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The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada > News & Events > Communications Magazine > Vol. 36, No. 2, Spring 2010 > PIPSC Challenges Employer’s Unilateral Action to Alter Terms and Conditions of Employment
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PIPSC Challenges Employer’s Unilateral Action to Alter Terms and Conditions of Employment

Representing PIPSC

Representing PIPSC at the CIRB hearings were Joe Ahrens, negotiator, and Legal Counsellors Isabelle Roy and Patrizia Campanella with CRPEG President Vince Frisina.

By Vince Frisina and Joe Ahrens

An employer and union are legally equal parties in establishing terms and conditions of employment. Usually this happens at the bargaining table, but parties, by consent, can make amendments at any time. The important thing is that the union, on behalf of the members, and employer discuss and agree. PIPSC and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), on the recommendation of the Chalk River Professional Employees Group (CRPEG), have amended the Collective Agreement on numerous occasions in the past.

In this case, the employer was facing significant recruitment and retention challenges for engineers in the reactor area, so it unilaterally increased their senior reactor shift engineer (SRSE) premium without union agreement. Although PIPSC/CRPEG is definitely not opposed to increased premiums, the employer cannot unilaterally alter the terms and conditions of employment. Next time their actions might be to decrease negotiated entitlements or benefits! The Institute therefore filed a complaint of Unfair Labour Practice with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB).

At the hearing on April 14, 2010, the Institute entered into discussions on possible solutions with the employer. This is what should have been done in the first place (in June 2009), which is to discuss and reach agreement on any and all amendments to the Collective Agreement.

As a result, the increased premiums were formally accepted by both parties. In addition, other provisions of the Collective Agreement were amended, including establishing minimum education requirements and enhancing lay off provisions for all our CRPEG members. AECL also acknowledged, in writing, that they had violated the law (Canada Labour Code).

Challenging a unilateral decrease of negotiated entitlements is obvious. Challenging a unilateral increase takes determination. The CRPEG recognized that any unilateral employer action could not be tolerated. AECL was made to recognize that all terms and conditions of employment must be negotiated with the union.