Simply put, collective bargaining refers to the negotiation of salary, benefits, and conditions of employment by a body or group of employees. People are most often familiar with the term “labour union” or just “union” as the common name for a body of employees that enters into collective bargaining. As a specialized field of negotiation, collective bargaining between labour unions and their employers allows for employee rights that extend beyond government labour laws, but these negotiations are still covered by legal requirements.
It is important to know that legal statutes protect employees’ rights to form collective bargaining units in order to negotiate employment terms. This means they may negotiate as a group for any number of rights from salary and benefits to working hours and working conditions. For many employees, negotiating employment terms as a collective affords them an opportunity to help and protect each other from potential consequences associated with their negotiations. Similarly, legal statutes also afford unions in the private sector extended rights for unpaid leave as a means of negotiation – in other words, unionized workers in the private (and often public) sector have the right to strike.
However, unions in North America must also be appropriately recognized through a certification process. This process requires that the union, or collective bargaining unit, can demonstrate majority support for the union before it can claim to represent the collective rights of the group. Typically, governmental bodies must validate the union as most provinces hold jurisdiction over working conditions including minimum wages, working hours, termination requirements, and general working conditions. For example, in British Columbia, the Employment Standards Act outlines the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers in the province.
With respect to collective bargaining negotiations, one might view the issue as two sides of the same coin. Employers and employees sometimes have conflicting interests but share a common goal. Most often, conflict will arise from economic concerns but working conditions that impact health and safety are also common motivators for collective bargaining negotiations. As unions have become more sophisticated in North America, unions now often petition for improved working benefits such as extended health plans, increased vacation time, and leave to attend to personal emergencies.
Collective bargaining is a complicated process that involves specialized legal know how. In most cases, an employee represented by a union cannot seek outside legal council in Canada, unless they feel they are not adequately represented by their union. Moreover, union employees pay careful attention to the stipulations of their collective bargaining unit because they are often required to act in the best interests of their unit even if these contradict their personal interests. Ultimately, collective bargaining is common in Canada and North America and there are benefits and drawbacks for both employees and employers.