Canada Industrial Relations
Skip to content | Skip to institutional links
Common menu bar lin
The following is one in a series of information circulars prepared by the administration staff of
the CIRB. The circulars are designed to provide employees, trade unions and employers with general information and a clearer
understanding of Board processes. This information circular is an informal tool and is not binding on the Board.
APPLICATIONS FOR CERTIFICATION
Section 8(1) of the Canada Labour Code (Part I - Industrial Relations)
"8.(1) Every employee is
free to join the trade union of his choice and to participate in its lawful activities."
Employees may join together and seek representation by a trade union to
have a "collective" voice in determining their wages and other terms and conditions of employment with their employers.
This is the essence of collective bargaining.
The trade union may then apply
to the Canada Industrial Relations Board to be certified as the bargaining agent to represent the employees in collective
bargaining with their employer. Once certified as bargaining agent, the trade union enjoys the exclusive right to represent
the employees and may serve notice to bargain on the employer to commence the collective bargaining process. The employer
must then meet with the union, and both parties must bargain in good faith with a view to entering into a collective agreement.
This information circular describes the certification process under the Code.
The Certification Process Simplified
In considering an application
for certification, the Board asks itself a number of basic questions.
(1) Does the Board have jurisdiction?
Is the application timely?
(3) Is the employee organization
that filed the application a trade union within the meaning of the Code?
(4) Is the proposed bargaining unit appropriate for collective bargaining?
(5) Does the trade union represent the majority of the employees in the bargaining unit deemed
appropriate by the Board?
The Board will have to satisfy itself that the employees for whom certification is sought
are employed on or in connection with a federal work, undertaking or business, and therefore come under its jurisdiction.
Federal enterprises are defined in section 2 of the Code.
When can an application be filed ?
An application for certification
can be filed with the Board at any time, where a trade union has not already been certified to represent the employees.
In certain other circumstances, in the interests of stable industrial relations, the Code
places some restrictions on when an application for certification may be filed. Where a trade union is certified, an application
may not be made by another trade union until one year after the original date of certification. Where a collective agreement
is in force, an application for certification may only be made during the "open period" in that collective agreement,
even if the incumbent union is not certified. The open period in a collective agreement having a duration of one, two or three
years is the last three months of the agreement. Where the collective agreement is for a duration of more than three years,
the agreement is "open" during the 34th, 35th and 36th months, and during the last 3 months of each year after that
the collective agreement continues to be in effect. A collective agreement remains "open" after its termination
date, until a new agreement is reached (an application for certification may be filed during that period).
An application for certification must not, except with the consent of the Board, be made during
a strike or lockout that is not prohibitied by the Code and that involves employees in the unit.
About Trade Union Status
A trade union is defined in the
Code as "any organization of employees, or any branch or local thereof, the purposes of which include the regulation
of relations between employers and employees."
trade union could be an international or national union, or a local union, a council of unions, or an "in-house"
To establish its status as a trade
union, an applicant organization must provide the Board with, among other things, a copy of its constitution, by-laws and
charter. A key element in the Board's consideration as to whether an employee organization "meets the test"
of a trade union is its independence from the employer: it must be free of influence from the employer and able to represent
the employees "at arm's length" in collective bargaining with the employer.
What is an appropriate bargaining unit ?
When a trade union applies to
the Board for certification, it must describe the group of employees it wishes to represent. The group identified in the description
is known as the proposed bargaining unit.
has the responsibility to determine a bargaining unit that is appropriate for collective bargaining purposes, and it exercises
a considerable amount of discretion in making that determination. The Board does not always agree with the bargaining unit
proposed by the union in its application, nor does it necessarily agree with any bargaining unit that may be suggested by
an employer, or to which both parties may agree. In the interests of consistency, the Board makes its own determination of
"a unit appropriate for collective bargaining" based on the facts and circumstances present in each case, and on
past decisions issued in similar cases.
at a determination, the Board takes many factors into consideration. These include the nature of the industry, the history
of collective bargaining in the industry, the geographical distribution of the employer's operation, the community of
interest of the employees, the viability of the bargaining unit, the potential for industrial peace and labour relations stability,
the wishes of the employees, the submissions of the parties, and the various types of employees sought to be included in or
excluded from the bargaining unit.
