Robyn Benson, PSAC

Arbitration: honest victories and rigged games

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I was more than pleasantly surprised to hear, despite going almost unnoticed by the media, that a small Public Service union called the Federal Government Dockyard Chargehands Association (FGDCA) has won an unprecedented award of damages against Treasury Board. Despite an arbitral award to the FGDCA in February of this year, the government refused to implement it until June, a full four months after the expiry of the mandatory 90-day limit.

The Public Service Labour Relations Board adjudicator found that Treasury Board had made no attempt to ask for an extension of the deadline, and that there was no problem appropriating the funds required—it just refused to pay up. There was simply no excuse for this, and the adjudicator was blunt: “Harmonious labour-management relations, which are one of the objects of the PSLRA, are not possible when one of the parties has no hesitation in ignoring provisions of the PSLRA designed to achieve labour relations peace.”

She went on to award damages of about $100 per member of the bargaining unit—and ordered that “a full copy of this decision [be posted] throughout all workplaces of the employer to which the collective agreement applies, in conspicuous locations, where it is most likely to come to the attention of the employees in the bargaining unit, for a period of no less than 60 days.”


The Harper government, then, is quite prepared to break the law to our disadvantage until called to account. But making that disadvantage legal instead is a safer course—and with its majority in Parliament it has just done so. Omnibus Bill C-4, which just received Royal Assent, guts a 50-year-old labour relations regime. It places hurdle after hurdle in front of unions attempting to negotiate a collective agreement in good faith, effectively hollowing out the process.

The FGDCA would likely never have won its original arbitral victory under the new legislation: with C-4, the rules have changed. “Canada’s fiscal circumstances relative to its stated budgetary policies” will now be the determining factor in making an arbitral award. Arbitrators have lost their independence—they will now, in effect, take their orders from the Minister of Finance. And if arbitrators fail to do as they are told, the Public Service Staff Relations Board can force them to reconsider. The new arbitration is a crooked card game where one player has all the aces before the first hand is even dealt.

Needless to say, the PSAC, along with other federal public service unions, is going to court to challenge C-4. The law is a full-scale onslaught against basic rights that workers have enjoyed for decades, and it can’t remain unchallenged. In the meantime, members can be assured that we will be at the negotiating table as usual, fighting hard for them. C-4 does not wipe out current collective agreement provisions, although it certainly makes it more difficult for us to protect them. But we can and will say No to concessions at the table, and our members on the ground who value the hard-won right to bargain fair collective agreements will say No as well.

We congratulate the FGDCA for winning an important battle against a government that refuses to play fair. Now it’s time for all of us to stand together and win the war.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on December 19, 2013 8:29 AM.

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