BC Provincial Government Changes Labour Relations Code Union Certification Process, and Employment Standards Act Sick Leave

Changes to BC Labour Relations Code Union Certification

The BC NDP Provincial Government is amending the union certification process under the Labour Relations Code to remove the secret ballot vote where membership cards signed by 55% or more of employees in proposed bargaining unit are submitted.

BC will soon see changes to the way in which unions are certified in the province. The government introduced Bill 10 on April 6th, proposing changes to the Labour Relations Code to allow for a single-step union certification system, commonly known as the “card-check system”. The card-check system was previously in place in BC but was changed in August 2001 by the BC Liberals to our present system which requires a secret ballot vote. Once this new Bill passes, which is expected to occur by no later than the end of May if not much sooner, a union will only need to have 55% of the employees in the proposed bargaining unit to have signed membership cards to obtain certification.

If between 45% – 55% of employees in the unit applied for have signed cards, then a secret ballot vote will still be held.

Issues such as the description of the bargaining unit and its appropriateness as determined under labour relations principles, whether individuals have a sufficient continuing interest in collective bargaining and any conflict of interest of an employee arising from management or confidential information roles will continue to apply and be considered at the time of an application. In certain cases, these considerations may make the unit applied for inappropriate, or reduce the number of employees in the bargaining unit or the percentage who have signed membership cards and require a vote.

Employers will want to continue to seek legal advice where an organizing drive or certification application is brought to understand the process and ensure proper principles and considerations are applied. Representation by a union is a significant change to the status quo in a workplace and should be made with proper application of the law. Past concerns have been that membership card signing may occur without the employee understanding the process or significance of signing, be based on misrepresentations or take place undue pressure from others.

Bill 10 also allows for construction industry union members to apply to the Board in July and August of each year of the collective agreement, for a change in union representation.

Further Changes to BC’s Paid Sick Leave Effective March 31, 2022

We previously discussed the changes to BC’s paid sick leave under the Employment Standards Act (“ESA”), which were brought into effect on January 1, 2022.  During the week of March 28th, the BC NDP Government swiftly introduced and adopted further changes to paid sick leave law by way of Bill 19-2022 which took effect March 31, 2022.

Prior to these changes, since the start of the year employees in BC subject to the ESA have been entitled to 5 days of paid leave in each employment year, for personal illness or injury. With these changes, entitlement to the five days of paid sick leave is calculated on a per ‘calendar year’ basis, rather than an ‘employment year’ basis. This change aims to reduce the administrative burden on the employer of keeping track of individual employee start dates. Further, and importantly, Bill 19 also amends the ESA to provide that the paid sick leave requirements are minimum requirements that apply, regardless of whether a collective agreement meets or beats those statutory requirements. Employers will need to consider how their existing sick leave policies generally, or contained in collective agreements, will be affected, as well as how the sick leave entitlements are managed as the 5 days under the ESA do not carry over from year to year, and must be paid in 1-day increments.

Please contact a member of our Labour and Employment Group if you have any questions regarding the above.

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