About labour action (a strike or lockout)

Is a strike vote required before a strike can take place?
Yes. A strike vote taken by secret ballot is required before any strike action can occur. Each employee in the bargaining unit is entitled to vote, and a majority of them must vote in favour of a strike in order for a strike to take place.

When a majority of the employees vote in favour of a strike, must there be a strike?
No. The union is not obligated to declare a strike even if the majority of its members vote in favour. Parties often reach a negotiated settlement without a strike, even if a positive strike vote has been taken.

When can a strike take place?
Once the majority of employees have voted in favour of a strike, the union is in a position to declare a strike, however, it must provide written notice at least 24 hours in advance before a strike can begin.

What is the difference between a strike and a lockout?
A strike is a labour action initiated by a union. During a strike, employees cease working and withdraw their services. Employees are not normally allowed in the workplace while they are on strike.

A lockout is a labour action initiated by an employer. A lockout involves closing a place of employment to and suspending the work of those employees represented by the union involved in the dispute.  

About collective bargaining

What is collective bargaining?
Collective bargaining is the process under which the negotiation of the collective agreement takes place. The Industrial Relations Act of New Brunswick requires both parties to meet in a timely manner and to make every reasonable effort to negotiate in good faith with a view to the renewal of an existing collective agreement.

What is a collective agreement?
A collective agreement is a written contract between an employer and a union which contains the terms and conditions of employment (e.g. rates of pay, rights and obligations) that apply to all members of the particular group of employees represented by the union also known as bargaining unit.

How does collective bargaining begin?
Under the Industrial Relations Act of New Brunswick, either party must give notice between 90 and 30 days before expiration of the current collective agreement. Once notice is given both sides must meet as soon as possible but no later than 20 days after the notice was given (unless extended upon mutual agreement of the parties), to commence bargaining and must make every reasonable effort to reach an agreement.

During the bargaining process, can the parties seek outside assistance in reaching agreement?
Yes. If the parties are unable to agree on the terms of a new collective agreement, either party (or both) may initiate the conciliation process by asking the minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour to appoint a conciliator.

What is a straw strike vote?
A straw vote is sometimes used by a union to get a sense of the feelings of its membership and to demonstrate unity to the employer to give the bargaining team a stronger position at the negotiation table. It is not legally binding nor does it provide a mandate for a legal strike, which can only occur after a formal strike vote.

About conciliation

What is the role of a conciliation officer?  
The conciliation officer acts as a neutral third party and assists both parties work towards a negotiated settlement and new collective agreement.

Who appoints the conciliation officer?
The minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour appoints a conciliation officer based on a formal, written application made by one or both parties in a negotiation.

What authority does the conciliation officer have?
A conciliation officer can make recommendations based on observations in an effort to guide the parties through the process. At the end of the conciliation process, the conciliation officer provides a report to the minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour. A conciliation officer does not have the authority to impose a new agreement on the parties.

Is it unusual for a conciliation officer to be brought in?  
Although conciliation officers are not always required, it is an often-used practice. Conciliation has regularly been employed in past bargaining processes.

When does the conciliation officer begin their work with the bargaining teams?
Normally, the conciliation officer will initiate with negotiating teams soon after being appointed.

How long does the conciliation officer work with the parties?
This depends, as each bargaining process is different. The conciliation officer makes an initial report to the minister after 14 days, however often keeps the conciliation mandate open as long as negotiations are productive. It is not uncommon for conciliation to continue for a number of weeks or months.

What if no agreement is reached during the conciliation process?
If no agreement can be reached by the parties, the conciliation officer may declare an impasse and file his or her report. Within 15 days of receiving the report, the minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour will decide whether or not to appoint a conciliation board. The minister may also choose to appoint a mediator to assist the parties in reaching an agreement.

What is the role of a mediator ?
A mediator acts as a neutral third party and attempts to help both parties resolve their differences and come to a mutually-agreeable solution and a new collective agreement.

What is a conciliation board?
A conciliation board is appointed by the minister of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour. It has three members. One is nominated by the union, one nominated by the employer, with the minister having the final sign off. The two appointed members then nominate a third person to chair the conciliation board, with the minister again having final sign off. The board will hear from both parties and must report its findings and recommendations to the minister within 14 days of the chair being appointed. The parties can agree to make the recommendations of the board binding, but are not required to do so.

What if the minister does not appoint a conciliation board?
Nine days after the minister releases a notice that they have decided not to appoint a conciliation board, a union may hold a strike vote or an employer can lock out employees. The parties may continue to negotiate even if a strike vote has been taken.

Further questions
If you have any further questions about the collective bargaining process, we encourage you to consult the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour FAQs.

Questions may also be directed to negotiations@mta.ca