Changes that make collective bargaining more accessible will help protect workers who want more say about workplace safety, compensation and benefits.
The new single-step certification process will enable workers to join a union when a clear majority of employees indicate they want to, as is the case in jurisdictions such as Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and federally regulated workplaces.
Collective bargaining helps workers obtain better pay and workplace benefits, supporting an inclusive economy that works for everyone.
“Throughout this pandemic, we’ve seen that many people want to make their workplaces safer, provide more input to their work schedules and negotiate better wages and benefits, and they should be able to this without barriers,” said Harry Bains, Minister of Labour. “The current two-step system can lead to interference in organizing. Under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, workers who wish to collectively organize must not be impeded in any way.”
The current two-step system requires a minimum of 45% of workers at a job site to sign membership cards and, once that threshold is reached, workers must then restate their preference for a union through an additional vote – even if a clear majority of workers has already chosen to join the union. It’s at this stage, between the certification application and the vote, that interference can often occur.
Under the new amendments:
- If 55% or more of employees in a workplace indicate their intent to unionize by signing union membership cards, a union will be certified and no further vote is required.
- If between 45% and 55% of employees sign union membership cards, a second step consisting of a secret ballot vote is required for certification.
“The nature of work has changed, with growing wealth inequality and new types of precarious and gig work,” Bains said. “Workers want to be valued and they want to have a say. This is about giving workers the choice to speak with a collective voice for fair working conditions.”
The amendments to the Labour Relations Code will also affect construction sector unions by allowing workers annual opportunities to switch unions if they are unhappy with their current representation. Current rules can effectively prevent workers from changing unions for three years. The amendments recognize that individual construction projects may only be one or two years in duration, preventing some workers from ever being able to change unions under the current system.
Izzy Adachi, Worker Solidarity Network director-at-large and former union organizer at Starbucks Victoria –
“Single-step certification is crucial in protecting our right to unionize without employer intimidation. This is a win for all workers, but especially for the essential and front-line workers who have been fighting to be treated and paid fairly throughout this pandemic.”
Tes Estilo, care aide, Hospital Employees’ Union –
“My co-workers and I joined the union for better wages, benefits and job security. As a care aide, this means more stability for our residents in seniors’ care. Unions create balance and fairness in the workplace. It’s important to remove barriers that make it harder to become a union member.”
- B.C. has alternated several times between the one- and two-step systems.
- The current two-step system has been in place since 2001.
- During 1973-1984 and 1993-2001, when the single-step certification system was in place, B.C. had higher union certification rates.
- The Minister of Labour’s November 2020 mandate letter includes a priority to “ensure that every worker has the right to join a union and bargain for fair working conditions.”
B.C. Ministry of Labour union certification facts
The legal right to join a union in Canada
- The freedom to join a union is guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- Section 2(d) of the charter guarantees Canadian people the freedom of association – this includes the right to organize as workers for the purposes of collective bargaining.
In B.C., the Labour Relations Board (LRB) is the certification authority
- The LRB is an independent administrative tribunal responsible for resolving issues that arise under the Labour Relations Code (LRC).
- LRB roles include adjudicating applications for union certification, managing the process and ruling on allegations of unfair practices.
- Learn more: https://www.lrb.bc.ca/how-apply-union-certification
2019 Labour Relations Code Review Panel recommendations on B.C.’s certification process
- In 2018 the Ministry of Labour appointed a panel of special advisers to review the LRC and to make recommendations that ensure B.C.’s unionized workplaces are supported by fair laws.
- Learn more: https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2018LBR0019-002073
- The 2018 report noted concerns with employer interference in the certification process.
- The panel of special advisers concluded that the current certification-vote process can be effective for employee choice only if the LRC properly prevents employer interference.
- One of the panel’s recommendations was to shorten the time between the signing of membership cards and the certification vote.
- Changes were made to the LRC in 2019 through Bill 30, including reducing the time from application to vote from 10 calendar days to five business days.
- The panel recommended that single-step certification could be considered if the changes made through Bill 30 do not effectively eliminate interference.
- Despite the 2019 changes, employer interference and unfair labour practices have continued.
Examples of conduct that would be considered unfair practices by the LRB
- Threats to close a workplace if a union is certified
- Threats to fire employees involved in the certification process
- Requiring employees to disclose their position on potential certification
- Encouraging employees to support alternatives to unionizing
- Holding mandatory meetings to influence employees’ decisions on voting to join a union
Examples of unfair practices that have occurred under the current two-step certification process
- An electrical contractor improperly interfered with their workers’ attempt to certify their workplace by threatening to lay off employees.
- A waste-management company improperly fired an experienced worker with a good performance record for participating in an attempted certification effort in the workplace.
- A food-processing company improperly fired two workers for attempting to certify their workplace.