Collective Bargaining FAQs

Content sourced from Ontario Ministry of Labour

1. What is a collective agreement?

A collective agreement is a written contract of employment covering a group of employees who are represented by a union. This agreement contains provisions governing the terms and conditions of employment. It also contains the rights, privileges and duties of the employer, the union and the employees. Western has eight collective agreements with unions and three employee agreements with employee associations.

2. What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process in which a union and an employer negotiate a group agreement. In this process, the parties usually focus on such issues as wages, working conditions, grievance procedures and benefits.

3. How are negotiations for a collective agreement begun?

Either the employer or the union may give notice to bargain within the 90 days before the current 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. (See Sections 16, 17 and 59 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995)

4. What happens if, during negotiations, the employer and the union cannot agree on the terms of a collective agreement?

Collective bargaining usually results in an agreement acceptable to the union and employer that is reached through negotiations at the bargaining table. If, during negotiations, the employer and the union cannot agree on the terms of a collective agreement, either the employer or the union may ask the Minister of Labour to appoint a conciliation officer. This officer will then try to help the parties reach an agreement (See Section 18 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995)

5. What is conciliation?

Conciliation is a process by which a union or an employer can ask the Ministry of Labour for help in resolving their differences so that they can reach a collective agreement. Either party may apply to the Ministry. If parties are in negotiations, conciliation is mandatory in the sense that the parties must use the government's conciliation services before they can get into a position to engage in a strike or lock-out.

6. What if the employer and the union cannot reach agreement in conciliation?

The conciliation officer informs the Minister of Labour that a collective agreement was unable to be effected. 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" (cl. 21(b) of the Act). This notice is known colloquially as the "no board". [Conciliation boards are exceedingly rare. They have not been appointed since the 1960s.]

7. What further assistance is available to the bargaining parties after a "no board" gets issued?

If the parties have not reached a settlement in the conciliation stage, the Ministry offers to provide the services of a mediator who will confer with the parties and endeavour to effect a collective agreement. Mediation is also a process by which a third party attempts to help a union and an employer in reaching a collective agreement. Since mediation is discretionary, the service is only used if both parties are amenable to it.

8. What is a strike?

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.

9. What is a lock-out?

The Labour Relations Act, 1995 defines a lock-out as the closing of a place of employment, a suspension of work or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ a number of employees, with a view to compel or induce the employees, or to aid another employer to compel or induce that employer's employees, to refrain from exercising any rights or privileges under this Act or to agree to provisions or changes in provisions respecting terms or conditions of employment or the rights, privileges or duties of the employer, an employer's organization, the union, or the employees.

10. When are the parties in a legal position to strike or lock-out?

A strike or lock-out is legal beginning on the 17th day after the Minister mails the "no board" notice. For example, if the notice was mailed on August 1, the parties can legally strike or lock out on August 18. There can be some confusion about this because the Act states that the period is 14 days after the release of a notice. The notice is not deemed to have been released, however, until the second day after it was mailed. This extends the period to 16 days, and since they must be 'clear' days, it means that a strike cannot legally start until the beginning of the 17th day. (See Sections 79(2)(b) and 122(2)(a) of the Labour Relations Act, 1995).

11. Must there be a strike vote before a strike can take place?

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 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, whether or not they are members of the union, are entitled to participate in such a vote. (See Section 79 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995).

12. Can the employer request a vote of employees on the employer's final offer?

Any time before or after the commencement of a strike or lock-out, the employer may request the Minister of Labour to direct a vote of the employees in the affected bargaining unit as to their acceptance or rejection of the employer's final offer on all matters remaining in dispute. Upon the receipt of such a request, the Minister is obligated to cause such a vote to be conducted (except in the construction industry where the Minister's authority to direct a vote is discretionary). Neither the request to the Minister nor the holding of the vote affect the time periods set out in the Act. (See Section 42 of the Labour Relations Act, 1995).