Canada: Legislative Amendments To Modernize Labour Law In Newfoundland And Labrador

On June 19, 2012, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador introduced substantial legislative amendments to the Labour Relations Act (Bill No. 37) and Public Service Collective Bargaining Act (Bill No. 38) as part of the Government's attempt to realize the following goals:

  • Maintenance of a positive labour relations climate in Newfoundland and Labrador;
  • Maximizing job creation in the province; and
  • Maximizing economic benefits and employment relations stability.

The amendments result from recommendations made in three significant reviews relating to the labour relations framework in Newfoundland and Labrador. The minister responsible for the Labour Relations Agency expressed that the changes "reflect a balanced approach and are the result of a considerable amount of input from both labour organizations and employers".

The reviews considered include:

  • Final Report of the Voisey's Bay Industrial Inquiry Commission;
  • James Oakley Report on the Special Project Order (SPO) provisions of the Labour Relations Act; and
  • Review of the Labour Relations Act conducted by the Employment Relations Committee of the Strategic Partnership Council.

The provincial government hopes that the changes help to ensure that legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador reflects current practice in other jurisdictions. Highlights of the intended amendments include:

  • Instituting a card-based certification system requiring automatic certification in instances where 65 per cent of the employees in the bargaining unit sign a union membership card. If 40 per cent to 64 per cent of the employees sign cards, a certification vote would be required;
  • The Labour Relations Act and the Public Service Collective Bargaining Act (PSCBA) would be amended to allow either party (the employer in the case of the PSCBA) to request during collective bargaining that a vote of the employees of the bargaining unit be conducted to accept or reject either party's (the employer in the case of the PSCBA) most recent offer. As this would be a new requirement for the Labour Relations Board, proclamation will occur once the board advises that appropriate processes and procedures are established;
  • The Labour Relations Act would be amended to:
    • Recognize the right of an employer to communicate with employees so long as the employer does not do so in a manner that is intimidating, coercive, threatening or attempts unduly to exert influence;
    • Require that the minister appoint a mediator where the parties have failed to conclude a first collective agreement.
    • Impose time frames for the Labour Relations Board in relation to the imposition of first collective agreements;
    • Require that parties to a collective agreement establish a labour management committee on the written request of one of the parties;
    • Provide additional powers to the Labour Relations Board to address consequences of failure to bargain in good faith;
    • Redefine "special project" to reduce the required construction period from three to two years;
    • Allow for regulations to prescribe either the geographic site or the scope of work to be included or excluded from a Special Project Order; and
    • Clarify that special project orders may overlap temporally and geographically.

What this means to you

Providing automatic certification when 65 per cent of the workers sign membership union cards would be a significant change. Currently, unless there is an unfair labour practice, union certification follows a vote by secret ballot. This gives the employer some opportunity to communicate (within legal restrictions) with its workforce regarding the benefits and disadvantages of union certification. As proposed, unions could place pressure on employees to sign membership cards that may or may not be indicative of whether the employee is in favour of certification.

Allowing employers to place the last offer to the membership for a vote during collective bargaining would be a positive change for employers. Unions would need to be mindful of employee support when rejecting offers made during collective bargaining.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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