UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

British Columbia industrial conciliators : a study in role perception, performance, and conflict Currie, Ian Douglas


Conciliation Boards, upon the structure and operation of which this study focuses, are a part of the legal machinery which has been developed since 1937 by British Columbia's legislators as a means of attempting to solve disputes which arise between labour and management personnel with reference to the signing of new collective agreements between these two parties before these parties attempt to solve such disputes by employing the technique of a strike and/or a lockout. The purpose of the Conciliation Board is, thus, to attempt to persuade labour and management personnel to achieve a settlement without employing the technique of the strike or the lockout. Casual observation of two factors—the widely-publicized industrial unrest in British Columbia of recent years, manifested principally in the form of strikes and lockouts, and newspaper articles in which opinions critical of the functioning of Conciliation Boards were expressed—prompted the author to embark upon the present research, the purpose of which was twofold: firstly, and most importantly, to attempt to determine, by employing sociological perspectives, whether or not—regarding the Conciliation Board as a part of the means, or machinery, devised to accomplish the specific end of settling a collective-agreement dispute before the parties resort to the strike or the lockout—any characteristics of the structure or operation of this machinery are inefficient in that they in effect work against the accomplishment of its avowed purpose; and, secondly, to attempt to discover the principal causal factors involved in the process and outcome of the interaction of Conciliation Board personnel when a Conciliation Board is constituted for the purpose of attempting to achieve agreement between the two disputing parties. Extensive exploratory interviewing with experienced Conciliation Board personnel produced a body of data from which, by dint of considerable reflection along sociologically-oriented lines, forty-three hypotheses were developed about four fundamental themes. These hypotheses were subsequently synthesized into a more unified analytic conception by reclassifying them in terms of three categories: External Factors, Internal Factors, and Other-role Factors. The hypotheses were tested by means of an extensive and detailed questionnaire, and the rationale behind the selection of this particular testing-technique is discussed in Chapter III, as is the nature of the sample, and the means by which the sample was selected. The testing of each hypothesis is then described in detail, the results of the tests are set forth, and some of the implications of these results are considered. In Chapter IV, the results of the tests of the hypotheses are examined in the light of the twofold purpose of the thesis (outlined above): the findings of the tests are summarized, the conclusions to which they give rise are recapitulated briefly, and any recommendations which seem indicated are put forward. These recommendations are summarized in a final section, and any general trends of interest suggested by a panoramic consideration of all of the data are described and their significance discussed. These general trends are summarized briefly below. The first is that accommodative and normative conciliation (two ways in which, it was hypothesized, the Conciliation Board chairman may conceive his role*) are relatively distinct in that they are not often used in sequence, and that, of the two, accommodative conciliation is overwhelmingly preferred under all circumstances. A second general observation is that public opinion is not a factor which exercises any important influence upon the operation of Conciliation Boards. Third, employer nominees seem more closely tied to the wishes of their parties as a result of a combination of two factors: their perception of employers as having a greater economic vulnerability to a markedly unfavourable report, and the effect of the "secondary" type of relationship which employers enjoy with their principals. Fourth, an accumulation of evidence makes it apparent that chairmen are somewhat more favourably inclined toward employer nominees as a result of a combination of several factors: firstly, a sympathy based upon social-class and occupational similarities, with an attendant identification of economic and political values; secondly, a belief in the greater economic seriousness, for an employer, of a particularly unfavourable award, and, thirdly, the tendency, alleged by union nominees, of the Social Credit government to appoint chairmen who tend to be more favourably inclined toward employers. In the author's opinion, these factors (that is, those mentioned in the fourth generalization) are the principal causes of a fifth general phenomenon: a generalized dissatisfaction, on the part of union nominees (and, presumably, unions), with the way in which the Boards operate. In response to the information brought to light by the data gathered in the present study, eight recommendations have been made which, it is hoped, would alter the present conciliation machinery in such a way as to render it more satisfactory to those whom it serves; the first seven of these recommendations appear on pages 222-223, and the eighth on pages 226-227.

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