Historically in Nova Scotia, there were six (6) boards that heard employee concerns; Labour Relations Board/Construction Industry Panel, the Civil Service Employee Relations Board, the Highway Workers’ Employee Relations Board, the Correctional Facilities Employee Relations Board, the Labour Standards Tribunal and the Occupational Health and Safety Appeal Panel. Which board heard which complaints depended upon the industry sector from which the employee originated and/or the nature of the complaint (labour v safety).
The NS government is proposing new legislation, the Labour Relations and Employment Board Act, which would consolidate these six (6) boards into a single board. This new board would be known as the Labour Relations and Employment Board (LREB).
At first glance, the LREB appears to be a good idea… Moving forward there will be a single board for complaints to be heard. It is believed that this single board will result in a level of consistency around procedure. It is also believed that this single board will reduce the likelihood of multiple boards hearing the same complaint from the same employee.
For those close to labour relations this consolidation is not without its worries, however…
Moving forward, with a combined LREB, there is no guarantee that an industry- or issue-specific SME (subject matter expert) will be assigned to the complaint. The question then becomes whether the board member will be familiar with the nuances or operational needs of the employer or the legislation that guides the industry sector. If the board member is not an industry SME, what of the added burden now thrust upon employers to educate board members on these nuances and needs versus the time that instead should be spent on arguing the merits of the case. Further, board members are professionals who are, comparatively, not necessarily well paid for their time on the board. Consequently, it has to be asked what will be their tolerance to the time and efforts required to educate them to understand the nature of the employer’s business.
What does this mean for employers? Employers should be wary. Now more than ever employers are going to require clear personnel and safety policies. If employers don’t have clear personnel policies they might very well find themselves in front of board members who are unfamiliar with the nuances and needs of their operations and the legislation guiding the industry sector.
The discussion paper is available on the Department of Labour and Workforce Development at http://www.gov.ns.ca/lwd/unionworkplaces/ConsultationLREB.asp .
The deadline for public consultation has been extended to 8th October.