Steward Toolkit: Common labour terms

ADJUDICATION: Process for settling grievances by a third party when they arise out of the interpretation or application of a collective agreement or an award determined through arbitration, or out of disciplinary action resulting in financial loss or penalty (i.e. discharge, suspension). Normally used for public service units covered by the Public Service Labour Relations Act.

ADJUDICATOR/ARBITRATOR: Independent person (or chair of a panel), usually chosen by both the employer and union, and sometimes appointed by the government. This third party renders a final and binding decision, to which all parties must adhere.

AGGRAVATING FACTORS: Something that the member does that makes their situation worse; ignoring early warnings, for example.

ALTERNATIVE DISPUTE RESOLUTION: Practices such as mediation, negotiation, facilitation and conflict management that allow individuals and groups to resolve conflicts.

ARBITRARY: Abrupt, insensitive, indifferent; something done or said without much thought or investigation.

ARBITRATION: Method of settling disputes through the intervention of a third party – an individual or a board/panel – whose decision is final and binding.

BAD FAITH: Act done for the wrong reason; for example, acting to harm or degrade someone, or to get revenge, including lying or acting with an improper motive.

BARGAINING AGENT: Union designated by a labour relations board or similar government agency (for example, the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board) as the exclusive representative of all employees in a bargaining unit for the purposes of collective bargaining.

BARGAINING UNIT: Unit of employees grouped together by a labour relations board or similar body, for representation by a union for the purpose of collective bargaining.

BONA FIDE OCCUPATIONAL REQUIREMENT (BFOR): Legal term for the essential tasks required to perform a job. If an employer can establish a particular BFOR that cannot be modified/adapted for an accommodation, the employer may not have to accommodate a worker in that job. BFORs are not preferences; they are duties or elements that are essential to the job. Before the employer can establish a BFOR defence, the employer must show that it cannot accommodate without undue hardship.

CANADA LABOUR CODE: Act of Parliament that consolidates certain statutes respecting labour. The objective of the code is to facilitate production by controlling strikes and lockouts, setting out occupational safety and health requirements, and stating some employment standards.

CANADIAN LABOUR CONGRESS: Canada’s national labour body, which represents the interests of organized labour.

CASE LAW: Decisions made in the past by courts, arbitrators/adjudicators, tribunals, human rights commissions and labour boards that indicate how someone might decide a new case. Often referred to as “jurisprudence” or “common law.”

CHECK-OFF: Clause in a collective agreement authorizing an employer to deduct union dues, and sometimes other assessments, and to transmit these funds to the union (see Rand Formula).

CLASSIFICATION PLAN: Job evaluation process based on a comparison of jobs using factors or aspects of work.

COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT (also referred to as a “contract” or “collective bargaining agreement”): Contract between the union acting as the bargaining agent and the employer, covering wages, hours of work, benefits, rights of workers and the union, and procedures to be followed when settling disputes and grievances.

COMPONENT: Organized group of members, locals or branches established in accordance with the PSAC Constitution and deriving its jurisdiction, authority and rights from section 9 of the Constitution.

CONCILIATION AND MEDIATION - A process which attempts to resolve labour disputes by compromise or voluntary agreement . Pertinent legislation applies when negotiations reach an impasse. Either party can request the assistance of a mediator, a conciliator, or the establishment of a conciliation board. The mediator, conciliator or conciliation board does not bring in a binding award and the parties are free to accept or to reject the recommendation.

CONTRACT: See collective agreement.

CONTRACTING OUT: Employer having work performed by an outside contractor and not by regular employees in the union. Not to be confused with subcontracting, which when a contractor delegates part of his/her work to another contractor.

CONTRACT PROPOSALS: Proposed changes to the collective agreement put forward by the union or employer, and subject to collective bargaining.

COST-OF-LIVING ALLOWANCE: Periodic pay increases based on changes in the Consumer Price Index.

CULMINATING INCIDENT: Final act or misconduct of an employee that, in the employer’s view, deserves a severe response (usually discharge), because the employee has been disciplined before and the employer has followed the process for progressive discipline.

