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Collective Agreements

A collective agreement is an agreement between an employer and a union that establishes working conditions. Sexual harassment on the job can be one of the working conditions that is dealt with through a collective agreement.

Terms about matters such as wages and leaves must give workers at least what they would be entitled to under general Employment Standards. A collective agreement that deprives a worker of any right provided by law is of no effect.

A collective agreement may include terms about…

  • wage rates
  • health benefits
  • layoff rules
  • the right to challenge employer disciplinary actions
  • vacation and other types of leave
  • promotion selection rules
  • occupational safety provisions, including prohibitions on sexual harassment
  • complaints, grievances and arbitration

A collective agreement can give employees more favourable work conditions, including more favourable…

  • rates of pay
  • conditions of work
  • hours of work
  • total wages

Collective agreements may also include a more expansive definition of sexual harassment and explicitly prohibit certain behaviours or actions.

Workplace sexual harassment is often covered in three ways in collective agreements. There may be a general commitment to a harassment-free and discrimination-free workplace. This will often include a definition of harassment and a list of the prohibited grounds of discrimination. The collective agreement usually also lists the the employer's obligations including the employer's obligations to prevent harassment and discrimination and to deal with them if they occur. Finally the processes for dealing with an issue through a complaint or a grievance is generally outlined.

Role of Unions

Employers have a responsibility to create and maintain a workplace that is free of sexual harassment. Unions have an important role in ensuring that employers meet this responsibility. They can be leaders in preventing and addressing sexual harassment in the workplace. They can do this by negotiating for terms in the collective agreement that…

  • prohibit sexual harassment
  • outline procedures to be followed when there is sexual harassment
  • outline the consequences for employees who engage in sexual harassment
  • outline the various remedies for employees who experience sexual harassment

Unions can help workers who have experienced workplace sexual harassment. They can review the definition of sexual harassment with the parties. They can explain the procedures for dealing with sexual harassment as set out in the collective agreement or the employer’s workplace policy. They can represent workers and provide information and support throughout the complaint process. They can also bring complaints about sexual harassment forward, on behalf of a particular worker or the workplace as a whole, in the form of a grievance.

Because unions represent the workers, they have a duty to treat workers fairly. If they fail to do this, complaints can be made to the Labour Relations Board.

If you have experienced sexual harassment in a unionized workplace, you can go to your union for help. You might want to try to resolve the issue directly with the other party without involving your employer. The union can arrange a meeting and also agree to have a shop steward present to represent each party. The union may agree to simply tell the other party to stop the harassment. They may be able to arrange for the parties to attend mediation or participate in some other alternative dispute resolution process. If there is a process in place for dealing with complaints, the union can use the process.

If the matter is not settled at this stage the union and/or the worker can file a grievance. Workers may also ask that the matter proceed directly to the grievance process without trying more informal ways to resolve the issue. It may not always be safe to approach the other party directly and, in any event, it is never required.

Unions can take steps to protect a complainant from retaliation or other negative outcomes related to making a complaint or grievance.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unacceptable because it is an abuse of both economic and sexual power. ~Calgary (City) v Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 37 (Alberta Court of Appeal)

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The Shift Project is funded by the Department of Justice and delivered by the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan (PLEA).