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Employer allowed to compel overtime
May 26, 2002

A BC arbitration award has upheld the right of employers to compel overtime of their employees in certain circumstances, should such a power be provided for in the terms of the collective agreement. In an award dated March 21, 2002, Arbitrator Robert Diebolt, Q.C. dismissed the two consolidated grievances of the PPWC, Local 3 against Western Pulp (Squamish Operation).

The union alleged that overtime was voluntary in the collective agreement, and relied on both a provision in the agreement and an earlier arbitration ruling (Blasina, [2001] B.C.C.A.A.A. No. 152) to that effect. The union did, however, concede that there had been one exception to that rule during the era of eight hour tour worker shifts.

The company contended that the language in the current collective agreement that stipulated that tour workers must be available for relief purposes constituted another exception to the rule that overtime was voluntary.

The relevant section read, in part:

For the purposes of covering for routine absences, (e.g. floaters, vacations, bank days, etc.) or short notice absences, the crew will be moved up on shift if all positions required to be filled can be filled. It is clearly understood by both parties that replacement must be available for relief purposes when required and that these replacements must come from employees on their scheduled days off.

In deciding for the company, the arbitrator stated that to read the provision in the “Miscellaneous” section that stated that overtime was voluntary in isolation would be erroneous, and that such a statement could well be constrained or restricted by language elsewhere in the terms of the agreement. Indeed, the fact that the union had conceded that there existed, or had existed, one exception to the rule that overtime was voluntary meant that other exceptions could exist as well. Further, given the existence of an exception to the rule, the union’s reliance on the aforementioned earlier arbitration ruling was misplaced.

The arbitrator found that the language in the section was clear, and concluded that;

“In circumstances falling within its (the relevant section’s) scope, overtime can be mandatory if no qualified employee is willing to work overtime. In such a case, the employer is empowered to direct the most junior qualified employee to work the overtime necessary for the relief purpose.”

(Click here for link to Award)