Bargaining under C-4: Living with conciliation
With the passage of Bill C-4, the Harper government put an end to CAPE’s long tradition of resorting to arbitration in collective bargaining. On many occasions in the past, the arbitration process made it possible for us to renew collective agreements without any work stoppages. However, Bill C-4 has brought about a sea change by imposing “conciliation/strike” as the process for dispute resolution. This approach pits both parties against each other and can result in strike action.
The Conservative government’s choice in this matter could lead to serious consequences for CAPE’s membership. Previously, whenever negotiations at the bargaining table reached an impasse, arbitration allowed the union to call upon a third party to impose a collective agreement. This approach eliminated the need for work stoppages. However, C-4 has changed all that.
From now on in bargaining for the renewal of collective agreements in the federal public sector, the government has the authority to decide which unions are entitled to use arbitration as a dispute settlement mechanism and which ones are required to use conciliation/strike. For CAPE, the government has chosen the latter. CAPE recently asked Treasury Board to opt for arbitration in its negotiations at the EC and TR bargaining tables “in order to respect Canadian taxpayers who wish that the parties at the bargaining table work out their differences in a reasoned fashion that avoids the uncertainty of potential service interruptions.”*1
The government rejected this request out of hand, stating that “the Employer does not wish to switch the dispute mechanism currently in place to arbitration.”*2 CAPE is therefore now being forced against its will to use conciliation/strike as a dispute settlement mechanism in collective bargaining.
What does this mean for CAPE members?
If CAPE bargaining team members determine that it is impossible to reach an agreement at the bargaining table, they can ask the government to establish a public interest commission (PIC), the members of which would be obliged to take into account the criteria set out in the Act, such as “Canada’s fiscal circumstances relative to its stated budgetary policies,” which favour the employer. In addition, a PIC’s recommendations are not binding. After a PIC is established, both parties present their respective demands to the PIC’s members who then prepare a draft collective agreement.
If CAPE’s bargaining team finds the agreement proposed by the PIC to be unacceptable, a decision must then be made as to whether further negotiation is possible or whether it is advisable to proceed to a strike vote. The President of CAPE can ask for a strike vote to be held seven days after the publication of the PIC’s report.
Prior to Bill C-4, the employer and the employee representatives had to negotiate a list of essential services, that is, those services it would be necessary to maintain in the event of a work stoppage. With the passage of C-4, the Conservative government granted itself the right to make such designations unilaterally, putting an end to negotiations with employees on the issue of essential services.
Under the new changes, if the government were to inadvertently decree that more than 80% of the members of a bargaining unit occupied essential positions, that bargaining unit would automatically be entitled to resort to arbitration. Conversely, the government could easily designate 75% of the positions in a bargaining unit to be essential, thereby considerably reducing the impact of any work stoppage by that unit. The constitutionality of these new provisions is being challenged in the Ontario Superior Court by the Public Service Alliance of Canada on behalf of all federal public service bargaining agents.
CAPE’s membership is facing an unprecedented assault from a Conservative government that would like to see labour relations rolled back to what they were in the nineteenth century, when bosses simply dictated the wages and conditions of employment of their workers, with employees having no say in the matter whatsoever.
The collective rights and bargaining powers enjoyed by CAPE members are therefore being threatened. For this reason, CAPE has developed a series of information courses on union activism and mobilization, and it has reinforced the internal structure of several of its Locals. This is also why CAPE’s National Executive Council created a Mobilization / Job Action Committee (MJAC) to strengthen communications with members during the current round of collective bargaining. From now on, therefore, and until the next collective agreement is ratified, unflagging solidarity on the part of CAPE’s membership is essential. Contact your Local Leaders to obtain the latest information and to send messages of encouragement and support to the members of your bargaining team. Visiting CAPE’s website is also an excellent way to keep up with the most recent news and information.
*1 Letter of April 22, 2014, from CAPE to Treasury Board *2 Letter of May 9, 2014, from Treasury Board to CAPE