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Bargaining in the Broader Public Sector Conference

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We are actively monitoring public health rules and guidelines to ensure a safe learning environment and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Attendance at in-person events will be capped, allowing physical distancing to be maintained, and we are offering remote participation options for those unable to attend in person.

 

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 1


Wreckage or Recovery? Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on the economy

9:10 AM - 10:30 AM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Canadian employment numbers are the worst on record. The federal government has posted the largest deficit since World War II. Recovery appears to be contingent on the development and widespread administration of an effective vaccine, making it difficult to forecast the course of the economy. In this session, experienced economists will provide an overview of current economic conditions, explain which recovery scenarios are most likely, and explore the impact of the pandemic on the public sector. Specific questions to be addressed include the following:

  • What is the current economic situation — provincially, nationally, globally? Is this economic downturn different from others? If so, how? Is it as bad as the Great Depression?
  • Why have stock markets performed relatively well even as job losses skyrocketed, requests for mortgage, loan, and rent relief mounted, and consumer confidence plummeted? What are the practical implications of this disconnect for employers, unions, and workers?
  • Is there any more certainty to economic forecasts now compared to June, when the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) stated that the economic outlook was "highly uncertain"? Is a relatively quick recovery still possible, or is the most likely scenario now a years-long recovery or a long, uneven recovery characterized by periods of rebound followed by stagnation?
  • How does Canada's response to the pandemic-induced economic crisis compare to actions taken by other OECD countries? Based on the relative effectiveness of different approaches, can conclusions be drawn about what sorts of policies are more likely to be conducive to lasting economic recovery?
  • Is investment in the public sector necessary to promote economic recovery? How much? What type? For example, is it important to expand public services and, in so doing, expand public sector employment? What about investments in public infrastructure?
  • Does "building back better" make good economic sense? For example, do pandemic-related experiences suggest that policies that are more inclusive of non-standard workers (such as broadened employment insurance eligibility or a guaranteed annual income) are not only manageable but good for the economy as a whole? Is better public childcare an essential element in recovery? What about expanded public health coverage?
  • Do Canadian governments have the fiscal capacity to "build back better" or even rebuild at all, or must Canadian governments focus on reducing debt to "fix" the battered economy? Does the federal government have nearly infinite fiscal capacity? If it does, or even if it simply has greater fiscal capacity than the provinces, must the federal government increase transfers to the provinces? If so, should there be conditions attached to those transfers?

BREAK (with refreshments)

10:30 AM - 10:45 AM

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 2


New Priorities in Negotiations: Bargaining in the post-COVID world

10:45 AM - 12:00 PM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

Looking forward from the thick of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a return to business as usual does not seem to be an option. Amidst calls for a "just recovery" and for an economy that is not only rebuilt but "built back better," the federal government has committed "to build[ing] an economy that is resilient, green, and equitable for everyone," while Premier John Horgan has committed to building "a stronger, more resilient B.C. by putting people at the centre of every decision" the provincial government makes. In this session, experts will discuss how the policy environment is changing in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and how broader policy shifts are likely to affect bargaining in the broader public sector.

  • Are unions and employers in the broader public sector benefiting from pandemic-induced public support for public services? Will government and public support for public services endure beyond the pandemic, or will there be new demands for reduced staffing, contracting out, restructuring, reduced hours, and wage cutbacks as governments respond to deficits and debts created by their COVID-19 responses? Might some segments of the broader public sector face intense pressure to reduce costs while others, such as health care, receive increased funding?
  • How has the pandemic affected labour relations in the broader public sector so far? How much bargaining on pressing issues — such as health and safety measures, access to personal protective equipment, or work-from-home protocols — is taking place outside regular bargaining procedures/cycles? Are unions and employers reaching agreements on these issues, or are they straining labour-management relations?
  • Are there any lessons to be learned from those unions and employers that succeeded in quickly and collaboratively negotiating changes to key terms of employment to adapt to pandemic realities? Would increased use of joint union-management structures and processes give employers flexibility when necessary while protecting worker interests in job security and a meaningful say in terms and conditions of employment?
  • What key issues are emerging in the course of negotiating collective agreement renewals? Has information sharing (including disclosure at bargaining) suffered because of widespread uncertainty created by the pandemic? What key demands are emerging? Are work-from-home arrangements and flexibility in hours and locations of work likely to continue following the pandemic? Are parties negotiating collective agreement language to deal with a "new reality" in public sector workplaces?
  • Do employers and unions have more common interests following the pandemic? For example, given the problems caused by the use of part-time/precarious workers at long-term care facilities, might management now have more of an interest in prioritizing creating full-time positions?
  • In situations in which employers share significant interests, does it make sense for parties to change their approach to bargaining? For example, might it make sense to make use of interest-based bargaining approaches?
  • Is there an opportunity to redeploy workers from hard-hit industries to sectors in which more workers are needed? Does the experience with the Joint Community Social Services Labour Adjustment & Education Fund (LAEF) offer insight into how the government, employers, and unions might work together to accomplish such redeployment?

