Labour Laws During World War II
What was the impact of World War II (WW II) on labour laws?
As a result of the Snider case in 1925, relationships between labour unions and employees were to be regulated by the provinces, unless the business was a matter of federal jurisdiction under the Constitution, such as banking. However, emboldened by its emergency powers during the Second World War, the federal government passed laws regulating industries associated with the war effort, which, in effect, covered most industries. The laws were consolidated into the Wartime Labour Relations Regulations (1944), which were also known as PC1003.
What was the effect of PC1003 (Wartime Labour Relations Regulations)?
Prior to 1944, It was necessary for workers to use collective economic action to force their employers to the bargaining table. PC1003 changed this, by compelling employers to recognize and bargain with trade unions. It gave legal recognition to unions and established a system of union certification for federally-regulated industries. Its provisions were adopted by most provinces. Once unions were certified, employers were forced, by law, to negotiate at the bargaining table. A comprehensive system of collective bargaining was established.
Furthermore, PC1003 attempted to balance the competing rights of employees, both individually and collectively, with the rights of employers. Therefore:
- unions were not allowed to interfere in employers’ organizations or to use tactics to force union membership. Unions could only carry out union activity at a workplace during working hours with the agreement of an employer and could not cause any restrictions on production such as slow downs.
- employers were not allowed to interfere in union affairs or to discriminate against workers who took part in union activities. Certain employees were not included in the law, for example, those who could hire and fire, and those working in agriculture.
How did collective bargaining under PC1003 work?
A Wartime Labour Relations Board was established to give authority to a unit of employees to bargain. A union had to have a written request from an employee before it could represent him or her. If there was disagreement between a union and an employer, a conciliation officer worked with them to resolve the matter. If there was no agreement, the issue was taken to a conciliation board. During the whole period of conciliation, strike action was illegal.
All employees were bound by a collective agreement even if they did not belong to the union. If there was no collective agreement and an employer wanted to change working conditions, he or she had to give 60 days notice so that the employees could elect a bargaining representative. The Wartime Labour Relations Board had to approve wage clauses in collective agreements. Any disagreements about the collective agreement had to be settled by the parties themselves. If they could not reach agreement, the Board could impose a procedure. This process was the beginning of compulsory arbitration for grievance disputes.
PC1003 also included provisions requiring more accountability of the internal affairs of unions.
Post World War II
What new challenges did unions face after WW II?
Following WW II, there were marked differences in workplace environments. Technology was beginning to have a large impact. Young people were staying in school longer and women were much more common in the workplace, producing new discussions about equal pay and maternity rights. Probably the largest change was the growth of the public service sector.
Once collective bargaining became legitimate, disputes more often tended to be about the contents of the collective agreement. Perhaps surprisingly, the radical changes in the law ushered in a time of many strikes and disputes across Canada. Union members struggled to push their newly enshrined rights further, while employers attempted to constrain the legislation. Often the disputes ended up in court where employers sued the unions in civil law for losses suffered as a result of industrial action.
What happened to PC1003 (Wartime Labour Relations Regulations) after WW II?
As World War II ended and the federal emergency powers expired, it became necessary to create a universal labour code that would apply to all industries in the post-war years. In an attempt to create this nation-wide policy, a conference of federal and provincial labour ministers developed a set of principles in October 1946.These principles included:
- freedom of association;
- recognition of unions;
- certification of unions, to establish the right to bargain collectively;
- state intervention in the right to strike and lockout;
- outlawing of unfair labour practices by employers and unions; and
- creation and maintenance of investigative tools to support the collective bargaining system.
The federal Industrial Relations and Disputes Investigation Act was passed in 1948, and applied to employees in federal jurisdiction. It was a consolidation of the 1907 Industrial Disputes Investigation Act and parts of PC1003.The majority of provinces then followed suit and passed their own versions of this Act.
What laws relating to labour were passed in Alberta after WW II?
In 1947, Alberta passed its first comprehensive labour statute: the Labour Act. The contents of the Act included:
- the creation of a Board of Industrial Relations that could hear disputes between employers and employees relating to terms and conditions of work;
- confirmation that unions had the right to bargain collectively, free of interference from employers;
- a declaration that collective agreements were legally binding;
- prohibition of strikes during certain periods of a conciliation and arbitration process, and also until a majority of employees had voted in favour of a strike;
- exclusion of certain employees from the law:
- managers were excluded as they could not bargain with themselves;
- those who held confidential information relating to the bargaining process were not included;
- many professional occupations were not included as it was felt to be unprofessional to take part in collective action for personal gain; and
- exclusion of some groups of public employees from the right to strike.
Is the Labour Act still in force in Alberta?
No, the Labour Act was repealed in 1981 and was replaced by the Labour Relations Act. That Act, in turn, was repealed and replaced by the Labour Relations Code in 1988. The Labour Relations Code covers most employers and unions in Alberta, including health care workers and the construction industry.
The Public Service Employee Relations Act governs bargaining relationships between the provincial government as employer and the civil service. In addition, there is the Police Officers Collective Agreement Act, which covers police officers in the province but excludes the RCMP and the Post-Secondary Learning Act, which covers academic staff and the institutions that employ them.
Jurisdiction over Labour Law
Today, what level of government has jurisdiction over labour law?
In 1925, the Privy Council declared in the Snider case that the provinces have the right to make laws regarding the civil rights of employers and employees, unless it was in an area specifically in the domain of the federal government. The only time that this power could revert back to the federal government would be in a time of national crisis.
What areas does the federal government have the power to legislate in concerning employees and employers?
The federal government can make laws governing labour in the following areas:
- industries that have an extra-provincial or international character, for example, trucking, ferries, tunnels, bridges, railways, air transport, aircraft, airports, telecommunications, telephone and cable systems, and banks;
- works declared to be for the general advantage of Canada or of two or more provinces; and
- most federal Crown corporations.
The Public Service Employment Act covers employees of the federal government. The Canada Labour Code covers workers employed by federally regulated corporations and industries, such as those listed above.
Civil Liability of Unions
Can employers sue unions for losses suffered due to industrial action?
Since unions had been exempted from being a criminal conspiracy back in 1892, employers had to look for other ways to take legal action. The civil law, which deals with rights and responsibilities between people and organizations, provided an answer. In civil law, it is possible to sue another person in tort. A tort is an injury or a wrong for which it is possible to pursue a claim for compensation or damages. For example, the tort of negligence allows someone to sue another person for the reasonably foreseeable consequences of actions if that person is negligent and causes injury.
In response to actions brought by employers against unions, courts developed a subset of torts, called economic torts, that applied in business situations where the losses were purely economic and not physical. This body of law began to develop in Britain and was imported to Canada over the course of the 1900s. Examples of economic torts are civil conspiracy, inducing breach of contract, intimidation, trespass, nuisance, and breach of a labour relations law. For the most part, however, modern disputes between unions and employers in Canada are decided by labour relations boards. In cases where a collective agreement is in place, labour relations boards and not the courts, have the jurisdiction to resolve the dispute and award damages. The Labour Relations Code governs arbitration for economic damages in Alberta, and there is similar legislation in most provinces in Canada.
For more information, see these other Canadian Legal FAQs.