Labour relations: frequently asked questions

What is a collective agreement?

A collective agreement is a written contract between an employer and a group of employees represented by a union. This agreement governs the terms and conditions of employment and contains the rights, privileges and duties of the employer, the union and employees represented by the union. The City of Guelph has seven collective agreements with seven unions and 10 employee groups.

What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is a process in which a union and an employer negotiate a group agreement. In this process, the parties usually focus on such issues as wages, working conditions, grievance procedures and employee benefits.

What is good-faith bargaining?

Bargaining where two parties make every reasonable effort to reach a collective agreement. Good-faith bargaining does not preclude “hard bargaining” by either party.

What is the usual outcome of collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining usually results in reaching an agreement acceptable to the union and employer through negotiations at the bargaining table. If during negotiations, the employer and the union cannot agree on the terms of a collective agreement, either the employer or the union may ask the Minister of Labour to appoint a conciliator who will then try to help the parties reach an agreement.

What is conciliation?

A union or an employer can ask the Ministry of Labour to appoint a conciliator to help resolve their differences so that they can reach a collective agreement. During negotiations parties must use the government’s conciliation services before they can get into a position to engage in a strike or lockout.

What if the employer and the union can’t reach agreement in conciliation?

The conciliator informs the Minister of Labour that a collective agreement was unable to be effected. At that point, the minister typically issues a notice informing the union and the employer that he or she “does not consider it advisable to appoint a conciliation board” (cl. 21(b) of the Act). This notice is known as a “no board”.

What further negotiation assistance is available after a “no board” notice is issued?

If the parties have not reached a settlement in the conciliation stage, the Ministry offers to provide the services of a mediator who will confer with the parties and try to help a union and an employer reach a collective agreement. Mediation is discretionary and the service is only used if both parties are amenable to it.

Is conciliation the same as arbitration?

No, conciliation should not be confused with arbitration. Arbitration is a quasi-judicial process in which a third party assesses the parties’ positions and imposes a binding settlement.

What is a strike?

The Labour Relations Act, 1995 defines a strike as a cessation of work, a refusal to work or to continue to work by employees in combination or in concert or in accordance with a common understanding, or a slow-down or other concerted activity on the part of employees designed to restrict or limit output.

What is a lockout?

The Labour Relations Act, 1995 defines a lockout as the closing of a place of employment, a suspension of work or a refusal by an employer to continue to employ a number of employees, with a view to compel or induce the employees, or to aid another employer to compel or induce that employer’s employees, to refrain from exercising any rights or privileges under this Act or to agree to provisions or changes in provisions respecting terms or conditions of employment or the rights, privileges or duties of the employer, an employer’s organization, the union, or the employees.

When are the parties in a legal position to strike or lockout?

A strike or lockout is legal beginning on the 17th day after the minister mails the “no board” notice.

Must there be a strike vote before a strike can take place?

Employees cannot lawfully strike unless a strike vote by secret ballot is taken within 30 days or less before the collective agreement expires or at any time after the collective agreement expires and more than 50 per cent of those voting by secret ballot in favour of the strike. A strike vote must be by secret ballot and all people eligible to vote must have ample opportunity to do so. All employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not they are members of the union, are entitled to participate in such a vote.

What does it mean to ratify a union contract?

Once both the City and the union have reached an agreement, the contract must go to the union members for ratification. Ratification by the union is the process by which members of the bargaining unit vote to accept or reject the terms of the collective agreement that the City and union have negotiated.

(Content sourced Ontario Ministry of Labour and the University of Western Department of Communications and Public Affairs)