The Board has found nation-wide
bargaining units to be appropriate in some cases, such as in the railway and airline industries and at Canada Post, and regional
bargaining units in other cases, such as in the trucking industry. Geographical bargaining units comprised of employees of
more than one employer have been found appropriate in the longshoring industry. Individual, site-specific bargaining units,
such as a mine, a radio station or a branch of a chartered bank, have also been determined appropriate.
In some industries, craft or occupational-family bargaining units are to be found. Examples
are pilots, flight attendants, ships' officers, and construction industry trades, such as carpenters and pipe fitters.
The Board has also found bargaining units comprised of supervisors, professional
employees and private constables to be appropriate.
While the Board generally favours
broad-based all-employee bargaining units, it must respect the intention of Parliament, as expressed in the Preamble to the
Code, to encourage free collective bargaining and facilitate the acquisition of bargaining rights by employees.
In addition to the general considerations discussed above, some more specific factors pertaining
to the issues of "who is an employee" enter into the Board's thinking in determining bargaining units.
Who is an employee ?
The Code defines an employee as "any person employed by an employer and includes a dependent
contractor and a private constable, but does not include a person who performs management functions or is employed in a confidential
capacity in matters relating to industrial relations."
In keeping with its responsibility to promote collective bargaining and extend the Code's
provisions to as many employees as possible, the Board takes the approach that it must not exclude persons from a bargaining
unit unless it is satisfied that they perform management functions or are employed in a confidential capacity in matters relating
to industrial relations, or that it would be inappropriate to include them.
To what extent must these elements be present in a person's job for the Board
to conclude there is a conflict of loyalty sufficient to exclude the position from the bargaining unit? The Board has held
that the criteria most indicative of "management functions" are the authority to make the original or final decision
in situations of dismissal, promotion and demotion. Other criteria used by the Board include hiring, planning and decision
making, policy making, participating in collective bargaining negotiations and in the grievance procedure, and establishing
and administering budgets.
takes a similar restrictive view of what comprises confidential capacity in matters relating to industrial relations. The
confidential matters must relate to industrial relations, and the disclosure of such industrial relations information must
adversely affect the employer. The work of those persons must involve that type of information as a regular part of their
Based on the facts of each case,
the Board has found dispatchers, foremen, supervisors and mid-level managers to be employees within the meaning of the Code.
Depending on the circumstances, they have been included in a bargaining unit with other employees, or placed in a separate
In considering proposed exclusions, the Board looks beyond the titles
of the job and examines the actual duties of the position.
The onus for establishing that
a person is not an employee within the meaning of the Code is upon the party proposing the exclusion from the bargaining
Professionals are employees within
the meaning of the Code, as are dependent contractors and private constables. The Code suggests that professionals
should belong to a bargaining unit with other professionals, and prohibits private constables from being included in a bargaining
unit with any other employees.
The Board views part-time employment as consisting
of two categories, i.e. regular part-time employees and casual employees. To distinguish between the two categories, the Board
applies the test of regularity of employment rather than the number of hours worked per week. Regularly scheduled part-time
employees who work some hours every week over a period of several months, even though the number of hours per week may be
low, may be considered employees and are included in the bargaining unit with regular employees. Other part-time employees,
typically those who are "on call" to replace regular employees who are on vacation or who are ill, and who do not
work on a regular basis, are often referred to as "casual" employees. The Board considers the status of casual employees
on a case-by-case basis, and may or may not include them in the bargaining unit.
In organizing a group of employees and proposing a bargaining unit to the Board, a trade union
should be mindful of these considerations, as should an employer when it formulates a response to an application for certification.
