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B.C. appoints panel to consult with industries ahead of Labour Relations Code review

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains has appointed a 3-member panel to review the province's Labour Relations Code as part of a commitment to keep the code up to date. (Michael McArthur/CBC - image credit)
B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains has appointed a 3-member panel to review the province's Labour Relations Code as part of a commitment to keep the code up to date. (Michael McArthur/CBC - image credit)

The provincial government has appointed a panel to consult with industries and labour groups on changes to the B.C. Labour Relations Code this spring, and one union executive hopes the independent review will lead to better gains for workers across the province.

A three-member panel was appointed Thursday by Labour Minister Harry Bains as part of a commitment to review the code every five years. The last independent review of the code was conducted in 2018.

The code governs how provincially regulated employers interact with workers and trade unions, as well as collective bargaining issues such as dispute resolution.

Sandra Banister, an experienced labour lawyer and one of the panel members, told CBC News the panel is also expected to consult with Indigenous groups as part of its mandate to ensure labour laws in B.C. are up to date.

Banister said the panel would likely hear about various issues that have changed work since 2018 — including artificial intelligence, gig work, and remote work — and that she's hopeful the panel's recommendations are accepted by the government.

"It's very important the labour code is balanced and creates a level playing field," she said. "If the code is balanced, it works better for everybody, and no one feels their interests are being run over or ignored."

The last comprehensive review of the code led to legislative amendments in 2019, which were passed unanimously in the legislature, and more amendments in 2022.

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains announces changes to the province's Labour Relations Code, April 30, 2019.
B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains announces changes to the province's Labour Relations Code, April 30, 2019.

Bains announced the changes to the province's Labour Relations Code on April 30, 2019, after the panel released their recommendations in 2018. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Banister said the extensive consultation that happened in 2018 meant all the panel's recommendations made it to the resulting legislation.

"That's why it was so gratifying that the recommendations from the last code review received such widespread support."

The three-member panel, which also consists of another labour lawyer and a former labour mediator, has already sent a letter to labour interest groups asking for submissions by March 1. It will also hold in-person and virtual hearings throughout the province.

The panel will provide its report to the labour minister by May 31.

Union executive hopes code recognizes virtual picket lines

Brynn Bourke, executive director of the B.C. Building Trades Council, said one thing she was looking forward to bringing up in consultations was making unionization easier.

"If you made changes to improve the access to collective bargaining, through things like creating a sector where people could participate and [creating] minimum conditions in a sector — that would open up a whole bunch of opportunities for people to have a say in their working conditions," she told CBC News.

Bourke said establishing more minimum standards across work sectors would not only make unionization for construction workers easier, but also extend the possibility of unionization to gig workers.

The last raft of legislative changes, related to the labour code review, extended successorship protection to janitorial workers, security guards and food service workers, among other roles.

Successorship protection refers to the idea that a unionized workforce have their union rights carry over in case their employer changes.

Bourke said she wants to see successorship protection extended to even more sectors after the latest labour code review.

"I'm very much watching how we modernize the code in terms of recognizing virtual picket lines," she said.

"When work is happening remotely and we're trying to maintain those picket lines in a virtual context, we need stronger language that will account for that."

Bourke added that the union called for an increase in funding to the Labour Relations Board — which adjudicates disputes between employers and workers — in 2018.

"We need to improve timely access to board services and board decisions," she said. "We will be making that recommendation strongly again."