The Supreme Court of British Columbia recently affirmed the principle that the courts are without jurisdiction to adjudicate disputes of unionized employees if the essential character of the dispute arises explicitly or by inference out of a collective agreement.
In 2008 the Court granted the plaintiffs, slot machine attendants employed by the defendants, an injunction to prevent the defendants from unilaterally altering a tip pooling arrangement that had been in place at certain casinos for a number of years. At the time the injunction was granted, 44 of the plaintiffs worked at the defendants’ Burnaby casino, which, although unionized, did not have a collective agreement in place. Subsequently, the Burnaby casino bargained two collective agreements with the union representing employees, one of which is presently in force.
The action lay dormant after the injunction was granted until June 2013, when the defendants brought an application to have the Burnaby casino slot machine attendants struck from the action. The defendants argued the Court no longer had jurisdiction to entertain the employees’ claim given the collective agreement currently in force.
While the Court noted that the parties’ collective agreement was silent on the matter of tips and their distribution, it nevertheless affirmed the exclusive jurisdiction model outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada in its seminal 1995 decision in Weber v. Ontario Hydro. The Court found that it was without jurisdiction to proceed with the Burnaby employees’ claim as the essential character of the dispute (i.e., their remuneration) arose by inference from the parties’ collective agreement. Indeed, the Court found that issues surrounding remuneration are “at the heart of the employment relationship”. Consequently, the Burnaby employees’ claim fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of a labour arbitrator and/or the British Columbia Labour Relations Board.
Questions relating to the content in this article may be directed to Mark Colavecchia.