Skip to Main Content

What laws regulate unions and strikes?

Many unions started out being illegal. Over time, the law has made place for unions as well as labour actions, recognizing that workers have a right to protest against unfair labour practices and to collectively bargain with their employer.

Both unions and strikes are legal in Canada but what laws actually regulate them?

In Canada, labour laws are responsible for regulating and facilitating unions as well as strikes and other labour activities.

Generally, labour laws cover the following:

  • Industrial relations - certification of unions, labour-management relations, collective bargaining and unfair labour practices;
  • Workplace health and safety; and
  • Employment standards, including general holidays, annual vacations, working hours, unjust dismissals, minimum wage, layoff procedures and severance pay.

Labour laws in Canada that regulates unions and strikes are divided into federal and provincial laws.

Federal labour code

The Canadian Labour Code gives Canadians the right to join a union. However, the code is limited to federal unions and federal strikes only.

The act was created to legislate and regulate employment standards, unions, lockouts and strikes as well as occupational health and safety standards.

The code prescribes minimum protections for people involved in unions and strikes/lockouts, collective bargaining, and collective bargaining agreements, to ensure that both the union, unionized employees and the employers deal fairly with each other.

However, if you are in a unionized provincial employee then you will fall under provincial labour laws.

Provincial/territorial labour laws

Collective bargaining agreements are the most important legal documents when it comes to the regulation of union activities and strikes for provincial unionized workers.

Provinces also have labour acts, often called labour relations acts or codes, which usually apply to most employers and unions, including unions in the healthcare sectors as well as the construction sectors.

The labour acts or codes actually spell out exactly what processes unions and unionized workers, as well as employers, are to follow when bargaining with each other under a collective agreement.

What labour laws usually don’t do is prescribe what the collective bargaining agreements are to say, because unions and employers are free to negotiate collective bargaining agreements and the terms of the agreement with each other.

What the act or code does do is make the collective agreement binding on the union, the unionized employees and the employer and prescribe the processes the parties have to go through if they have disputes.

For example, one very important aspect of labour laws is the duty to go through arbitration when the union and the employer have a dispute they cannot solve between themselves in order to solve conflicts quicker than they would have been solved if the parties were to go to court.

Though most legislation regulating unions and strikes in Canada are quite similar to each other, they also have important differences and if you want to know more you should consult the legislation for your province. If you are a federal employee you should consult the Canada Labour Code.

Read more:

Labour standards in Canada

Canadian Union, Collective Bargaining Laws