Volatile collective bargaining expected in the public sector in 2014

Dec 11, 2013, 06:00 ET from Conference Board of Canada

Labour movement in Canada at a crossroads

Link to publication: http://www.conferenceboard.ca/e-library/abstract.aspx?did=5906
News release 14-57

OTTAWA, Dec. 11, 2013 /CNW/ - Amid an acrimonious labour relations environment, more than half-a-million public sector workers will be involved in collective bargaining in 2014. This mix of factors could lead to contentious negotiations between governments and their employees next year, according to The Conference Board of Canada's Industrial Relations Outlook 2014: Back to Basics for the Labour Movement.

"There is potential for volatility in public sector bargaining in 2014, because the union movement sees legislative attempts to restrict bargaining rights, intervention in labour disputes, and efforts to overhaul long-standing benefits—such as sick leave—as attacks on public servants," said Karla Thorpe, Director, Leadership and Human Resources Research.

"Especially in the public sector, the bargaining tone may be more negative and unions less willing to compromise. This climate likely makes it more difficult to address mundane workplace issues that would normally be dealt with pragmatically at the bargaining table."


  • Federal government workers and workers in Ontario's broader public sector are among the key employee groups bargaining next year.
  • The "tone" of negotiations, particularly in the public sector, may be more negative —and unions less willing to compromise—in 2014.
  • The percentage of employers stating that wages are the bargaining priority has increased from 55 per cent last year to 60 per cent in 2014.

The labour movement in Canada is at a crossroads. Although the overall number of Canadian workers represented by organized labour is rising, unionized workers now comprise 31 per cent of the labour force, down from the peak of about 34 per cent in the 1980's. Organized labour is increasingly dominated by public sector unions; just 17 per cent of the workforce in the private sector is unionized.

"If the labour movement wants to grow its ranks, it must go back to basics—that means organizing more workers in more industries. Sectors such as business services have seen the greatest job growth since the recession, but unions have not had notable success organizing these workplaces. And unions have made few inroads among employees working for smaller employers, independent contractors, and contingent workers," said Thorpe.

Average base pay increases for unionized workers in 2014 are projected to be 1.5 per cent in the public sector and 2.2 per cent for the private sector. Since governments will be reticent to offer increases as they struggle to bring down deficits, wages may be a key issue in public sector negotiations.

The annual Industrial Relations Outlook, published by The Conference Board of Canada, is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of issues that may influence labour relations and collective bargaining in Canada over the coming year. The outlook is based on Conference Board of Canada research and the proceedings of an annual roundtable among senior leaders from both labour and management.

The Conference Board will host a 60-minute webinar on the Industrial Relations Outlook 2014, on February 19, 2014.

SOURCE Conference Board of Canada