding and their implications. The Appendix provides a profile of labour organizations included in the study.

This paper was presented at the annual meeting of the Canadian Industrial Relations Association at Kingston, Ontario, June 2-4, 1991.

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“Organizing the Unorganized” Revisited

Concomitant with the expansion of the service sector as an increasingly large component of the Canadian economy, has been a growth in service related employment. In fact, 90% of new jobs since 1967 have been located in the service sector (Economic Council of Canada, 1990). Service sector employment, typified by nonstandard work forms, growing use of computerization and a pronounced segmentation between “good jobs and bad jobs” places a growing number of Canadian workers, many of whom are women, in an increasingly insecure financial and occupational position. Examination of the Canadian banking industry, a significant employer within the service sector, reveals that these general trends also apply specifically to the financial sector. In wake of the growing use of computerization, spurred on by competition, the employee relations climate in Canadian banks is characterized by employment restructuring emphasizing the use of part-time and temporary labour, comparatively poor average rates of compensation and extreme occupational segregation based on sex.

Despite circumstances which would seem to demand collective action, unionization in Canadian banks has met with limited success. While the organizational strategies of Canadian unions and such service sector features as the disparate location of tiny groups of employees, may provide a partial answer to this lack of success, the work of Lennon (1980) documents the effects of legislative inefficacy in dealing with a virtually unprecedented bank campaign against unionization. Indeed, examination of the case law subsequent to Lennon’s 1980 analysis demonstrates a continued inability (or unwillingness) across the labour relations boards of Ontario and Canada to deal consistently and effectively with the power imbalance created by the concerted campaign of the Canadian banks against the attempts of their employees to achieve collective representation.

The purpose of this paper is to examine the jurisprudence surrounding unionization attempts in the Canadian chartered banks (supplemented by decisions of the Ontario Labour Relations Board dealing with trust companies and credit unions) and to analyze the efficacy of legislation in dealing with the intransigence of the banking counter-campaign in order to identify possible areas for resolution of the barriers to collective representation for bank and other service sector workers. Prior to examination of the jurisprudence, the paper focuses on the nature of employment in the banking sector in order to provide a contextual framework for analysis of the efficacy of labour board decisions.

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First Contract Arbitration in Ontario: An Evaluation of the Early Experience

Unions continue to face difficulties in obtaining first agreements, due largely to the conduct of employers. Previously, bad faith bargaining complaints have been raised against such employers, but the detection criteria and remedial response used by the Board have been inadequate in dealing with first contract situations.

As a result, in 1986 Ontario adopted first contract arbitration to more effectively address first agreement cases. An early evaluation of this procedure suggests that the remedy of first agreement arbitration is more easily accessible than in bad faith bargaining inquiries. There seems to be, however, a reluctance to employ the procedure, partly due to the administrative burden and expense faced by the unions. Nevertheless, for those that do apply, there is a deterrent effect which encourages the parties to settle more quickly and voluntarily, without the involvement of the Board.

It is too early to know if the imposition of a collective agreement encourages long-lasting relationships, but this also represents a very small proportion of first contract cases. The deterrent impact, therefore, is the more critical factor. Based on the Ontario experience thus far, in at least some cases the remedy has effectively countered employer reluctance to recognize the union.

First Contract Arbitration in Ontario: An Evaluation of the Early Experience

Industrial Relations in the 1980s: Issues and Implications

The papers in this volume reflect these diverse and contradictory trends and patterns in Canadian industrial relations in the 1980s in the face of what some observers believe is “a fundamentally altered economic and public policy environment.” These papers were presented at a symposium held at Queen’s University on November 21, 1987, to mark the 50th anniversary of industrial relations programs at Queen’s University. The purpose of the symposium, chaired by the Honourable Senator Carl Goldenberg, was to assess the state of industrial relations in the 1980s and to determine whether recent developments signal a fundamental change in Canadian industrial relations, as some commentators have argued.

The volume was edited by Pradeep Kumar, and includes:

  • Introduction and Summary – By Pradeep Kumar
  • Labour Relations at General Motors of Canada – By Fred Curd Jr.
  • Union Approaches and Responses in the 1980s – By Sam Gindin
  • Flexibility: The Critical Issue in Industrial Relations – By Harold Giles
  • Breakdown of Public Sector Collective Bargaining – By John Fryer
  • Industrial Relations in the 1980s: A Mix of Adversarialism and Cooperation – By John T. Dunlop

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Two Tier Wage Systems

The purpose of this paper is to examine in more detail the nature and scope of two-tier wage systems in a Canadian context. The plan of the paper is as follows: first, it will examine the form which two-tier settlements have taken and provide some data on their prevalence. Second, it will examine possible legal implications of two-tier agreements, and in particular, whether a union which agrees to a lower wage rate for new hires risks violating its duty of fair representation. The final section assesses the long-term viability of two-tier wage systems.

