Bargaining Frequently Asked questions (FAQ)

This is a work in progress. It does not try to cover all possible aspects of how we end up with a contract. It does attempt to cover the most frequent causes of confusion as they relate directly to the Bargaining process.

1. What is the Public Service Staff Relations Act (PSSRA)?

The Public Service Staff Relations Act (hereinafter called the PSSRA for brevity's sake) is the legislation which governs the bargaining process.

Fair warning - this is some of the driest reading you will ever do in your life, but it is full of little nuggets of information if you have an interest in reading more about the technical issues involved:

(a) What is the Public Service Staff Relations Board (PSSRB)?

The PSSRB is the regulatory body that oversees the application of the PSSRA.

2. What is collective bargaining?

Collective bargaining is the process by which an employer and a union, as the exclusive bargaining agent of a group of employees, attempt to negotiate their terms and conditions of employment. Although the process usually results in a voluntary agreement that is then put forth to the employees to ratify, there are times that the parties are unable to succeed. The law requires the parties to bargain in good faith, but does not require either party to agree to any proposal put forward by the other.

3. What is a Bargaining Agent?

Most simply put, it's our union, PIPSC. More specifically, "bargaining agent" means an employee organization that has been certified by the Board as the bargaining agent for the employees in a bargaining unit and the certification of which has not been revoked? (quoted from the PSSRA)

4. What is a collective agreement?

A collective agreement is a written contract of employment covering a group of employees (Bargaining Unit) who are represented by a union (Bargaining Agent). This agreement contains provisions governing the terms and conditions of employment. It also contains the rights, privileges and duties of the employer, the union and the employees.

From the PSSRA:

"collective agreement" means an agreement in writing, entered into under this Act between the employer and a bargaining agent, containing provisions respecting terms and conditions of employment and related matters?

5. What is a Bargaining Unit?

Bargaining units are generally made up of groups of employees who share interests or a commonality regarding the workplace.

To quote again from the PSSRA:

"bargaining unit" means a group of two or more employees that is determined, in accordance with this Act, to constitute a unit of employees appropriate for collective bargaining;?

6. How are negotiations for a collective agreement begun?

The Bargaining Agent (PIPSC) will give the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) written notice of its desire to bargain. If the TBS and PIPSC are already bound by a collective agreement, then either party may give notice to bargain within the 90 days before the agreement is due to expire, or during any other time period specifically set out in the agreement. In either case, the union and the employer must meet within 20 days from the reception of notice, unless they agree to some other time period.

7. What is Binding Arbitration?

Arbitration is a quasi-judicial process in which a disinterested third party (or parties) hear(s) evidence presented by both PIPSC and the TBS on issues in dispute, and hands down a binding decision.

8. What is Conciliation/Strike?

This is a process in which PIPSC and the TBS freely and directly negotiate until either a voluntary agreement has been reached or impasse occurs on one or more issues. In this latter case, conciliation is then requested, usually resulting in the appointing of a conciliator to assist the parties in achieving their goal of a negotiated settlement. If conciliation should fail as well, then a Conciliation Board is requested. PIPSC and the TBS then enter into a process much like Binding Arbitration, save that any decision rendered by that Board is not legally binding unless both parties agree.

The Conciliation Board will release its report, which may be one of three things –

  1. a minority report, in which case the Chair of the Board has sided with TBS,
  2. a majority report where the Chair sides with the Bargaining Agent, or
  3. a unanimous report

Seven days after the release of this report, if there has still been no voluntary agreement between the parties, PIPSC may legally resort to a strike to exert pressure on the TBS.

At some point, whether early in the process as in the case of a voluntary agreement reached before conciliation, or late in the process as in the case of job action, there will be a ratification vote on an actual contract offer. This may come with

  • a recommendation to accept,
  • a recommendation to reject, or
  • no recommendation.

The membership votes on the contract offer and in the case of a simple majority acceptance (50% plus 1 of the returned ballots marked "Accept") the contract is ratified and becomes binding on all parties (PIPSC, the TBS and the CS Group members) upon signing. A contract, to be legal, must have at least six months duration left as of date of signing. If the contract is not ratified then job action would continue until a settlement is eventually reached.

Note: The Negotiating Team uses member input from our Bargaining Committee (which in turn gathers its information from our Bargaining Conference, our Steward network, and from direct member input) as a yardstick against which to measure the offers from the TBS.

9. What are the differences between “Binding Arbitration” and “Conciliation/Strike”?

The obvious one is that there is no risk of job action when the Group avails itself of Binding Arbitration. The not so obvious one is the fact that contracts gained through the Conciliation/Strike process are often better than those obtained under Binding Arbitration.

As a rule of thumb, groups that are not heavily designated (like the CS Group, where only about 18% designated as of data from last round) are much better served over time on the Conciliation/Strike route than Binding Arbitration.

