The Superior Court1 has reversed a Commission des relations du travail (CRT) ruling that the Government of Quebec had negotiated in bad faith in the 2003-2005 collective bargaining round with the public and parapublic sectors. The court justified its intervention on the grounds that the CRT had failed to analyze the evidence as a whole, which had resulted in an abbreviated analysis and had ultimately led to an excess of jurisdiction.
At the end of January 2012, the CRT handed down the decision Association des juristes de l'État2 in which, after 72 days of hearings, it determined that the government and its representatives had by, among other things, remaining inflexible on salary issues throughout the bargaining process, failed to negotiate in good faith during the bargaining round with the public and parapublic sectors.3 The bargaining round ended with the passage of An Act respecting the conditions of employment in the public sector4 (Bill 43). The Superior Court has just quashed that CRT decision, sending the case back to the CRT in order to have another commissioner rule on the complaints alleging that the government had negotiated in bad faith.
Main legal issues
In addition to the technical arguments raised by the Attorney-General of Quebec (AG) regarding the CRT's lack of jurisdiction after the passage of Bill 43, the AG maintains that the CRT exceeded its jurisdiction when it found that the government had negotiated in bad faith:
- by adopting a firm budgetary framework;
- by including the potential cost of pay equity in that budgetary framework.
The court starts from the position that all such issues must be reviewed under the unreasonableness standard. It then dismisses the AG's arguments regarding the CRT's lack of jurisdiction after the passage of Bill 43.
As for the CRT's finding that the government had negotiated in bad faith by adopting a firm budgetary framework throughout the negotiations, the court points out that the CRT would have done better if it had analyzed the offers presented to the labour organizations instead of confining its analysis to the budgetary framework, because, as the AG argued, although there was only one budgetary framework, it is not accurate to say the government never improved on its initial offers. It was primarily the CRT's failure to analyze the reasonableness of the employer's offers and the unions' demands that made its decision unreasonable. In the court's opinion, the CRT disregarded a substantial part of the evidence (scope and conduct of negotiations, results obtained at the sector tables, considerations leading to the adoption of the government's budgetary framework) without explaining why, except to indicate that such an exercise would be "pointless and tedious."
As for the CRT's finding that the government had negotiated in bad faith by including the potential cost of pay equity in the budgetary framework, the court notes that the government submitted detailed evidence explaining why it had to include the cost of the pay equity settlement in its budgetary framework. According to the court, instead of analyzing that evidence and deciding whether the action by the government was objectively unreasonable, which is what it ought to have done, the CRT simply separated out the inclusion of the potential cost of pay equity in the budgetary framework from the rest of the evidence, concluding that it was another example of the government not negotiating in good faith. Through this abbreviated analysis of the evidence, the CRT again exceeded its jurisdiction.
The court adds that even if the CRT was not bound to agree with the government's position, it should at least have analyzed that position and, if it had then found that there was bad faith, it should have explained why it was setting aside such evidence, especially in a context where a substantial part of the evidence was not disputed.
Consequently, the Superior Court reversed the CRT's decision and sent the case back to the CRT to have another commissioner rule on the aforementioned complaints.
This decision serves as a reminder that, taken on its own, negotiating within a strict budgetary framework is not proof of bad faith. To rule on such matters, it is therefore necessary to consider the reasonableness of the employer's offers and the unions' demands. It should be noted that a motion for leave to appeal this decision has been filed. We will be following this continuing administrative and legal saga for you and will let you know what happens next.
1 Québec (Gouvernement du) c Garant, 2013 QCCS 28, Claudine Roy, J.S.C.
2 Association des juristes de l'État et Syndicat des agents de la paix en service correctionnel du Québec et autres, 2012 QCCRT 0043.
3 For a summary of this decision, see our Legal update published in March 2012 here.
4 SQ 2005 c 43.
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