Alberta to beef up labour relations with construction sector

Report recommends streamlining bargaining, improving communication

Following a report from a prominent labour lawyer, Alberta has announced an upcoming overhaul of its labour relations with the construction sector.

Released on April 30 by labour lawyer Andrew Sims, the report — a year in the making — prompted the government to provide long-term stability for labour in the construction industries.

As part of his recommendations, Sims urged the labour department to beef up the way it conducts business with employers and employees in construction — such as requiring all collective agreements to include “major project” provisions. That means disputes regarding the terms of a major construction project would be resolved through binding arbitration, rather than a strike or lockout.

While the construction field in Alberta has churned out a high volume of projects with little labour unrest, Sims said the system needs to be modernized to keep up with a changing industry.

“Stability, predictability and balance are essential to continued success,” he explained. “These recommendations, made after wide consultation, will update these systems to reflect changes within the industry, adding clarity where needed, while maintaining those features that have made it successful over time.”

Other recommendations include defining the scope of the bargaining system, which would protect local unions by requiring international or parent unions to adhere to existing collective agreements, as well as introducing a “build-up” principle that would direct the provincial labour relations board to re-evaluate its process based on their anticipated size.

Sims report further suggested major transmission line construction, which would allow the labour board to examine whether transmission lines should be placed in the specialty construction section for bargaining purposes.

And lastly, the report urged stakeholder dialogue, including regular meetings between industry, labour and government.

Labour minister Thomas Lukaszuk welcomed the report and said he intends to implement its recommendations.

“These changes are designed to maintain a balance between the needs of industry and labour and will create an atmosphere of stability for years to come,” he said.

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