Unions, management will find 2018 challenging year for bargaining: Conference Board

Legislative changes, including legal marijuana, minimum wage hikes, will have to be addressed: Report
|hrreporter.com|Last Updated: 01/17/2018
Labour relations
Striking members of the auto workers union Unifor acknowledge the horn from a passing truck outside the General Motors (GM) CAMI assembly plant in Ingersoll, Ont., in a file photo. REUTERS/Chris Helgren/File

Economic uncertainty, the need to contain costs, and legislative changes are all factors that will make the bargaining environment increasingly complex this year, according to The Conference Board of Canada’s Industrial Relations Outlook 2018.

“Despite stellar economic growth and record-breaking employment numbers in 2017, a slower Canadian economy, and lingering uncertainties in the global economic climate will create a challenging bargaining environment this year,” said Allison Cowan, director, total rewards and labour relations research at The Conference Board of Canada. “Legislative changes surrounding employment and labour standards, minimum wage increases, and the legalization of recreational cannabis bring a number of additional complexities to the bargaining table.”

Wages continue to be the top bargaining issue for both management and unions in 2018. For unionized employees, the average projected negotiated wage increase for 2018 is 1.4 per cent, slightly lower than the 1.7 per cent increase for contracts negotiated in 2017. Private sector organizations are projecting higher increases (1.7 per cent) than are public sector organizations (1.1 per cent).

Aside from wages, top priorities for unions include reducing precarious employment and improving health and safety provisions for their members. Unions are also taking a hard stance on violence in the workplace and will be looking to integrate collective agreement language that ensures affected employees receive fair treatment and appropriate leave. Additionally, technological change continues to be a significant factor for unions and management alike. While changes in technology can provide a safer work environment, automation is increasingly putting previously well-established jobs at risk, according to the report.

For employers, flexible work practices are the second-most important issue after wages, marking the first time that they have been a top-three negotiation issue for management in more than a decade. This sudden increase in importance may be reflective of changing demographics with Millennial and Generation Z workers placing a high priority on flexible work hours, locations and shifts. Other top bargaining issues for employers include improving productivity, business competitiveness and workforce planning, said the Board.

Many jurisdictions across the country have introduced or are set to introduce new legislation that will see a rise in minimum wages and changes to leave provisions and pay equity, adding an additional layer of complexity to the bargaining environment this year. Organizations operating in these jurisdictions will have to adapt their practices and may be required to find savings to cover any increased costs associated with the changes. Meanwhile, on a broad national scale, the legalization of cannabis for recreational use is set to take place later this year and will pose an entirely new set of challenges for unions and management alike, according to the report.

The annual Industrial Relations Outlook — published by The Conference Board of Canada — provides an overview of issues that may influence labour relations and collective bargaining in Canada over the coming year. The outlook is based on Conference Board of Canada research and the proceedings of an annual roundtable among senior leaders from both labour and management.

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