On June 4, 2014, in British Columbia Public School
Employers' Association -and- British Columbia Teachers'
Federation, BCLRB No. B104/2014, the British Columbia Labour
Relations Board issued an interesting decision arising from the
ongoing dispute between the British Columbia Public School
Employers' Association (the "BCPSEA" - the bargaining
agent representing all public boards of education in BC) and the
British Columbia Teachers' Federation (the "BCTF" -
the union that represents BC teachers). The decision is a helpful
reminder of the powers of an employer to unilaterally change terms
and conditions of employment when no collective agreement is in
On April 17, 2014, (BCLRB No. B74/2014), the parties agreed on
an essential services framework under which the teachers could
withdraw their services. Withdrawal of non-core educational
activities, including before and after school supervision, could be
mitigated by management and excluded staff performing those
activities. Notice periods were also set for the teachers'
total withdrawal of services for one or more days.
The teachers did withdraw some non-teaching services and
implemented rotating strikes though different school districts in
accordance with the April 17 agreement. In response, the BCPSEA
engaged in a partial lockout, not allowing teachers to attend
school more than 45 minutes before or after school hours. The
BCPSEA also reduced teacher salaries by 10%, which it said was
meant to compensate for the partial lockout. The BCTF claimed that
the salary reduction wasn't contemplated by the April 17
agreement, and wasn't otherwise allowed for reasons relating to
an essential services designation. The BCPSEA argued that it was
entitled to reduce salaries because there was no collective
agreement in effect, and that the reduction in salary did not
offend the April 17 agreement.
The Labour Relations Board agreed with the BCPSEA, and relied on
the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Canadian Assn. of
Industrial, Mechanical and Allied Workers, Local 14 v. Paccar of
Canada Ltd,  2 S.C.R. 983, which decided that when there
is no collective agreement in place, there is no legal reason why
an employer cannot unilaterally alter the terms of employment,
including wages paid to employees.
In recent years, unilateral alteration by the employer of the
terms and conditions of employment has been used less frequently in
collective bargaining, but, in certain circumstances, it remains an
effective tactic to exert pressure on a union as part of the
collective bargaining process. The Labour Relations Board's
decision provides a useful reminder to employers that there is no
reason to adhere to the terms of a collective agreement that is no
longer in force. A reduction in salary or benefits, or other cost
saving changes, may provide a preferable alternative to a total
lockout, particularly if the employer believes that the union will
not strike because of the changes. Even if the union decides to
strike over a partial lockout, that is usually better than a
lockout, for public relations reasons, and it can have the effect
of bringing the negotiation of a new collective agreement to a
In the case of the BCPSEA and the BCTF dispute, the union
declared a full-scale strike on June 17, 2014 and it continues as
of this writing.
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about your specific circumstances.
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