Labour relations act in Canada

Read more about Canada’s labour relation laws, their applications, and the rights and obligations they provide for employees and employers
Labour relations act in Canada

The general principle of human rights dictates that the government must strive to protect the rights of employees and to ensure their well-being and safety. Over the years, various labour laws and regulations have been passed in Canada following this guiding principle, which include the various Labour Relations Act of the federal and provincial governments.

What is the Labour Relations Act in Canada?

Labour laws may be divided into two sets:

Labour Standards

This refers to the basic terms and conditions of employment and its minimum statutory standards granted to employees. These must be respected and implemented by their employers.

These include laws on salaries and wages, hours of work, leaves (vacation, sickness, holiday), rules on termination of employment, redress against unfair labour practices, among other employment terms and conditions.

Labour Relations

This law defines the relationship between the employers and the employees’ organized union (i.e., their rights and their obligations towards each other). It also covers:

  • the rights of unionized employees
  • the right of employees to go into collective bargaining with their employers
  • the right of employees to go on strike

Labour relations laws also protect the employer’s right to lockout.

In Canada, the enactment and implementation of laws on labour standards and labour relations are shared between the federal government and the provincial or territorial governments. However, the difference between these two lies in their jurisdiction and application:

  • federal labour laws: apply to the public sector and certain federally regulated industries and workplaces, as specifically defined by each labour law.
  • provincial or territorial labour laws: apply to workplaces or businesses in the private sector and those which are not covered by federal labour laws.

Federal labour relation laws

Federal laws on labour relations are generally governed by two laws: the Canada Labour Code and the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act.

Canada Labour Code

Although the Canada Labour Code (CLC) governs labour standards – such as the statutory labour standards on occupational health and safety (Part II, CLC) and the standard hours, wages, vacations, and holidays (Part III, CLC) – the Code also governs labour relations (Part I, CLC).

Each Part of the Code specifically applies to certain federal industries, as defined in each of its Parts.

Labour relations under Part I apply to employees who work for a federal undertaking or business (section 4, CLC) and employees of Crown corporations (section 5 (1), CLC).

Learn more about occupational health and safety laws and how they can protect and empower employees.

Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act

On the other hand, the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act (FPSLRA) applies to the agencies of the Canadian public service sector (section 2, FPSLRA) which includes:

  • different departments of the Canadian federal government (Schedule I, Financial Administration Act)
  • certain portions of the federal public administration (Schedule IV, Financial Administration Act)
  • separate Canadian agencies (Schedule V, Financial Administration Act)

The FPSLRA also refers to the CLC in some provisions. One of these is that the CLC’s provisions on occupational health and safety also applies to the industries governed by the FPSLRA.

Provincial labour relation laws

The private sector and other industries are not covered by federal labour relations laws. They would fall under these provincial labour laws, depending on where they are located:

Here’s a video on proposed changes to the way unions are formed in British Columbia:

Bill 10 passed third reading in May 2022. To learn more about this change, speak with a labour relations lawyer in British Columbia.

Common provisions of federal and provincial labour relation laws

These are common provisions among these different labour relations laws, and the similar rights afforded to unionized workers and their employers:

Organizing the Union

Outlines the process of organizing a union (also called trade union), the prohibited acts or unfair labour practices that may be committed during the union’s organization, the duties and responsibilities of its officers and members, and other regulations on union membership, such as the monetary obligations of unionized members, among others.

Right to Collective Bargaining

Details the specific process in the life and death of a Collective Bargaining Agreement, including the process of certifying a union to become the bargaining agent of an employment unit and its grounds for revocation. This is related to the duty and obligation of parties to collectively bargain, as provided by the labour laws.

Right to Strikes and Lockouts

Defines the process of instituting a legal strike by the union, or a legal lockout by the employer, including its pre-requisites and the valid grounds where it may only be called for. It also provides for prohibited acts during the actual conduct of a strike or lockout, and the appropriate penalties for the violating persons or entities.

The law also provides what constitutes an illegal strike or illegal lockout, the remedies of the party which has been injured by the illegal strike or illegal lockout, and the penalties of the persons who initiated such illegal act.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Provides methods of resolving labour disputes arising out of the terms and conditions of employment, violation of any of the above-mentioned rights of the union, the employee, and the employer, or incidents of unfair labour practices. These methods are offered – either mandatorily or voluntarily – by the government office or agency governing labour issues.

These provisions also apply to labour relations in the construction sector. To learn more, contact one of Lexpert's top-ranked lawyers for labour relations in the construction sector.

What is the main purpose of the Labour Relations Act?

Common to the federal labour laws and the numerous provincial Labour Relations Acts are the rights, privileges, and obligations they provide for employers, the union, and unionized employees. This is in relation to these laws’ common purpose of maintaining peaceful employer-employee relations by protecting the interests of the employers and ensuring the rights of employees and their unions.

Know more about the rights of employees and the responsibilities of employers – reach out to any of the best labour relations lawyers in Canada as ranked by Lexpert. For questions, post them in the comments section below.