Determining the Representative Character of the Union
The Code provides that the Board must determine the membership standing of the union as
of the date the application for certification was filed or as of a date deemed appropriate.
"17. Where the Board is required, in connection with any application made under this
Part, to determine the wishes of the majority of the employees in a unit, it shall determine those wishes as of the date of
the filing of the application or as of such other date as the Board considers appropriate."
The employees who were working for the employer on that date, and employees who had joined the union
up to and including that date, are compared to determine the representative character of the union. However, the Board must
first determine an appropriate bargaining unit, and then the "test of membership" is applied to those employees
who, on the date of filing of the application, were in the bargaining unit found appropriate by the Board.
In making a determination concerning the application for certification of a trade union, the Board will
consider employee support: without holding a representation vote, it can either certify a union that has obtained over 50%
of employee support or dismiss the application if a union has less that 35%. The Code requires that the Board order
a vote if a union has obtained between 35 and 50% of employee support.
Evidence of Membership in a Trade Union
In support of an application for certification, a trade union must provide
the Board with evidence that employees want the trade union to represent them as their bargaining agent. According to its
Regulations, the Board may accept as evidence of membership in a trade union proof that a person has signed an application
for membership in the trade union and has paid at least $5.00 to the union for or within the six-month period preceding the
filing date of the application. The Board will ask the union to provide original applications for membership cards, duplicate
receipts for fees received, and documentation that the union has deposited the money in its bank account. The responsible
union official will also be required to sign a statement attesting to the accuracy of the records provided to the Board.
Confidentiality of Evidence of Membership
The Board's Regulations also provide that the information regarding
the membership of any employee in the union is regarded as confidential, and is neither made known to the employer, nor made
public in any way.
Where can an application for certification be filed ?
An application may be filed at any of the Board's offices. The application for certification
form is available in PDF format and MS-Word format. At this time, the Board
cannot accept any applications for certification in electronic format as it is not yet ready to receive them. You are asked
to continue sending them by fax, by courier or by mail until further notice.
The date of filing of an application is the date it is received at the Board's office if it is
hand delivered, faxed or sent by regular mail. If the application is sent by registered mail, the date of filing is the date
it is mailed to the Board.
It is not necessary to send evidence
of membership to the Board at the time an application for certification is filed, but the Board's Regulations stipulate
that an application for certification must be accompanied by a separate and confidential statement indicating the number of
employees in the proposed bargaining unit that the applicant claims as members. During the investigation of the application,
the applicant must provide the Board officer with the membership cards, which will be returned after the Board makes a determination.
What happens next ?
The Board will acknowledge receipt
of the application in writing and provide a copy of the application to the employer. The parties will be provided with a schedule
for processing the application. The employer will be given an opportunity to file a written response to the application and
will be required to provide certain information and documentation, including a list of the employees who were employed as
of the date of filing of the application, to the Board and to the other parties involved.
The employer will also be required to post a Notice to Employees in the work place to advise
them of the application. This notice, which is prepared by the Board, provides information about the application and gives
the employees an opportunity to write directly to the Board to express their views about it.
To ensure the timely processing of certification applications and in furtherance of the Code's
objectives, the Board's practice is not to grant any extensions of the time limits provided in the schedule given to the
parties other than in exceptional circumstances.
to the Code, an employer may not, after it receives notice of an application, alter terms and conditions of employment
of employees affected by the application, unless the Board gives its consent in writing. So as not to influence the wishes
of its employees, an employer must conduct "business as before" while the application is before the Board.
The Board will appoint one of its industrial relations officers, usually someone from an office
nearby, to conduct an investigation of the application. The employee list and organizational chart provided by the employer
will be disclosed to the union in the course of the investigation. Except in cases where the Board may require additional
information, the investigating officer will only provide the parties with a letter setting out his or her understanding of
the proposed bargaining unit and any disputed positions together with the list of documents filed with the Board. A copy of
the letter or the report is disclosed to the parties, as are copies of all written submissions that have been sent to the
Board by the union, the employer, employees and any other parties.
