MRU, you and the law: The often confusing legislation that governs post-secondary employment in Alberta

Have you ever wondered why some people get Boxing Day as a holiday and other people do not? Do you have friends or family in Ontario who have to work on November 11 when you do not?

Some provinces (Ontario) recognize Boxing Day as a holiday but we don’t in Alberta. The same holds true for Remembrance Day; Alberta recognizes November 11 as a general holiday and yet Ontario does not.

What this example illustrates is the laws that govern the employment relationship can be, and often are, different – between provinces, and most certainly between unionized and non-unionized workplaces.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Alberta Employment Standards or Alberta’s Labour Relations Code, the Canada Labour Code and most certainly the Post-Secondary Learning Act (PSLA).  These laws govern different workplaces and different workplace relationships.  Alberta’s Employment Standards Act governs non-unionized workplaces in Alberta that fall under provincial jurisdiction, while Alberta’s Labour Relations Code (the Code) governs unionized workplaces that fall under provincial jurisdiction.  Federally regulated workplaces – like the charter banks, air and rail transportation, and marine shipping – fall under the Canada Labour Code.

Typically, if one set of laws governs your employment relationship then the others do not. Yet, for those of us in post-secondary institutions this is not the case.

Post-secondary institutions in Alberta are governed by provincial legislation, not federal legislation, and BOTH the PSLA and the Code govern our employment relationship.  Both pieces of legislation received royal assent in the early 2000s under Ralph Klein’s Progressive Conservative government. 

The PSLA dictates the different roles and related responsibilities required to operate a post-secondary institution.  This legislation defines the board of governors, the senate, the chancellor/vice-chancellor, officers and employees, general and faculty councils, student affairs, and the like. This piece of legislation dictates the composition of these councils, how to form these councils, how long their term of office can run, and their various duties.  The PSLA is rather unique; no industry, other than education, refers to employment legislation to define roles, responsibilities, composition of members, process for elections, etc. 

Of note, there is nothing in the PSLA that talks about the laws around collective bargaining, strikes and lockouts, dispute resolution, and other union- related topics.  For these laws, we need to refer to Alberta’s Labour Relations Code (the Code).

Here is where it gets interesting for some and confusing for many more.  In the Code, there is a section (a division by its proper name) that is specific to Post-Secondary institutions: Division 9.1 – Post-Secondary Academic Bargaining.  When we read a bit deeper in Division 9.1, we learn that Divisions 4 through 9 of the Code do not apply to post-secondary institutions currently, but will take effect July 1, 2022, unless a later date is determined by the Lieutenant Governor in Council after the Minister has consulted with affected parties.[1]

To give you a sense of what these divisions of the Code refer to, here is a brief listing:

  • Division 4 – Employer’s Organization
  • Division 5 – Certification
  • Division 6 – Voluntary Recognition
  • Division 7 – Modification of Bargaining Rights
  • Division 8 – Revocation of Bargaining Rights
  • Division 9 – General Provisions on Certification and Voluntary Recognition

The sections of the Code that DO impact the employment relationship between the MRFA and MRU’s Board of Governors, and which might be of interest to you, are

  • Division 10 – Collective Bargaining
  • Division 11 – Mediation and Enhanced Mediation
  • Division 13 – Strikes and Lockouts.

What does all this mean for you?  Quite simply, if you are unsure of your employment rights under the law, you are not alone.  The laws are many, they are confusing, and they can appear contradictory at times.  If you try to compare the laws that govern your employment with the laws that impact family or friends, you may find some significant differences, so it is best not to compare.  You can become familiar with each piece of legislation, as they are easily available on the Internet.  Or, when the MRFA hosts information sessions on these topics, please come and ask questions.  We want all members to know the laws that dictate what we can and cannot do, and unless we hear your questions, we will not know what information you require.

By Shelley Rathie

February 12, 2020

[1] Labour Relations Code; Queen’s Printer