Research,  Trade Unions

New Report on the Benefits of Broader-Based and Sectoral Collective Bargaining

In recent years, labour relations experts have expressed growing interest in the potential of broader-based bargaining systems – which would cover workers in entre industries, regions, or occupations, rather than individual workplaces – to improve the effectiveness of union representation and collective bargaining. By negotiating common benchmarks for wages, benefits and working conditions that apply to all employers in a given segment of the economy, these sectoral or broader bargaining systems can prevent a ‘race to the bottom’ in job quality, and neutralize employer efforts to prevent unions from establishing small beachheads in individual workplaces (like specific franchises in large retail or hospitality chains, for example).

Broader-based or sectoral bargaining already occurs in many industries in Canada (including public services, construction, arts, and manufacturing), and it is common in other countries (particularly in Europe). It could be especially valuable in building collective representation and bargaining power in fragmented, low-wage industries such as hospitality, retail, and specialized professionals services.

This issue will be a major topic in the current review of the Labour Code in British Columbia. The B.C. government holds this review every five years to address emerging trends and challenges, and ensure that labour law in the province is fit-for-purpose given economic changes. In its submission to this review, the B.C. Federation of Labour has made important proposals to initiate a process to expand mechanisms for sectoral and broader-based bargaining. This constitutes a major opportunity for the labour movement to improve access to multi-employer bargaining systems in practice.

To support the Federation’s submission, the Centre for Future Work prepared a comprehensive review of the economic benefits of broader-based and sectoral bargaining systems, compiling findings from Canadian and international research. The report, which served as an Appendix to the Federation’s submission, catalogues two categories of benefits: those arising simply from the extension of representation and bargaining to hard-to-unionize industries, and those relating to specific features of multi-employer bargaining arrangements.

Please see the full report, Economic Benefits of Sectoral and Broader-Based Bargaining. The full B.C. Federation of Labour submission can be accessed through the B.C. government’s Labour Code review portal (go to pp. 37-75 of the compendium of submissions).

Please be sure to check out our Centre for Future Work Sector Bargaining Clearing House, which contains links to other research on the theory, practice, and effects of sectoral, broader-based, and multi-employer collective bargaining.

Jim Stanford is Economist and Director of the Centre for Future Work. He divides his time between Sydney, Australia and Vancouver, Canada. Jim is one of Canada’s best-known economic commentators. He served for over 20 years as Economist and Director of Policy with Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector trade union.