Unionizing in British Columbia

March 18, 2021

In British Columbia, if a group of employees wishes to form or join a trade union, the BC Labour Relations Code applies.  This legislation governs the rights and prohibitions in relation to activities of trade unions, and all unions, employers and employees are bound by it.

When a union applies to the BC Labour Board to represent a group of employees, the Board will organize a vote to ensure that the majority of those employees wish to be represented by the union.  Alternatively, the employer can voluntarily recognize the union to represent a group of employees, and those employees will have an opportunity to vote on whether they are represented or not after the union has bargained with the employer, and the employees are required to ratify the agreement.

Therefore, in order to be certified by a union, the group of individuals must first be:

  • Employees;
  • Identifiable in order to cast a vote.

How do the employees get their new terms and conditions?

Without a union, employment terms and conditions are defined by, amongst other pieces of legislation, the Employment Standards Act and any employment contract or agreement between the employee and their employer.  Once represented by the union, the terms and conditions of the employment can be negotiated through bargaining.  The terms and conditions of a Collective Agreement can be equal to or better than those provided by Employment Standards, but they are negotiated through the bargaining process which is also governed by the BC Labour Relations Code (Part 4).  A public sector employer, such as SFU, is also governed by the Public Sector Employers’ Council which sets levels of compensation in order to ensure parity and responsible use of public funds across public sector organizations across British Columbia.

What about benefits and wage increases?

During this process, whether it is through certification or voluntary recognition, a public sector employer negotiates terms and conditions such as benefits, wage increases, or allowances through collective bargaining.  Such elements of bargaining must be carefully costed, compared to current terms for other employees, and ratified by the both the employees represented by the union and by the governing body of the employer; in SFU’s case, the Board of Governors.

More information is available at: Labour Relations Board - British Columbia - Code Guide Chapter 1 (lrb.bc.ca)

If you need general LR advice, please direct your enquiries to:

  • HR Strategic Business Partners for APSA, CUPE, and Poly Party employees and issues, general enquiries;
  • The LR Team (lr_team@sfu.ca) for TSSU employees and issues;
  • Jools Trasler (jtrasler@sfu.ca) for RA Certification and bargaining enquiries.