Monday, February 4, 2019

Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board Applies Duty to Comply with Collective Agreement by Greg

Part VI of the Saskatchewan Employment Act ("SEA") includes provisions requiring parties to comply with their obligations under collective agreements, and empowering the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board to treat breaches as unfair labour practices.

It has been unclear when the Board would exercise jurisdiction to interpret collective agreements, a responsibility which would often be treated as the role of an arbitrator rather than the Board. But a recent decision offers an indication that the Board will not hesitate to decide issues under section 6-41, nor impose any burden on applicants other than to advance the correct interpretation of a collective agreement. 

In United Steelworkers v Universal Horticulture Ltd., LRB File No. 194-16 (PDF), the parties has agreed by consent to amend the bargaining unit description in an active certification order to consist of the employer's "operations at Carrot River, Saskatchewan". An issue arose as to the employer's obligations in using its own employees to begin operations at a new bog some distance from Carrot River.  

The applicant union argued that the employer had breached the SEA by failing to recognize it at the new bog, and by failing to remit dues. The employer argued that the application was brought too late, and that it had not violated the SEA or the collective agreement in any event.

Chairperson Amrud first considered "without prejudice" communications between the parties, and concluded at paragraph 47 that they provided a basis to relieve against the normal timelines for the filing of an unfair labour practice application.

She then considered the merits, including by considering the respective application of a Letter of Intent and the main text of the collective agreement. She held that the employer had breached the SEA merely because it "failed to comply with the Collective Agreement": see in particular paragraph 62.

Neither party specifically raised the possibility of deferring the matter to arbitration, and it appears likely that the Board's past jurisprudence on that point will continue to apply. See for example International Brotherhood Of Electrical Workers, Local 2038 v PCL Intracon Power Inc., 2017 CanLII 68787 (SK LRB), and particularly the authorities cited at paras. 26-31.

However, where violations of a collective agreement have ramifications under both a collective agrement under the SEA, parties can now point to a precedent in which the Board has engaged in a direct analysis as to the meaning of a collective agreement, and found non-compliance to be an unfair labour practice. And the result may be a greater comfort level in pursuing matters before the Board in cases where both processes might plausibly be considered. 

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