Code requires employers and unions to maintain certain essential services to the public
when they take job action in a labour dispute. Essential services are those related
to the health, safety or the welfare of British Columbia residents, or to the provision of
primary or secondary educational programs.
the Minister of Labour and Citizens' Services considers that a labour dispute poses a
threat to the health, safety or welfare of the residents of the province, or to the
provision of primary or secondary educational programs, he or she may direct the Board to
designate essential services. Designation of essential services involves identifying
the facilities and levels of service needed to prevent immediate and serious danger to the
public or to prevent immediate and serious disruption to educational programs. When
the Board designates services as essential, the employer is required to provide those
services, and the union is required to allow its members to perform those services in the
event of a strike or lockout.
of the issues that needs to be considered is the necessary staffing levels required for
various services. The employer and union involved generally work together with the
assistance of a mediator to determine what services should be designated as essential and
the staffing levels required. If agreement cannot be reached, the Board determines
the essential services and staffing levels.
no strike or lockout has started before the Board begins its designation process, the
parties are not allowed to begin any such action until the designation process has been
completed. The Code does establish tight time frames for the process of designation
to occur. This process cannot be used to stall a union's right to job action.
a strike or lockout has begun, it may continue but will be subject to any essential
service designation by the Board. In this case, the union and employer may be
required to restore services that have been shut down.
How are work stoppages settled in essential service disputes?
Essential service disputes are treated like other disputes, apart
from those measures required to ensure that services which prevent
immediate and serious danger to the health, safety or welfare of the
public, or immediate and serious disruption to primary or secondary
educational programs, are maintained. These unions and employers are
subject to the same rules for strike votes, picketing and
replacement workers as are other unions and employers.
However, they do have an additional requirement for providing strike
notice. The union or employer must provide a new 72-hour
notice if one notice period ends without any strike or lockout
To encourage settlement, parties involved in
essential service disputes have available to them the full range of
mediation and other third party assistance from the Board that is
available to all bargaining relationships covered by the Code.
These are discussed in the next chapter of this guide.