DISCIPLINE: Means by which supervisors correct behavioural deficiencies and ensure adherence to established organizational rules. Discipline may include issuing written reprimands, letters of warning and letters of suspensions. However if, after progressive discipline or in the case of a serious single act of misconduct, the employer no longer sees the employment relationship as viable, termination may ensue.

DISCHARGE: (also referred to as “dismissal”): Employee’s employment is terminated; often describes situations in which there has been, in the employer’s view, misconduct or poor performance.

DISCRIMINATION: Treating a person or a group of people differently from others, in violation of collective agreements and human rights legislation.

 DUES: Periodic payments by union members for the financial support of their union.

DUTY OF FAIR REPRESENTATION: Union’s legal duty to provide fair representation to all employees in a bargaining unit; representation must not be arbitrary, discriminatory or in bad faith.

DUTY TO ACCOMMODATE: Legal requirement for employers to proactively eliminate employment standards, practices, policies, requirements, procedures or rules that discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis of a prohibited ground, such as race, sex, disability, age or family status.

EMPLOYMENT EQUITY: Ensuring equitable represented of groups such as women, Aboriginal people, racialized people and people with disabilities in the workplace, through hiring, promotion, wages and other aspects of employment. Employment equity activities seek to eliminate barriers that create discriminatory practices and deny access to jobs to members of a designated group, and to address past discriminatory practices.

EMPLOYMENT STANDARDS: Minimum standards established by governments that employers and employees must follow.

FEDERALLY REGULATED WORKPLACES: Businesses and industries that operate across provincial and territorial borders, including banks, marine shipping and air transport firms, railways, telephone, internet and cable companies, First Nations enterprises and federal Crown corporations.

FEDERATION OF LABOUR: Grouping of local unions and labour councils in a given province; chartered by the Canadian Labour Congress.

GRIEVANCE: Written complaint against the employer by one or more employees or a union concerning an alleged breach of the collective agreement or an alleged injustice. The collective agreement usually defines the procedure for handling grievances. The last step of the procedure is usually adjudication/arbitration.

HARASSMENT: Using real or perceived power to abuse, devalue or humiliate someone through, for example, name-calling, jokes, graffiti, insults, threats, rude treatment, or written, verbal or physical abuse.

It can happen once or often, and is prohibited by human rights laws. Personal harassment (harassment not based on a prohibited ground for discrimination) is also covered by some collective agreements, provincial legislation and workplace policies.

HUMAN RIGHTS: Legal protection against discrimination on certain grounds, which vary federally and provincially/territorially.

INJUNCTION: Court order restraining an employer or union from committing or engaging in certain acts.

INSUBORDINATION (includes gross disrespect): Refusing to carry out an instruction given by a supervisor or manager. This is just cause for discipline when the supervisor or someone else in a position of authority gave the employee an order; the order was clearly communicated to the employee; and the employee refused to obey the order without having an acceptable legal reason.

INTERNATIONAL LABOUR ORGANIZATION: Tripartite United Nations agency representing labour, management and government. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, it disseminates labour information and sets minimum international labour standards called “conventions,” which it offers to member nations for adoption.

IRREPARABLE HARM – Harm done to someone that cannot be fixed with any amount of money. For example, denying leave to attend a mother’s funeral.

JOB CLASSIFICATION: Group of jobs paid at the same wage rate or that involve the same kind of work.

JOB EVALUATION PLAN: Measurement tool used to evaluate work and establish relativity among positions in order to assign a rate of pay to a given job. To be in accordance with human rights legislation, a job evaluation plan should be gender-neutral and include factors of skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.

JOB SECURITY: Provision in a collective agreement protecting a worker’s job when, for example, new methods or machines are introduced.

JURISDICTIONAL DISPUTE - A dispute between two or more unions as to which one shall represent a group of employees in collective bargaining or as to whose members shall perform a certain kind of work.

JUST CAUSE: Valid reason to discipline or fire a worker. The worker must have done something wrong, and the “punishment must fit the crime.”

LABOUR COUNCIL: Organization composed of locals/branches of Canadian Labour Congress-affiliated unions in a given community or district.

LABOUR RELATIONS BOARD: Board established under provincial or federal labour relations legislation to administer labour law, including certifying trade unions as bargaining agents, investigating unfair labour practices and performing other functions described in the legislation.

