Negotiating and Accessing Collective
Bargaining Agreements in Canada
Presentation at the
Government-to-Government Session and Seminar for an
Exchange of Information on Topics of Freedom of Association
and the Right to Bargain Collectively, 3rd Session
Puebla, Mexico, December 2008
Agreements in Canada
Freedom of Association under the Canadian
Charter of Rights and Freedoms
Federal, provincial and territorial governments are subject to the
Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the Charter), which is part
of the Constitution.
The rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter to all persons in
Canada—including the freedom of association—are subject only to
such reasonable limits prescribed by law as may be demonstrably
justified in a free and democratic society.
A recent Supreme Court of Canada decision confirmed that freedom
of association protects ―the right of employees to associate for the
purpose of advancing workplace goals through a process of collective
bargaining.‖ Laws and other forms of government action cannot
substantially interfere with the process of collective bargaining.
Key Principles of Collective Bargaining in Canada
Providing exclusive bargaining rights to a certified trade union which,
in turn, has a duty to represent employees in the bargaining unit fairly;
Requiring employers and certified trade unions to meet and bargain in
Emphasizing the use of dispute-resolution mechanisms (mediation,
conciliation and/or voluntary interest arbitration) if the parties reach an
impasse in negotiations;
Upholding the collective agreement and prohibiting work stoppages
while it is in force;
Prohibiting unfair labour practices by both employers and trade unions;
Establishing labour relations boards, which have quasi-judicial status,
to interpret and apply the law.
Overview of the Collective Bargaining Process
(Typical model for the private sector)
Notice to bargain Duty to bargain in good faith
Agreement reached Failure to reach agreement
(no third party intervention)
Legal strike/ (may be ordered
Settlement for first agreements
in 7 jurisdictions)
Ratification Vote on
(compulsory vote in final offer Note: rules regarding
some jurisdictions) (8 jurisdictions) Award/decision vary in each jurisdiction
(e.g., a vote on a final
offer may sometimes
This model is based on
COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT IN FORCE provisions found in a
majority of jurisdictions.
Duty to Bargain in Good Faith
Private-sector collective bargaining typically takes place at the
enterprise or workplace level, between an employer and a
certified trade union representing a bargaining unit.
Once notice to bargain is served by one of the parties on the
other, they are required to bargain in good faith with a view to
reaching an agreement on the terms and conditions of
employment. This means that the parties must meet with each
other, engage in meaningful dialogue and be willing to find a
middle ground between their opposing interests.
To protect individual rights and the collective bargaining process,
a statutory ―freeze‖ on employment conditions applies.
Dispute Resolution Mechanisms
If an impasse in negotiations is reached, conciliation, mediation
and/or voluntary interest arbitration services may be provided to the
Certain conditions must be met before a legal strike or lockout can
occur (e.g., undergoing a conciliation process, observing a ―cooling-
off‖ period and holding a secret-ballot strike vote of affected
First agreement arbitration—under which a collective agreement
may be determined for the parties—is also available in the federal
jurisdiction and in most provinces.
To facilitate settlement, an employer’s final offer in negotiations may
be put to a secret-ballot vote of the employees.
Upholding the Collective Agreement
In several jurisdictions, legislation provides that a collective
agreement must be ratified by secret-ballot vote of the
employees in order to be valid. However, even when not
required by law, ratification votes are a standard practice.
Strikes and lockouts are prohibited during the term of a collective
agreement. A mandatory procedure (usually grievance
arbitration) is used to resolve disputes arising from the
interpretation, application or alleged violation of the agreement.
The collective agreement is binding on the parties and is
enforceable in accordance with its terms.
Prohibition of Unfair Labour Practices
Unfair labour practices by employers and trade unions are
prohibited during the process of trade union certification and
– An employer interfering with or participating in the formation
or administration of a trade union.
– An employer imposing any condition in a contract of
employment that restricts an employee's legal rights.
– An employer bargaining collectively or entering into a
collective agreement with a trade union that is not the
bargaining agent for that bargaining unit.
– An employer or trade union using threats, coercion or
intimidation to compel or prevent another person’s
membership in a trade union.
Accessing Collective Agreements
Access as Standard Practice
Access to collective agreements for employees is not a major issue in
Although there is no explicit legal obligation for a trade union (or an
employer) to provide employees with a copy of their collective
agreement, it is standard practice in Canada to do so.
A trade union has an incentive to ensure that its members are informed
of their rights. If a majority of employees are dissatisfied with their union
representation, procedures exist allowing them, within limits, to select
another union to act on their behalf or to apply to a labour relations
board to decertify their union.
In some cases, a clause is included in the collective agreement to
require the employer to provide employees with a copy of the
agreement, and to specify how printing costs will be shared.
The process of ratifying a collective agreement also ensures that
employees are aware of its contents.
Language of Collective Agreements
Although physical access to collective agreements is not a
problem in Canada, some employees may have difficulties
comprehending their collective agreement because of a
In the province of Quebec, legislation requires all
collective agreements to be drafted in the French
language. This decision was made by the provincial
legislature more than 30 years ago to ensure that French-
speaking workers (the majority of the population in that
province) can read and understand their collective
Public Access to Collective Agreements
In all Canadian jurisdictions, the parties are required by law to
file their collective agreement with a government department
(such as the Ministry of Labour) or a labour relations board.
Although mainly for research and statistical purposes, this
provides an additional avenue for employees seeking
information about their rights.
In the federal jurisdiction and most provinces, any person can
access and download collective agreements through a public
online database, usually free of charge. Other jurisdictions have
collective agreement libraries that can be accessed by the
Negotech: Example of an Online Database
Employees covered by federal legislation (and many
provincially regulated employees) can access their collective
agreement by contacting the Workplace Information Division or
through the free Negotech database, available on the Internet at
Negotech contains all available collective agreements in the
federal jurisdiction—about 1,700 in total. It also contains the
roughly 3,800 provincial jurisdiction agreements covering 500 or
In addition, it provides summary reports highlighting significant
changes in recently signed collective agreements.