Groups that are heavily designated are better served by Binding Arbitration - for example *all* PIPSC nurses are designated.

The Conciliation/Strike route, our current default, continues automatically every time we serve Notice to Bargain unless we notify the TBS at that same time that we want to change our dispute resolution process.

10. How long does it take to reach agreement on a contract?

There is no legally mandated timetable for bargaining nor any rule of thumb. If negotiations are contentious or involve numerous issues, it could take months or even years to reach a contract.

11. Why does it all take so long?

Our Employer gains significant advantage in dragging out the process and there is not much in the way of disincentive to that behaviour. There are, for example, no legislated penalties set out for being found to have bargained in bad faith, so the TBS feels quite confident to engage in as much foot dragging as they like.

The TBS is well aware of the psychological impact of potential back pay on the membership. Even a paltry two or three percent increase looks large when presented as a dollar amount of back pay a year after the expiration of the previous contract. It also depends on the number if issues to be resolved and the difficulty involved. The more support behind the bargaining team, the more pressure on the employer to answer quickly.

12. If it takes so long, why don't we start earlier?

Under the PSSRA we cannot negotiate prior to three months from the end of an existing contract, unless there was a mutual consent from both sides to do so, as provided for in the previous contract. See question #6 as well.

13. What if Treasury Board and the union can't agree on the terms of a contract?

The two sides have a legal duty to bargain in good faith. If an "impasse" in bargaining is reached, then conciliation is requested and a conciliator appointed. See question #8 for more information as it describes the Conciliation/Strike process.

14. What is an impasse?

Impasse is that moment in time when both parties at the table disagree on all outstanding issues and can't make any more progress.

15. What types of issues can unions and departments include in their negotiations?

In our case we are only restricted, by legislation, from bargaining ‘Staffing' and ‘Classification'. All other terms and conditions of employment are fair game at the table.

16. What is conciliation?

Conciliation is the process whereby a conciliator is appointed to assist the parties in reaching an agreement.

17. What is a conciliator?

A conciliator is a person appointed by the Chairperson of the Public Service Staff Relations Board (PSSRB) under section 53 of the PSSRA to assist the parties in achieving an agreement.

18. What is a conciliation board?

A Conciliation Board is a tripartite board made up of a TBS-side person, a PIPSC-side person, and a Chair who is mutually agreed upon by the two sides persons. In the event the ‘side' persons cannot agree on a Chair, the Chairperson of the PSSRB will appoint a Conciliation Board Chair for them. See question #8 for further discussion of the Conciliation/Strike process and the Conciliation Board report.

19. I pay dues - can I vote in a contract ratification process?

You need to be a member to vote in a contract ratification ballot. You can download a membership form from the PIPSC website:

If you have not yet signed up as a PIPSC member, you are known as a "Rand deductee", or more commonly as simply a "Rand"

20. What is a RAND?

Rand deductee is a dues paying member of the bargaining unit, but not of the union itself.

Justice Ivan Rand issued a landmark legal decision following a strike in WindsorOntario, involving 17,000 Ford workers. He granted the union, as part of the settlement in 1945-46, the compulsory check-off of union dues. Rand ruled that all workers in a bargaining unit benefit from a union negotiated contract. Therefore, he reasoned they must pay union dues, although they do not have to join the union.

This decision means that unless bargaining unit members sign and submit a membership application, they are not members of PIPSC, even though they must pay full union dues.

21. Why doesn't Treasury Board respond positively to logical arguments?

Negotiations, unfortunately, are not often driven by logical arguments - in fact rarely so. It is a process fundamentally based on power.

As a collective of employees we command more leverage than each and every one of us individually attempting to negotiate our own terms and condition of employment and/or wages.

However, this does not release us from the duty we owe ourselves. We join a union to make our combined efforts more effective, not to transfer our responsibilities to volunteers and staff.

Our efficiency at the table is directly related to how well we support each other.

When we stand together, helping each other, we can go much further than the simple sum of the effort expended. It has, rather, a synergistic effect, gaining exponentially instead, granting us more power, thus levelling the field - but it takes concerted effort to make that happen.

Each and every one of us owes ourselves at least that much. Our membership is made up of some very talented and hard-working individuals and we're worth it!

22. How can members get involved in the bargaining process?

The key thing is support for the bargaining process and the Negotiating Team. This can be demonstrated in a variety of ways. Most often, it's the little things that count, like wearing a button, passing on information, or taking part in a lunchtime demonstration. It's the cumulative effect of such small actions which shows Treasury Board that the members are united and serious about their demands. It's that same cumulative effect which most often will make the more serious step of strike action unnecessary.

If you want to be involved, contact your local Steward, who will be able to either give you direct information on what activities are being planned and how you can participate, or will be able to get that information for you.

Original version (January 20, 2002) produced by Greg Hamilton

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