How Has Collective Bargaining Shaped the Canadian Workforce?

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Collective Bargaining in Canada: How It Affects Employers and Employees

While it may seem impossible today, it wasn’t that long ago that Canadians faced extremely poor working conditions, including safety hazards on the job, long hours, and mistreatment from employers. Just a few generations ago, employment looked very different, and labor laws were almost nonexistent. While we can be thankful that today’s working conditions are much better and that employees have recourse against poor employers, it’s important to recognize the role that collective bargaining has played in these developments over the years.

What Is Collective Bargaining?

Collective bargaining is defined by the Canadian government as “the process whereby the Treasury Board and a union negotiate a collective agreement for a bargaining unit.” Collective agreements are contracts that exist between the union and the employer that outline the terms of the employment. This often includes basics, such as how much the pay will be and what kind of benefits there are. However, these documents can get fairly complicated and require review by a lawyer.

Collective agreements always have an expiration date, and the agreements are usually renegotiated shortly before they expire to ensure continuation of services and no interruptions for the business and employees.

4 Impacts of Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining has played a special role in shaping what we see today as the Canadian workforce. It has been used for more than 150 years to create better working conditions for Canadians and ensure that employers are held to specific standards when it comes to the care and treatment of their employees. Here are just a few of the main impacts collective bargaining has had for employees and employers in Canada.

Better Wages and Benefits

One of the main contributions of collective bargaining to the workforce is the fight for improved wages and better working conditions. In 1872, Toronto’s print workers were being forced to work for 10+ hours per day, every day. Members of the Toronto Typographical Union tried to convince the employers to move forward with a nine-hour cap on the work day. When they refused, the print workers went on strike.

While the print workers weren’t successful in getting the nine-hour workday, their efforts resulted in the decriminalization of union activity, which paved the way for future employees to make progress in these areas. Today, unions and collective bargaining have helped increase minimum wage, ensure fair working wages, and impose limits on how much an employee can be forced to work per day or per week.

Improved Workplace Safety

Unions have long been focused on improving working conditions for employees, and workplace safety is at the center of this. In the past, Canadian employees were forced to work in hazardous and dangerous conditions, often for very little pay. After a fire broke out and killed five Italian immigrant workers who were trapped in a tunnel in Toronto in 1960, Canadian unions successfully argued for better working conditions. This resulted in the Industrial Safety Act, which became the building block for the Canadian Labour Safety code that is still in place today.

While there will always be some occupations that are more dangerous than others, the labour safety code serves an important role in ensuring that safety regulations and needs are regularly reviewed and adjusted. Unions possess a great deal of power when it comes to ensuring safe working conditions and continuing education on methods and equipment to keep employees healthy.

Family Benefits

Canada is known across the globe for its generous maternity, paternity, and parental benefits, but this wasn’t always the case. Less than 60 years ago, there were no maternity benefits at all in the country. In 1971, the Canadian federal government passed legislation that allowed mothers 15 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child — but at only 66 percent of her salary. The unions took this foothold and argued for even more benefits and the extension of those benefits to fathers through paternity leave.

Today, both mothers and fathers are able to take the time to bond with their newborns and relish in family life without having to worry about losing their jobs. Other family benefits, such as adoption leave and parental leave, are also often part of employee benefit packages.

Establishment of Labour Laws

Perhaps one of the most important accomplishments of unions and collective bargaining in Canada has been the establishment of federal labour laws. These laws govern everything from minimum wage to safe working conditions, and they give employees a way to hold employers accountable if they violate these laws. These laws also help employers by ensuring all of the rules and regulations regarding employment are clearly spelled out and providing a framework for how to deal with unions and collective bargaining issues. Today, unions continue to play an important role in shaping the Canadian workforce, continuing to fight against unjust employers and problematic working conditions.

Clearly, the establishment of unions and collective bargaining has had a long-lasting impact on the Canadian workforce and will likely continue to shape what this looks like in the future. But this doesn’t mean that everything is perfect for today’s workers.

If you’re facing issues at work, such as wrongful dismissal, poor working environment, or human rights violations, Labour Rights Law of Vancouver, can help. Our firm is also equipped to assist with labour law issues, including forming and certifying trade unions, collective bargaining negotiations, and enforcement of collective agreements. Find out how we can help with your case when you call 604-245-3169 to speak with a lawyer.

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