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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public interest in collective bargaining Jelking, Robert Paul

Abstract

Problem This thesis attempts to determine if the Canadian federal and provincial governments are increasing their assertion of the public interest in the collective bargaining process. The primary concern is to determine to what extent the government, through its new labour legislation will be able to affect the quality of collective agreements. The quality of collective agreements can be affected directly through arbitration or can be affected indirectly by influencing the power positions of the negotiating parties. Method of Investigation The first problem which is tackled is the definition of the public interest. The public interest is a term now being used in labour legislation, for which a precise definition is not easily derived. A literature analysis is undertaken to develop a conceptual framework of the public interest. Since this is an investigation of the changing role of the government, it is necessary to establish the traditional role of the government in the collective bargaining process. This is accomplished by examining less recent government legislation as well as case studies of the applications of the U.S. Taft-Hartley Act. The public employees of Canada and the United States are treated as a special case. Recent legislative developments in both countries have resulted in federal public servants to become active in collective bargaining. These recent developments consist in Canada of the Public Service Staff Relations Act, and in the United States of the Executive Order 10899. The new developments in provincial labour legislation consist of B.C.’s Bill 33, Saskatchewan’s Essential Services Emergency Act, and Ontario's Rand Royal Commission Report. These two Acts and the Royal Commission Report are analyzed critically for their potential effect upon the collective bargaining process. Conclusions The literature analysis of the public interest reveals that there is no universally acceptable definition of the public interest. The public interest can only be meaningfully used within a situational framework. In other words, the concept is capable of definition only within a specific situation. Despite the fact that the concept is not likely ever to be universally defined, it will undoubtedly continue to be widely used. The policy of the Canadian federal and provincial governments regarding collective bargaining has traditionally been to assist the parties to come to an agreement. The role of the government has not been one of interference. It has consisted solely of facilitating agreements by postponing work stoppages and by providing mediators. Although the effectiveness of these measures can be questioned, the intent is quite clear. The recent provincial legislation seems to reinforce the proposition that the strike is an undesirable form of social conflict. It is felt to be undesirable in the sense that the legislation encourages the parties to collective negotiations to settle their dispute without resorting to work stoppages. At the same time, it recognizes that the threat of a work stoppage is part of the collective bargaining process. The new legislation formalizes the concept that there are certain kinds of collective bargaining relationships which are heavily endowed with the public interest. Whereas government activity in these kinds of disputes had occurred on an ad hoc basis in the past, the Rand Report, B.C.'s Bill 33, and the Saskatchewan legislation established mechanisms which will provide for the assertion of the public interest in extraordinary labour disputes. In some cases, and where the parties cannot come to an agreement without resorting to a work stoppage, the new legislation will provide an agency or mechanism through which the government can submit the dispute to compulsory arbitration.

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