LANGUAGE: Words used in a collective agreement to define the rights and obligations to which the union and the employer have agreed.

Sometimes the union and the employer do not agree on the meaning of the words. The grievance procedure can be used to resolve such disputes, including seeking adjudication/arbitration to decide what the language means.

LAYOFFS: Temporary, prolonged or final separation from employment as a result of a lack of work.

LEAVE OF ABSENCE: Period of time when an employee is away from work, with the employer’s permission or because the leave is permitted by law (maternity leave, for example). Depending on the collective agreement and the type of leave, the employee may or may not earn seniority while away. The person is still considered an employee while on leave.

LOCAL (also known as a “branch”): The basic unit of union organization. Trade unions are usually divided into a number of locals.

LOCKOUT: Phase of a labour dispute in which the employer refuses work to employees or closes its establishment in order to force settlement on its terms.

MEDIATION: Voluntary process whereby a mediator helps parties negotiate a settlement.

MITIGATING FACTORS: Reasons that might justify or explain someone’s behaviour, or result in a reduced penalty; for example, the person has no previous history of discipline or has suffered recent personal difficulties.

ORGANIZING: Plan or process to organize unorganized workers to form part of a union.

ORGANIZING MODEL: Approach to running the local that puts membership involvement at the centre of each union activity.

OVERTIME: Hours worked in excess of the regular number of hours fixed by statute or collective agreement.

OVERTIME RATE: Higher rate of pay for overtime hours worked (see overtime).

PAY EQUITY: Principle of equal pay for work of equal value, which requires that female-dominated groups be paid at the same level as male-dominated groups for work that is judged to be of equal value. A methodology is used to identify wage gaps, and the salary for women doing that work in question is raised to that of the men.

PICKETING: Patrolling near an employer’s place of business by members to publicize the existence of a labour dispute, hurt the employer’s productivity, persuade workers to join a strike or the union, and discourage customers from buying or using employer’s goods or services.

PREMIUM PAY: Wage rate higher than straight time, payable for overtime work, work on holidays or scheduled days off, or for work under extraordinary conditions such as carrying out dangerous, dirty or unpleasant tasks.

PRIVATIZATION: The transfer of publicly owned resources and services, such as roads, utilities, airports and national parks, to private ownership. In many cases, government still regulates the standards for service operation and maintenance of resources.

PROGRESSIVE DISCIPLINE: Step-by-step approach to discipline. The process often starts with verbal warnings and then moves to written warnings, paid or unpaid suspensions, and, finally, discharge. In general, employers are expected to have just cause and to use progressive discipline to correct misconduct. In cases of serious misconduct, the employer may skip some steps.

PROHIBITED GROUNDS OF DISCRIMINATION: Grounds of discrimination listed in human rights legislation. It is discriminatory to treat people differently, negatively or adversely based on these grounds.

PSAC ID: Identification number printed on the PSAC Membership Card, and the number recognized by the PSAC digital membership system. All members (full and Rand) are assigned a number.

PUBLIC SERVICE LABOUR RELATIONS ACT: Act respecting labour relations in the federal public service.

PUBLIC SERVICES: Services provided by a government to people living within its jurisdiction (municipal, provincial or federal), either directly through the public sector and its workers, or by providing financing so the services can be provided by another means.

RAIDING: Attempt by one union to induce members of another union to join its ranks.

RAND FORMULA: Clause in a collective agreement or law stating that the employer agrees to deduct an amount equal to the union dues from the pay of all members of the bargaining unit, regardless of whether they are members of the union for the duration of the collective agreement.

The Rand Formula is based on the principle that those who benefit from a collective agreement should contribute dues, even when they are not members of the union (see check-off).

REDRESS OR REMEDY: What the union asks the employer to do to whole”; in other words, taking action that will make it like the member never experienced the problem).

REINSTATEMENT: Return to work after discharge. The terms of the reinstatement can be set out in a settlement agreement or they may be ordered by an arbitrator/adjudicator, labour board or human rights tribunal.

RE-OPENER CLAUSE - A provision calling for re-opening a collective agreement at a specified time prior to its expiration for bargaining on stated subjects such as a wage increase, pension, health and welfare.

SCOPE OF THE BARGAINING UNIT: Description of who is in the bargaining unit represented by the union.