Networking Lunch

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 3


Bargaining Equality: Negotiating for workplace diversity, equity, and inclusion

1:00 PM - 2:15 PM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

The resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has prompted many unions and employers to reflect on how they can combat systemic racism and discrimination in the workplace. At the bargaining table, workplace parties have a critical opportunity to address the concerns of equity-seeking groups and negotiate collective agreements that embody a strong shared commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. In this session, experts will provide guidance on how to begin building a more equitable workplace through collective bargaining, with a focus on the following issues:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of collective bargaining as a tool for addressing workplace inequalities?
  • What steps can unions and employers take to identify equity issues in their workplaces? What information should workplace parties gather to prepare for bargaining on these issues?
  • What questions should guide unions and employers in reviewing their collective agreements and bargaining proposals through an equity lens?
  • How might existing contract language and definitions be revised to ensure that they are equitable, inclusive, and reflective of a modern workforce?
  • What barriers lead to underrepresentation of equity-seeking groups at the bargaining table, and how can workplace parties address them? What strategies can unions and employers implement to support the formation of bargaining teams that are representative of their workplaces?
  • What challenges may members of equity-seeking groups encounter in bargaining processes? How can unions and employers promote the full participation of diverse bargaining team members in negotiations and ensure that their voices are heard?
  • How might workplace parties adopt more collaborative approaches to bargaining on issues pertaining to diversity, equity, and inclusion?
  • How can unions and employers measure the effectiveness of negotiated programs or provisions on equity issues? How can contract language be structured to facilitate monitoring and enforcement?
  • How can unions generate membership, employer, and community support for bargaining priorities related to diversity, equity, and inclusion?

BREAK (with refreshments)

2:15 PM - 2:30 PM

Wednesday, December 2, 2020


Registration and Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  
Introductory remarks by Co-Chairs 9:00 AM - 9:10 AM  


Panel 4


Austerity Measures: When are they justified? What are the limits?

2:30 PM - 3:45 PM

* Panelists to be announced

Panel Summary

Across Canada, we are witnessing unprecedented levels of government investment in response to the severe drop in economic output and increased unemployment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, employers in the broader public sector have implemented measures such as layoffs and reduced hours in order to cope with revenue shortfalls and increased expenses. How has the current fiscal climate affected interest arbitration awards? What do recent Charter challenges tell us about the limits of a government's powers to implement wage restraint legislation as an austerity measure?

In this session, leading experts will discuss wage restraint and austerity measures, addressing issues such as the following:

  • What are some examples of wage restraint and austerity measures that governments and broader public sector employers have taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Could the COVID-19 pandemic provide employers in the broader public sector with a valid reason to impose changes such as pay freezes or cuts, reduced hours, layoffs, redeployment of workers, or reorganization of work?
  • Have recent interest arbitration awards taken the current fiscal climate into account when reaching their decisions? Will interest arbitrators be more willing to consider ability-to-pay arguments in light of the economic impact of the pandemic?
  • Are there any examples of conduct that labour relations boards have found to constitute bad faith bargaining during the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • What is the status of current Charter challenges to wage restraint legislation?
  • Are there lessons to be extracted from recent legal challenges to wage restraint legislation? Is any government currently facing the type of fiscal crisis that was found lacking in the recent Manitoba Federation of Labour v. The Government of Manitoba decision?

CONFERENCE ENDS

3:45 PM

NETWORKING RECEPTION

3:45 PM - 4:45 PM

Keynote Speakers


Tuesday, December 1, 2020


Breakfast 8:00 AM - 9:00 AM  

Harassment Investigations: An in-depth session on policies and practices

9:00 AM - 4:00 PM



CPD


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