Voisey’s Bay panel recommends mandatory labour-management committees

Both Vale and USW are to blame for failure to reach agreement

A new government report commissioned during the 18-month labour dispute at the Voisey’s Bay mine is recommending changes to labour laws in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The report says that the government should have the power to impose a collective agreement when the disputing parties cannot reach an agreement after an extensive amount of time.

“The results of collective bargaining are, and must remain, the responsibility of the parties,” says Darin King, Minister of Human Resources, Labour and Employment and Minister Responsible for the Labour Relations Agency. “It is, however, the Provincial Government’s responsibility to provide the frame work that governs how labour disputes are managed and to provide the supports needed so parties can resolve the disputes when they occur.”

Commissioned by former premier Danny Williams, the report is a result of the dispute between United Steelworkers Local 9508 (USW) and Brazil mining giant Vale, which owns the Voisey’s Bay mine. The parties disputed from Aug. 1, 2009 until Jan. 31, 2011.

"Strikes of such length are indicative of a failure in the collective bargaining process," the report reads. "It is the commission's view that both parties have failed to put the ingredients in place to ensure a good working environment at Voisey's Bay."

Led by chairman John Roil, the commission makes six recommendations:

  1. The government should re-examine the means by which it facilitates collective bargaining between multinational organizations in order to preserve Canadian labour values and guarantee good-faith bargaining between parties.

  2. The government should amend the Labour Relations Act to provide that all collective agreements contain a provision that a mandatory Labour-Management Committee be established. The committee would ensure both parties engage one another on a continuing basis to foster an understanding of workplace issues, preventing issues during the life of the collective agreement from becoming strike issues later.

  3. The government re-evaluate the use of conciliation boards and appoint such boards to report in circumstances where it appears that the traditional pressures of the strike/lockout model are unlikely to be effective in bringing about a collective agreement.

  4. The Labour Relations Board establish dates for the hearing of unfair labour practices immediately upon the receipt of them by the Board and cut its response time to complaints by half.

  5. The government seek to amend the Labour Relations Act to provide a process for the imposition of a collective agreement in the following circumstances:
    a) one of the employer or the bargaining agent makes application;
    b) the applicant having been found by the Labour Relations Board to have bargained in good faith;
    c) all of the conditions precedent to a strike or lockout having been met;
    d) it is apparent that strike and/or lockout mechanisms have been ineffective in bringing about resolution of the dispute;
    e) the Labour Relations Board is satisfied that the collective bargaining process has failed; and
    f) the public interest requires the imposition of a collective agreement.

  6. Vale and the USW engage aboriginal peoples of Labrador as stakeholders in the Voisey’s Bay enterprise so that they can participate in the benefits associated with the agreements.

The USW says that it is pleased with the recommendations of the report, but wishes that items such as anti-scab legislation were included.

“If these recommendations had been in place prior to our negotiations, we would not have had an 18-month strike,” says USW Canadian Director Ken Neumann.

Newfoundland introduced legislation earlier this year to alter the means by which first agreements are reached between parties. Bill 10 would amend the Labour Relations Act so that should the Labour Relations Board decide to impose a first collective agreement, the ability to strike or lock out would cease. The bill would also introduce voluntary expedited arbitration procedure and voluntary grievance mediation procedure.

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