Canada: The Information And Rights For Unions Under The Labour Relations Code

The recent British Columbia Labour Relations Board (the "Board") decision in Royal Road University v. Royal Roads University Faculty Association, 2018 CanLII 88451 (BC LRB) sheds light on what rights unions have to specific information about membership under the Labour Relations Code, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 244 (the "Code") for collective bargaining.

Royal Roads University (the "Employer") is a public applied research university. The Faculty Association (the "Association") is the certified bargaining agent for 75 full-time faculty and academic librarians. The parties operate under a collective agreement with a current term ending on March 31, 2019.

In January 2016, the Association requested information from the Employer about its bargaining unit members so that it could review the existing collective agreement provisions and prepare proposals for collective bargaining. Part of the information the Association requested was the members' letters of appointment as well as their gender and age (the "Disputed Information").

The Employer responded to the request by providing the Association with personal contact information, employee identification numbers, school/faculty, date of hiring, academic degree at hiring date, rank at hiring, salary at hiring, date of first promotion/rank assigned, current probation/continuation status, current faculty rank, and highest degree attained at current role. The Employer also provided the number of males and females and a breakdown of the numbers of employees within various age ranges. However, the Employer refused to provide the Disputed Information.

The Association alleged that was interference with the administration of a trade union in breach of s. 6(1) of the Code. The Association claimed it needed the Disputed Information to prepare for and engage in meaningful collective bargaining.

The Employer argued that it was required to provide the Association with the Disputed Information for the purposes of collective bargaining and further questioned whether it was permitted under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 165 ("FIPPA") to disclose the information without the members' consent.

The Board reviewed prior case law in respect of what information a union is entitled to in the specific context of preparation for collective bargaining and found it was quite clear that a union is entitled to the contact information of its members, their wage rates, and certain information about benefits.

The Board then went through the test to be applied to determine if withholding certain information constitutes a breach of s. 6(1) of the Code:

  1. does the employer have a sound business reason for its refusal to provide the information;
  2. can the information be easily supplied; and
  3. does the union need the information in order to fulfill its statutory obligations to represent the employees in the bargaining unit?

When considering the first step, the Board held that privacy concerns are not a sound business reason for refusing to provide information to a union that is necessary for collective bargaining and, in any event, s. 33.1(c) of FIPPA permits disclosure if required to comply with a law of British Columbia, such as the Code.

There was no dispute under the second branch of the test as the Employer had not argued the information could not be easily supplied.

Under the third branch of the test, the Board noted that the real issue was whether the Association needed the information to engage in collective bargaining to fulfill its statutory obligations as opposed to whether it needed the information to research specific proposals that it may or may not make when collective bargaining commenced.

The Board found that birth dates and genders were not required for the Association to fulfill its obligations and noted that there were further avenues under s. 11 of the Code to seek such information during collective bargaining in the context of specific proposals. The Board also found that the same was true of the letters of appointment and that, based on the reasons put forward by the Association for their necessity, it appeared that these were sought instead for monitoring of the administration of the current collective agreement for possible breaches. The Board further stated that entitlement to specific information about membership, such as demographics and hiring documents, is not a basic right enshrined in the Code and that if the Association wished to assert a right to this information of its members, such rights could be obtained through bargaining.

The Employer was found not to have interfered with the administration of a trade union by withholding the Disputed Information.

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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