Labour advocates and researchers around the world have been investigating the possibility of new systems of sectoral or broader based collective bargaining, as a promising strategy for reversing the decline in collective bargaining coverage which has occurred in many countries (including in private sector businesses in Canada, where collective agreement coverage has declined to just 17% of all workers as of most recent data). Broader based bargaining systems allow negotiations to occur at more than one workplace or enterprise at a time: across occupations, sectors, or regions. They can allow bargainers to establish common terms across multiple worksites – such as covering all franchises within a large commercial chain, for example. And by establishing terms and conditions that apply evenly across broader sets of businesses, broader based bargaining can avoid the problem of competitive disadvantage that can stymie efforts to lift wages and conditions one workplace at a time. Instead, sector-wide standards are set that ensure all competitors must meet similar minimum standards of pay and conditions.
Broader based bargaining already occurs in Canada in important sectors and occupations: including many public services (such as province-wide health and education contracts that apply in most provinces), construction, and manufacturing (such as pattern agreements in the auto, energy, and forestry sectors). It is normal practice in many other industrial countries: including many European countries (where some of the terms of collective agreements are established on an industry-wide basis, while leaving some room for flexibility at the workplace level). The government of New Zealand has recently adopted new legislation allowing for a form of broader based bargaining, called Fair Pay Agreements (FPAs), aimed at lifting labour standards in low-pay sectors.
The Centre for Future Work is establishing this page as a resource to support discussions among Canadian researchers, unionists, and policy-makers regarding the possible application of broader based bargaining policies and practices in Canada. Our goal is to facilitate exchange of proposals, research into the effects of these systems, and advocacy and organizing strategies. Watch this page for updates and additions.
We invite reaction and responses to these papers, and to any other aspects of broader based bargaining proposals. Please send contributions (short, informal commentaries are welcome, as well as more formal written submissions) to email@example.com, and we will post them here.
Webinar on New Zealand’s Fair Pay Agreements and Possible Application in Canada
As part of our ongoing project exploring opportunities for sectoral and broader-based collective bargaining, the Centre for Future Work hosted a webinar on the details of New Zealand’s new Fair Pay Agreements system – and how that model might have application in Canada.
The webinar featured an initial presentation from Sara Slinn (Associate Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto) and Mark Rowlinson (partner at the Toronto law firm of Goldblatt Partners). They have prepared a discussion paper (posted on this page below) exploring the applicability of the FPA model to Canada.
Then the webinar heard comments from 3 labour law experts, discussing the possibilities of implementing this or other broader-based models in Canada’s 3 largest provinces:
- Brad James (former Steelworkers organizer, Ontario)
- Patrice Jalette (Université de Montréal, Quebec)
- Kendra Strauss (Simon Fraser University, BC)
A full recording of the webinar (including a Q&A session after the presentations) is available here.
Slides for the initial presentation by Sara Slinn and Mark Rowlinson are posted here.
And here are speaking notes for the commentary provided at the webinar by two of the speakers:
- Kendra Strauss from the Labour Studies program at Simon Fraser University.
- Patrice Jalette, École de relations industrielles, Université de Montréal
History of Sectoral Bargaining Reforms and Debates in Canada
Sara Slinn from Osgoode Law School has written a very helpful historical review of past policy debates and reform exercises related to sectoral bargaining opportunities and practices in Canada:
Sara Slinn, “Broader-based and Sectoral Bargaining Proposals in Collective Bargaining Law Reform: A Historical Review,” (2020) 85 Labour / Le Travail 13.
Learning About Québec’s Decree System
At the webinar, Patrice Jalette spoke of the similarities and differences between the NZ Fair Pay model and the long-standing ‘decree’ system in Québec, which has provided an important avenue for negotiating and extending collective agreements to broader groups of workers in definable sectors and regions. While the decree system has been reduced in recent decades, it still exists in some key sectors where conventional workplace-based bargaining would be difficult (including security, cleaning, and motor vehicle maintenance).
The history, structure, and effects of the decree system are not well-known outside of Québec. In this article, Prof. Jalette describes the evolution of the system and its changing relevance. We will explore the challenges and opportunities of the decree model in a future Centre for Future Work webinar.
Patrice Jalette, “When Labour Relations Deregulation is not an Option: The Alternative Logic of Building Service Employers in Quebec,” International Journal of Comparative Labour Law & Industrial Relations 22(3), 2006.
Sectoral Bargaining Proposals in the Ontario Changing Workplaces Review
One key opportunity for exploring possibilities for sectoral and broader-based collective bargaining was the Ontario government’s Changing Workplaces Review, commissioned in 2015 by the former Liberal government there. This review, co-chaired by labour lawyers Michael Mitchell and John Murray, considered submissions proposing a wide range of measures to strengthen labour protections in that province – including some proposals for sectoral bargaining.
The submission from Unifor to that Review contained an especially comprehensive chapter reviewing the nature, history, and prospects for sectoral bargaining structures, which it recommended as a strategy for responding to the fragmentation of work and workplaces:
Part VI, “Strategies for Restoring Balance in the Labour Market: Sectoral Standards,” Unifor Submission to Changing Workplaces Review (2015).
You can also review the full Unifor submission here.
The full report of the Changing Workplaces Review is available here. Pages 352-368 of the report dealt with proposals for broader-based bargaining. While the chairs of the Review acknowledged that fragmented worksites undermine access to collective bargaining for large numbers of workers, they did not conclude that it was feasible at that time to recommend a full-fledged multi-employer bargaining system.
BC Federation of Labour Resolution
At its biennial convention in Vancouver in November, the BC Federation of Labour passed a resolution supporting the development of sectoral and multi-employer bargaining systems, in particular to address problems of insecure and fragmented work. This is a further sign that this will be an important priority for the labour movement in responding to the challenges of precarious work, outsourcing, and union avoidance strategies by employers. Here is the wording of the resolution that was passed:
The Federation will:
- review international models of sectoral bargaining with recommendations to modernize BC’s Labour Code;
- make recommendations to the provincial government to enact sectoral bargaining in British Columbia; and
- encourage the BC Ministry of Labour to engage in a public education campaign to inform BC workers about workers’ rights and their right to organize.
Our first installment is a Canadian paper considering whether the New Zealand FPA approach could apply here, and if so how. The paper was written by Sara Slinn (Associate Professor at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto) and Mark Rowlinson (partner at the Toronto law firm of Goldblatt Partners):