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Establishing and terminating union rights

The establishment of a union is called certification and to terminate union rights the union can be decertified, meaning it will no longer exist.

Federally regulated employees have to certify their union status through the Canada Industrial Relations Board in order to be certified as a trade union. For provincially/territorially regulated employees, if they want to form a union, they have to go through the labour relations board of their province or territory.

Certifying a federal union

All federally regulated employees who wish to form a union are subject to the Canada Labour Code. The Canada Labour Code states: “Every employee is free to join the trade union of his choice and to participate in its lawful activities."

Once federal employees get together and want to be represented by a trade union, they can then apply to the Canada Industrial Relations Board as bargaining agent to represent the employees in collective bargaining.

An application for certification can be filed with the Board at any time, where a trade union has not already been certified to represent the employees.

To establish its status as a trade union, an applicant organization must provide the Board with, among other things, a copy of its constitution, by-laws and charter. A key element in the board's consideration as to whether an employee organization “meets the test” of a trade union is its independence from the employer: it must be free of influence from the employer and able to represent the employees “at arm's length” in collective bargaining with the employer.

Certifying a provincial union

Generally, the process between federal and provincial certification is similar.

For example, in Alberta, a trade union is defined as “an organization of employees that has a written constitution, rules or bylaws and has as one of its objects the regulation of relations between employers and employees.”

Just like under the federal requirements, being certified requires that a group of employees join together to be represented by a union with common goals and for the benefit of the employees in the union.

There has to be a constitution, bylaws or rules and these documents have to be filed with the board at least 60 days before the proposed union files for certification.

Decertifying a union

When the majority of employees in a union have lost trust in the union, or don’t want the union to represent them, then the union can be decertified.

As with certification the decertification process as well is guided either through the federal or provincial/territorial boards.

You cannot apply to decertify while there is a strike ongoing or during a lockout.

To decertify you will usually need the following information:

  • The name, address, and phone number of the applicant, your contact person, the union, and your employer;
  • The date the union was certified and the certificate number, if known;
  • Approximate number of employees in your bargaining unit;
  • A description of your bargaining unit;
  • The start date and expiry date of your collective agreement; and
  • Information about any orders or decisions made by the CIRB relating to the decertification application.

The process to certify and decertify can be quite complex and it may be a good idea to consult a lawyer.

Read more:

Applications for Certification Government of Canada

How to Decertify a Union