At Grosman Gale Fletcher Hopkins LLP in Toronto, our labour lawyers have been helping unionized employers in all sectors interpret collective agreements for over 30 years. We support our clients by interpreting the language in their agreement, leading them through the complaint process (when a complaint is filed by the union) and representing them in the resulting complaint arbitrations. Based on the simple importance of the language of the collective agreement, Arbitrator Noonan decided that section 13.05 was not applicable unless the workers had regularly provided for positions. The collective agreement therefore did not prevent the employer from assigning positions of less than four hours to the respondents concerned. The complaint was dismissed. Other important aspects of collective interpretation are: Imagine that you have just received a written complaint from your union and have no idea where to start. You consider the language of the collective agreement that the union has invoked to be violated, and for you, that is quite clear. You did not wrongly use that person for overtime, nor did you subcontract that the union should have done. The language is clear, but the union has filed a written complaint against the same language.
A recent arbitration decision provides valuable insight into the legal approach to the interpretation of the collective agreement. While such agreements are often complicated, a reading of the collective agreement by arbitrator Noonan at Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club Limited and Hospitality Services Trade Union (February 2014) shows the value of the most fundamental rule of legal interpretation – words chosen by the parties must have meaning. This point was underlined by Emond Harnden`s own Sebastien Huard, who successfully supported this case on behalf of the employer. If the French and English versions are available, the intention of the parties can be illustrated by a comparison of the two texts. Many PSAC agreements provide that both texts are official. 1. Although they do not create a binding precedent, arbitrators` decisions on previous claims can be an important interpretative aid. When complaints are referred to the courts, arbitrators are bound by court decisions, unless they can find a way to distinguish the court`s decision from the case pending against them.
When a dispute arises in a unionized company, the collective agreement is the first place for answers. Because of the fundamental importance of a collective agreement in a unionized environment, the interpretation of collective agreements tends to become a matter of great controversy between the parties, with each party fighting to interpret the document in its favour. . . .