On April 30, 2019, the British Columbia government tabled Bill 30, Labour Relations Code Amendment Act, 2019 to provide greater protection for unionized workers. According to the government, the changes will also bring greater stability for employers and more durable labour relations.
The labour changes are based on a report by a three-member, independent panel appointed last year that made 29 recommendations. The panel included labour and business representatives.
Harry Bains, Minister of Labour said that “for many years, B.C.’s workers have seen employment rights and job security seriously threatened. And yet the Labour Relations Code hasn’t had a substantive review since 1992.”
Under the amended Labour Relations Code, some key provisions include:
1. Union certification. The Labour Relations Board will have broader discretion to impose union certification when an employer is found to have improperly interfered in the certification process. Therefore, secret ballot votes for union certifications will be retained, but the Labour Relations Board will have broader discretion to impose union certification if an employer is found to have interfered in the process. The time requirements between an application for certification and an employee vote will also be shortened from ten days to five business days.
2. Union raids. The Code permits employees to change their bargaining units, but only at certain times during the life of a collective agreement. When a new union secures the support of a majority of the employees in that unit and applies for certification, this is called a raid. Current legislation allows for raids to occur in the seventh or eighth month of each year of the collective agreement. The amendments will change the period of raids. For collective agreements of three years or less, raids may occur in the seventh or eighth month of the last year of the agreement. For collective agreements of more than three years, raids may occur in the seventh or eighth month of the third year of the agreement and in each subsequent year.
3. Education as an essential service. An “essential service” designation limits a bargaining unit’s ability to strike. Some services, such as paramedics, police and fire are recognized as essential services because strike action would create a threat to life, personal safety or health of the population. Educational programs that had previously been designated as an essential service will no longer be so. British Columbia is the only province to specifically include education in its essential service provisions. With the removal of the essential service status, the government said the British Columbia teachers union would still have to meet a test through the provincial labour board in order to take strike action.
4. Successorship protection. Union contracts will also be protected under the changes, giving successorship protection to service contracts re-tendered by employers in building cleaning/janitorial, security, bus/transportation, food and non-clinical health services.
5. Definition of picket and picketing. The Bill repeals and replaces the definition of “picket” or “picketing” and in doing so excludes from the definition lawful consumer leafleting that meets specified conditions.
“Picket” or “picketing” will mean attending at or near a person’s place of business, operations or employment for the purpose of persuading or attempting to persuade anyone not to (a) enter that place of business, operations or employment, (b) deal in or handle that person’s product, or (c) do business with that person, and a similar act at such a place that has an equivalent purpose, but does not include lawful consumer leafleting that does not unduly restrict access to, or egress from that place of business, operations or employment or prevent employees from working at, or from that place of employment .
6. Reviewing the Code every five years. Bill 30 requires the minister to appoint a committee of special advisors to review the Code and make recommendations to the minister, with a new committee appointed not more than five years after the previous committee makes recommendations to the minister. Bill 30 requires the committee of special advisors to conduct consultations when reviewing the Code. This is to ensure the Labour Relations Code continues to meet the needs of workers and employers.
7. Freedom to communicate. Bill 30 provides for a right to communicate; moreover, that the Code does not deprive a person of the freedom to communicate to an employee, a statement of fact or opinion reasonably held with respect to the employer’s business.
8. Term of the collective agreement and expiry date. If there are two or more years remaining in the term of a collective agreement and there is a change in union representation, the new union can apply to the Labour Relations Board for an order that declares that collective agreement to expire in 90 days, thereby providing the new union with an opportunity to begin collective bargaining. In addition, expanding the period by which an employer is restricted from altering the terms and conditions of bargaining unit members’ employment from four months to 12 months after certification or the execution of a new collective agreement.
9. Case management for arbitrations. Requiring case management for arbitrations within 30 days of the appointment of an arbitration board.
10. Fines and penalties. Increasing the fine imposed on a party who neglects or refuses to observe or carry out an order made under the Code from $1,000 to $5,000 for individuals, and from $10,000 to $50,000 for corporations, trade unions or employers’ organizations.
Bill 30 received second reading on May 14, 2019 and sent to committee for review and possible amendments. If enacted, the modest changes outlined above will have an impact on all unionized workplaces in British Columbia.