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Employee Benefits and The Part-time Worker: Legal and Economic Issues

Part-time employment now stands at 16.6% of total employment in Canada and therefore governments and employers can no longer afford to ignore the demands of part-time workers for improved wages and benefits.

This paper attempts to examine part-time employment from both a legal and economic perspective, looking at the extent of part-time employment, the compensation arrangements for part-time employees with particular emphasis on benefits other than wages, and the apparent inequities in these arrangements. The treatment of part-time workers under existing employment standards and collective bargaining legislation is reviewed and the potential impact of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is examined. Finally, the actual cost of prorating benefits for part-time workers or paying cash in lieu of benefits is examined within the framework of the model developed in 1982 by Reid and Swartz. Overall, the available data seems to indicate that these costs are not overly excessive.

Interpretation of the Charter, although uncertain at this point in time, may require governments to amend existing employment legislation as it pertains to part-time workers to eliminate any discriminatory elements, and consequently force employers to provide a full range of benefits on a prorated basis.

The time has come to recognize part-time workers as a distinct group and to provide equitable compensation in terms of wages, and especially benefits. This may result in a more satisfied workforce and have positive effects on productivity, turnover, and absenteeism, and thereby assist to a large degree in offsetting the increase in costs of providing the prorated benefits.

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Recent Wage Deceleration: Short-Run Response or Structural Change?

Since 1982, wage inflation in Canada has shown a pronounced deceleration. Wage settlements and rates of increase in various measures of earnings have declined to their lowest level in the past 25 years. Wage cuts, wage freezes, de-indexing, and flexible compensation in the form of two-tier wage systems and lump-sum payments in lieu of wage increases have become a frequent occurrence in collective bargaining. This wage experience is somewhat of a novelty for Canada, and is also unique among OECD countries.

Many observers are wondering if the recent wage behaviour and related collective bargaining outcomes mark a turning point in industrial relations. More specifically, do the wage developments of the past few years reflect a fundamental change in wage setting processes or are they simply a natural and temporary response to the long and severe recession of 1981-82 and the subsequent uneven pattern of economic recovery?

This paper attempts to explore these questions. Its purpose is twofold: (a) to review recent trends in various wage indicators, in particular the wage and related outcomes of collective bargaining; and (b) to assess empirically if these trends are a product of the changed economic and labour market conditions or represent a structural change in wage setting processes.

The paper is divided into four sections. The first section looks at various aggregate wage and earnings series, including the base rate increase in new collective agreements, with a view to deriving some firm conclusions on the recent wage behaviour. Wage performance in post-war recessions and recoveries, and the developments in Canada and the U.S. are also briefly compared and contrasted. The following section examines in more detail wage and related outcomes of collective bargaining. In section three, predictions from estimated Phillips Curve wage equations are compared with actual wage increases to assess whether the recent wage deceleration can be explained by the high rates of unemployment and the steady decline in inflation since 1982, or represents a structural change in wage setting processes. The last section of the paper summarizes the extent and nature of wage flexibility and its policy implications.

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Part-time, Casual and Other Atypical Workers: A Legal View

Most academic labour lawyers in Canada are used to focussing their attention on the “traditional” employment relationship in which workers are more or less permanently employed by a single employer and regularly work forty or so hours per week. This paper focusses attention on the “Baker Street irregulars” of the labour market, to use a Sherlockian analogy. These are workers who do not fit the mould of the “traditional” employment relationship.

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Factfinding: A Dispute Resolution Procedure for Collective Bargaining

Many different forms of impasse procedure exist to facilitate arrival at an agreement once the parties, engaged in negotiations, reach an impasse. The more traditional approaches have tended to be the use of mediation (or conciliation), arbitration and strike/lockout. However, one other procedure that has widespread usage in the United States public sector and only limited usage in Canada, specifically with federal employees and Ontario teachers, is that of factfinding. This study examines the procedure by reviewing the existing literature on the subject.

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