Today the NDP MPP from Essex, Taras Natyshak, tabled an amendment to the Labour Relations Act that would allow unions (and employers) to apply for interest arbitration in a long lockout (or strike) where conciliation or mediation has failed. The Board would be empowered to order interest arbitration for all outstanding issues if it determines that the strike or lockout has been ongoing for 180 days and a collectively bargained settlement is unlikely within 30 days. If the Board orders interest arbitration, the strike or lockout is immediately brought to an end, employees are to be reinstated on terms and conditions of employment frozen at the pre-labour dispute levels, and the dispute would be referred to interest arbitration. The parties would be given the opportunity to agree upon a private arbitrator, but failing agreement, the Labour Relations Board would appoint one. A decision must be rendered within 45 days and is binding upon the parties for a period of two years.
This legislation is a copycat bill substantially mirroring amendments made to the Manitoba labour relations statute about a decade ago. There is little experience with the Manitoba legislation as the Manitoba board has issued decisions in only a handful of cases. What is clear though is that the legislation substantially impacts upon the bargaining dynamic in tough rounds of bargaining in that province. Its noteworthy that in Manitoba, an application can be made after only 60 days of strike or lockout.
While this bill is a private member’s bill, it is nevertheless very concerning as it is reflective of a current and disturbing trend by government to interfere with the fundamentals of free collective bargaining. It will be important to closely watch the response that it receives in the Legislature