The Grievance and Arbitration Process
The grievance and arbitration process is central to the overall relationship between management and unions in Canada. This arbitration process provides the framework for regulating grievances and disputes in the workplace.
Since the collective agreement is basically an employment contract between the employer and a group of employees, a grievance can be viewed as an allegation that a breach of contract has occurred.
However, instead of suing for breach of contract in the civil court (with its delays and high costs), the alternative and speedier grievance arbitration process is used to resolve disputes involving the interpretation, meaning, or application of the terms of the existing collective agreement. This arbitration process plays a very important regulatory role in the overall union-management relationship.
Grievances are dealt with according to a standard procedure which seeks to solve the issue in the early stages. Under the terms of the applicable collective agreement, grievances which cannot be resolved are successively referred to higher levels of authority before being submitted to arbitration. Arbitration results in a decision—a contract interpretation—that is binding on both parties.
Grievance decisions provide important guidance on interpreting articles of collective agreements that have been controversial in the past.
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