The collective bargaining process is governed by the Nova Scotia Trade Union Act. References to relevant section(s) are noted below for a better understanding of the process and of general strike or labour interruption terminology.
What is a collective agreement?
A collective agreement is a written contract between the university and a union that outlines many of the terms and conditions of employment for employees in a bargaining unit. (S.2(1))
What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining – known also as ‘negotiations’ — is the framework under which the negotiation of the collective agreement takes place. It is a process in which a union and an employer negotiate, in good faith, to achieve a collective agreement. Where there are mature contracts in place, the parties usually focus on improving such issues as wages, vacation and other terms under the contract. (S.2 (1))
What happens if, during negotiations, an employer and a union cannot agree on the terms to be included in a collective agreement?
If the parties cannot settle a collective agreement – this is sometimes called bargaining to an ‘impasse’ — either party may ask the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education to appoint a conciliator to assist the parties reach an agreement.
What is conciliation?
Conciliation is the process of intervention in collective bargaining by a neutral third party who is knowledgeable in effective negotiation procedures. This third party is called a “Conciliator.” This person helps bring the parties together in order to reach a collective agreement, but has no authority to make decisions. (S.37)
What if the conciliator isn’t able to help resolve the impasse?
The Conciliator will file a confidential report with the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. (S. 38)
Once the report is filed, A 14-calendar-day countdown period begins at 12:01 am on the day following the filing. During the countdown period, the employer is not permitted to increase or decrease rates of wages or alter any other term or condition of employment. Nor is a union able to commence a strike action during the count down period.
The Conciliator may request the parties to attend a meeting during the countdown period in a further attempt to reach a settlement if the conciliator believes reaching an agreement is possible. If the parties are unable to reach a settlement, a work stoppage may be initiated by either the union or the employer.The following conditions must be met before either party may engage in a legal work stoppage:
• The 14-calendar-day countdown must have expired; and
• Written 48 hours’ notice of intention to strike by the union or lockout by the employer must be received by the Minister.
In addition to the above, any union wishing to commence a strike must have conducted a secret-ballot vote where the majority of affected members have voted to support strike action. (S.47)
Does a labour action (strike) vote have to take place before labour action? How does it happen?
Yes. (S.47 (3))
A labour action or strike vote by secret ballot is required before a union can lawfully commence a strike of employees in the bargaining unit. A union holding a vote is a common occurrence in collective bargaining and does not mean that labour action will occur. Labour action votes may occur either before or after a conciliation exercise. It is a union’s decision as to when a vote may be called.
All employees in a bargaining unit have the right to participate in such a vote and must have ample opportunity to cast a ballot at a reasonably convenient time and place and a majority of such employees have voted in favour of labour action.
This is a vote that is conducted entirely by the union; it is not supervised by the Minister of Labour and Advanced Education. It is entirely up to the union as to whether it releases the specific vote results. The outcome of the vote will tell the union whether the employees in the bargaining unit authorize the union to call labour action. As a result, all bargaining unit members are encouraged to participate in the vote.
What is labour action or a strike?
Labour action, or a strike, is a cessation of work, a refusal to work or to continue work, by employees in combination or in concert with a common understanding, or a slow-down or other concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit production for the purpose of compelling an employer to agree to terms or conditions of employment. (S.2 (1)(v))
What is a lock-out?
A lock-out is the suspension of work by the employer for the purpose of compelling bargaining unit employees to agree to terms or conditions of employment. (S.2 (1) (o))
What is a tentative agreement?
A tentative agreement means the university’s and the union’s negotiating teams have agreed to the terms of a collective agreement, but the terms have not yet been agreed to (“ratified”) by either the bargaining unit members or the university’s governing body – the Board of Governors.
What is a ratification vote?
Ratification by the union is the process by which members of the bargaining unit vote to accept or reject the terms of the collective agreement that the university and union have negotiated. The ratification vote happens at the end of collective bargaining, after the university and the union have reached a tentative agreement.
All members of the bargaining unit have the right to vote. Each person gets one vote. The vote must be conducted by secret ballot. The collective agreement is considered “ratified” by the bargaining unit if a majority of those voting accept the terms of the tentative collective agreement. (S.103 (5))
A collective agreement is ratified by the university, when the tentative agreement is approved by the Board of Governors. (S.103 (6))
Once both parties have ratified the tentative collective agreement, it is signed and becomes the new collective agreement.
Does a “yes” on a labour action (strike) vote mean that a labour action will happen?
No. The outstanding issues at the bargaining table are important ones, both to CBU and the Union. An agreement can be reached at any time after a labour action vote. The conciliation process, in particular, provides an opportunity for both parties, with the help of a skilled conciliator appointed by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education, to reach a tentative agreement. CBU will be approaching the meetings with the aid of a conciliator appointed by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education with a view to a successful outcome.