In the past few weeks, members will have seen numerous articles on the introduction of Bill C-4, the Conservative Party’s omnibus budget bill. As they have done in the past, the Government is trying to change many pieces of legislation through its Budget bill. As part of the Bill, they are seeking to significantly change the Public Service Labour Relations Act, the act that governs labour relations and collective bargaining in the federal public service. If passed, it will have a direct and negative impact on how collective bargaining is conducted. The RCEA has met with the other 17 federal public service unions to discuss the implications of the proposed changes and to develop a strategy for trying to deal with the government on this. So far, the Government has not shown any willingness to discuss these changes and is moving ahead quickly to have them passed. The press release issued by the unions can be accessed here.
What does this means for our members? It means that bargaining units will no longer be able to choose their dispute resolution method, a fundamental right that has been around since the introduction of collective bargaining into the public service in 1967. All groups will be considered to be on the conciliation/strike route. Arbitration would only be available if ( in the case of NRC) the RCEA, NRC and Treasury Board agreed to proceed in this way or if more than 80% of the bargaining unit was designated as essential and therefore not able to strike. It also changes the criteria that arbitration and conciliation boards can consider in issuing their reports. There are many other changes to the legislation that the bill proposes. Overall, it will fundamentally change the way bargaining is conducted and will give the employer even more strength and rights. RCEA members are hardworking professionals who deserve to be treated fairly and equitably by their employer. This legislation changes that.
What does this mean right now? Of our 6 bargaining units, only the TO group has a concluded collective agreement. Four other groups, AD, AS, PG and OP have previously applied for the establishment of arbitration boards. Preliminary matters were raised by NRC and a hearing, by the PSLRB, was held on May 21. No decision has yet been issued. As a result, arbitration boards have not officially been established. Bill C-4 contains transitional provisions. In order to continue on the arbitration route, once the legislation receives Royal Assent, an arbitration board must have been already established. If Royal Assent is given before this happens, these groups will come under the new provisions and will require the agreement of both NRC and TB to proceed to arbitration. We have written to the PSLRB this week to request that they establish the arbitration boards immediately.
We certainly hope that both NRC and TB will recognize the work that has gone into the process so far and the fact that the delay is solely due to the failure of the PSLRB to issue a timely decision. We hope that TB will recognize that our bargaining units have been waiting since 2011 for new agreements and will agree to allow us to continue to arbitration. TB wants these new provisions for its upcoming rounds of bargaining. I appeal to them to allow us to complete our “old” round under the old provisions. Given these proposed changes, we have also applied for arbitration for the CS Group and have requested that the Board establish an arbitration board immediately.