May 8, 2017

University to implement changes triggered by Bill 7

Alberta Government passes Act to Enhance Post-Secondary Academic Bargaining

Author

University Relations

On May 4, 2017, the Alberta Government passed Bill 7: An Act to Enhance Post-Secondary Academic Bargaining. The bill will have an important impact on how our university governs its labour relationship with academic staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars. Labour relations for academic staff, graduate students and postdoctoral scholars have historically been governed by the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA). In 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) found that the right to strike is constitutionally protected. In the fall of 2015, Alberta Advanced Education consulted with academic staff associations, graduate student associations, and public post-secondary institutions about how to implement the right to strike in the post-secondary sector.

From August to November, 2016, Advanced Education consulted with affected stakeholders to determine the most effective post-secondary labour relations model. The university participated by making written submissions and attending multiple roundtable discussions. In response to the SCC decision and following above-noted consultation, the government introduced Bill 7: An Act to Enhance Post-Secondary Academic Bargaining on April 6, 2017. Bill 7 revokes the provisions of the PSLA that address collective bargaining and brings academic labour relations under the Labour Relations Code (Code). Minimal amendments were also made to Public Service Employee Relations Act.

The impacts of Bill 7 are significant and in broad terms will:

  • Move academic labour relations under the Code;
  • Maintain the Board of Governors’ authority to designate employees as academic staff but makes it subject to expanded consultation with multiple stakeholders and review by the Labour Relations Board;
  • Permit post-secondary institutions to lock out their employees subject to the Code requirements;
  • Grant academic staff associations and graduate student associations all the rights, duties and remedies that are granted to unions under the Code, including the right to strike subject to the Code requirements;
  • Recognize postdoctoral fellows as employees and legislate the existence of a postdoctoral association. Once created, this association will have all the rights, duties and remedies that are granted to unions under the Code, including the right to strike subject to the Code requirements;
  • Make the right to strike for these groups subject to the continued provision of essential services during a strike. Essential Services is defined as those services that if interrupted would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the public, or that are necessary to the maintenance and administration of the rule of law and public security. There is no requirement for institutions to have standing essential services agreements but one must be negotiated with each bargaining agent prior to any strike or lock-out;
  • Immediately effective April 6, 2017, Bill 7 ends compulsory interest arbitration including for those parties that have negotiated compulsory arbitration as a dispute mechanism within their collective agreements; and
  • Protect current academic staff associations and graduate student associations as the exclusive bargaining agents until at least July 1, 2022. No other union will be allowed to certify and there is no risk of the modification or revocation of the current bargaining rights.  Once the post-doctoral fellows association is created it will enjoy the same protections until July 1, 2022.

Next steps

In order to implement the changes triggered by Bill 7, the University has taken two immediate actions: (1) establish a working group on postdoctoral fellows to determine immediate steps required to transition their status from trainee to employee and (2) for  Human Resources to expand the scope of ongoing essential services preparations to identify any academic staff performing essential services to be prepared to negotiate an essential services agreement in the event one is required.

The University will continue to provide periodic updates on the  Bill 7 implementation process.