SENIORITY: Employee’s status relative to other employees, for determining order of layoff, promotion, recall, transfer and vacations. Can be based on length of service alone or on additional factors such as ability or union duties, depending on the provisions of the collective agreement.

SERVICE: Length of time an employee has worked for an employer, not just been in the bargaining unit. Benefits such as vacation entitlements are often linked to length of service.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT: Vexatious conduct, including touching, and written or verbal comments of a sexual nature, that the harasser knows is unwelcome or that a reasonable person would know is unwelcome. Sexual harassment affects the targeted person’s dignity and self- respect. Employers are responsible for protecting employees from sexual harassment.

SHIFT: Rotating hours of work scheduled on an irregular basis.

SHIFT DIFFERENTIAL: Added pay for work performed during other than regular daytime hours.

SLOWDOWN: Deliberate lessening of work effort without an actual strike, to force concessions from the employer. Variation is a work-to-rule strike: a concerted slowdown in which workers simply obey all laws and rules applying to their work.

SPLIT SHIFT: Division of an employee’s daily working time into two or more periods, to meet peak needs.

SHOP STEWARD (also known as “union steward” or “steward”): Union official who represents a group of members and the union in union duties, grievance matters and other employment-related situations. Shop stewards are usually part of the work force they represent.

STRIKE: Cessation of work, or a refusal to work or to continue work, by employees to compel an employer to agree to terms or conditions of employment. Usually, this is the last stage of collective bargaining when all other means have failed. Except in special cases, strikes are legal when a collective agreement is not in force. A “rotating strike” is a strike organized in such a way that only some employees stop work at any given time, each group taking its turn. A “sympathy strike” is a strike by workers not directly involved in a labour dispute to show solidarity and bring pressure on an employer. A “wildcat strike” is a strike violating the collective agreement and not authorized by the union.

STRIKEBREAKER/SCAB: Person who continues to work or who accepts employment to replace workers who are on strike. By filling striking workers’ jobs, strikebreakers weaken or break the strike. The anti-union term for a strikebreaker is a “replacement worker.”

STRIKE VOTE: Vote conducted among union members to determine whether to go on strike.

SUSPENSION: Time (paid or unpaid) when an employee is not allowed to work, usually during an investigation or as a form of discipline.

TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE: Technical changes in operational machinery or office equipment, new production techniques, change of work processes, such as homeworking/teleworking and work outside normal work locations.

TELEWORK: Work done away from the normal places of work such as offices or factories; performed instead in workers’ homes, in cars and airplanes, or in another country. The application of technology has greatly

TERMINATION: Employment ends for any reason, including layoff, discharge or dismissal for just cause, non-disciplinary termination or the employee’s resignation.

TOTAL, FULL OR COMPLETE DISABILITY: Employee is unable to perform any of his/her job duties because of an injury or illness.

TRADE UNION: Workers organized into a voluntary association to further their mutual interests with respect to wages, hours, working conditions and other matters.

TRANSFER: Moving to another position, job, department, classification or location with the same employer.

UNDUE HARDSHIP: The point after which employers are not obliged to provide an accommodation, as measured by the following:

  • Costs would be so high that they would significantly affect the employer’s ability to do business or provide services.
  • A change in operations would be so disruptive that the employer could not survive.
  • There would be too many negative impacts on workers’ rights under the collective agreement.
  • Health and safety concerns would outweigh the benefits of the accommodation.

UNFAIR LABOUR PRACTICE: An employer or union breaks a labour law. For example, the union might complain that the employer is discriminating against the local/branch president or the employer might complaint that the union is staging a “wildcat” strike. Labour laws provide processes for filing unfair labour practice complaints with the labour board. A member filing against his/her union files what is known as a duty of fair representation complaint.

WITHOUT PREJUDICE: Statement (e.g. “We withdraw the grievance, without prejudice.”) that current action will not affect future rights and actions, even when the facts are the same.

WORKING CONDITIONS: Conditions pertaining to the workers’ job environment, such as hours of work, safety, paid holidays and vacations, rest periods, free clothing or uniforms, and possibilities for advancement. Many of these are included in the collective agreement and are subject to collective bargaining.

WORK-TO-RULE: See slowdown

November 15, 2017