The only information that is not disclosed to the parties is any indication that a person has joined the
union, or has written to the Board to express either support for or opposition to the union. This information is kept confidential
and is reported privately to the Board by its investigating officer.
The Board's Decision
When the investigating officer's
letter or report has been received by the Board, the matter is ready for consideration by the Board.
In most cases, the Board can make a decision on the basis of the investigating officer's
letter or report and the written submissions of the parties, without conducting a public hearing.
The Board will make all required determinations, including the composition of the appropriate
bargaining unit and, if the union has the support of the majority of the employees, will grant a certification order to the
union. If the union represents between 35 and 50% of the employees, the Board will order a representation vote. If the union
represents less than 35% of the employees, the Board will dismiss the application.
If the application for certification is a "raid" on the bargaining rights already
held by another trade union, the applicant union must demonstrate majority support. Even then the Board will normally order
a representation vote between the two unions.
Where the Board orders a vote to determine whether the employees want, or do not want, the
union to represent them, the Board will specify who is eligible to vote and will appoint a returning officer. The returning
officer is usually the industrial relations officer who conducted the investigation.
The returning officer will consult with the parties about arrangements for the conduct of
the vote, and will require the employer to post in the work place a Notice of Vote, which is prepared by the Board. Representation
votes are usually conducted by ballot box at the employees' place of work during, preceding or following normal working
hours. Parties are entitled to be represented by scrutineers whose responsibilities are to assist the returning officer in
identifying voters and to help ensure that the vote is conducted in a fair and impartial manner. It is a secret ballot. The
vote is usually counted immediately following the closing of the polls. The result is determined on the basis of the majority
of those who vote.
Where employees work at many different
locations, or where the bargaining unit has a regional or national character, the vote may be conducted by mail or a combination
of ballot box and mail.
Once the results of the vote are
known, they are submitted to the Board, which makes its determinations based on the wishes of the employees.
The Code sets out certain
prohibited conduct for both trade unions and employers, much of which applies while an organizing campaign is underway, and
while an application for certification is pending before the Board.
Pursuant to section 94, an employer or person acting on behalf of an employer may not interfere with the
formation or administration of a trade union, take disciplinary action against an employee, or otherwise discriminate against
an employee for seeking to join a trade union or participate in the formation of a trade union.
Section 95 of the Code sets out certain prohibited conduct for trade unions. For
example, unless an employer consents, a trade union's representatives are not permitted to campaign or attempt to organize
workers at their place of employment during their working hours.
In addition, section 96 contains a general prohibition: no person can use intimidation when union membership
is at issue.
A breach of these provisions of the Code
may be the subject of a "complaint of unfair labour practice" filed by a trade union, an employer or an individual.
The Board is empowered by the Code to hear and determine complaints of this kind and provide appropriate remedies.
Complaints of unfair labour practice are discussed in Board Information Circular no. 5-01, which is available on request.
Access to Employees
In some parts of Canada, employees
work in locations that are remote and inaccessible to union representatives. Fly-in mines and offshore drilling operations
are but two examples. On application, the Board may authorize union representatives to have access to the work site for purposes
of organizing employees.
"109.1(1) On application
by a trade union, the Board may, by order, require an employer to give an authorized representative of the trade union mentioned
in the order, or the Board , or both, the names and addresses of employees whose normal workplace is not on premises owned
or controlled by their employer and authorize the trade union to communicate with those employees, by electronic means or
otherwise, if the Board is of the opinion that such communication is required for purposes relating to soliciting trade union
What happens next ?
If the Board certifies a trade union to represent a group of employees, the trade union or
the employer may by notice require the other party to commence collective bargaining. If the Board rejects an application
for certification, it will not normally consider a new application for the same group of employees for a period of six months
after the date on which the application was rejected.