Alberta’s Labour Relations Code (the “Code”) was last updated in 1988, and with a new provincial government formed in 2015, it should have come as no surprise that a review of Alberta’s labour laws would occur. Between March 13 and April 18, 2017, Albertans were able to provide input on revising the Code.

The review process was assisted by Mr. Andrew Sims, Q.C., a labour arbitrator and a former Chair of the Alberta Labour Relations Board. The Alberta Government received 340 written submissions from employers, business associations, organized labour and advocacy groups, in addition to input provided during stakeholder meetings. The proposed changes to the Code arising out of the review process are contained in Bill 17: The Fair and Family-friendly Workplaces Act, which received Royal Assent on June 7, 2017.

While there are a number of amendments to the Code, the five most significant amendments are as follows.

Removing the exclusion of farm workers from the application of the Code

Workers employed on a farm or ranch have generally been excluded from the application of the Code. Bill 17 has eliminated this exclusion and will now allow farm and ranch workers to certify a trade union to collectively bargain along with accessing other provisions of the Code.

Automatic certification of trade unions without representation votes

A representation vote will no longer occur if more than 65% of employees in an appropriate bargaining unit support the trade union applying for certification. This represents a significant change to the Code as a representation vote is presently required for all applications for certification where the trade union has the support of 40% or more of the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit.

Inclusion of dependent contractors

Bill 17 includes dependent contractors to the application of the Code. A dependent contractor is considered to be a contractor that is in a position of economic dependence on, and under an obligation to perform duties for, the entity engaging the contractor’s services. This change provides dependent contractors the ability to unionize through the certification process like employees in Alberta.

First contract arbitration

The Code now requires first contract arbitration to resolve negotiations between an employer and a newly-certified trade union. This amendment provides a process whereby the Labour Relations Board can assist with settling the terms of a first collective agreement and, if such assistance is unsuccessful, direct the matter to arbitration.

Labour Relations Board to review arbitration decisions

The Court of Queen’s Bench will no longer have jurisdiction to review labour arbitration awards once this amendment is in force. Instead, an employer or union will be required to apply to the Labour Relations Board if they wish to have labour arbitration decisions reviewed. If an employer or union wishes a further review after the Labour Relations Board has reviewed the labour arbitration award, they may appeal to the Court of Appeal after permission to appeal has been obtained.

Employers should be mindful of new rules

The amendments to the Code represent significant changes to the labour relations regime in Alberta. Employers will need to be mindful of these changes when considering their labour relations policies and practices. A summary of the changes contained in Bill 17 can be found here.