Legal News

Wide Scope Given to Flexible Work Practices

Arbitrator Vince Ready has issued an arbitration award that clarifies and gives broad scope to the Letter of Understanding on Flexible Work Practices in the Fletcher Challenge collective agreement with the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada, Local 2. The award, issued December 6, 2000, interprets sections 1, 12 and 13 of the Letter of Understanding. It is likely to have a significant beneficial effect for many employers in the industry.

In this case, the employer used a carpenter to do relief lubrication work during the summer months until another oiler could be hired. Under the parties’ collective agreement Lubrication Mechanics were not certified trades but were part of the maintenance department. While the relief lubrication work was being performed, the employer engaged contractors and assigned other employees to perform several jobs including carpentry work.

The award contains four key points. First, Arbitrator Ready confirmed that in relation to section 12 of the Letter of Understanding the word “permanently” does not mean a “day or more” as argued by the union. Rather, he accepted the employer’s position that the word “permanent” means an assignment that is indefinite or lasting.

Second, arbitrator Ready found that section 13 was not applicable as the facts did not support a finding that the core trade duties of a carpenter were assigned to someone outside his trade. While there was some carpentry work performed by other trades, the evidence did not lead to the conclusion that the position of carpenter was “filled” while the grievor was performing relief lubrication work.

Third, Arbitrator Ready agreed that for the purposes of the Letter there were two categories of employees — maintenance and operations. Oiling fell under the maintenance department in the Letter and was treated for all intents and purposes as a trade. It was listed as a maintenance position and attracted payment and treatment under the Letter along with trades. Thus, the arbitrator found that oiling was not a “non-trade” for the purposes of supporting a restriction on flexibility under section 13.

Fourth, Arbitrator Ready agreed with the union that section 1 of the Letter recognizes the intent of the parties that flexibility was meant to fulfill the intent of article 23 (contracting out). However, in order to be successful in a grievance, the Union must show that flexible work practices actually led to the contracting out of work that could have been done by the regular workforce. No such evidence was offered in this case. Rather, the arbitrator found that the contracting out would have occurred despite the grievor being used as a relief oiler.

This award confirms the broad scope of the flexibility language and clarifies section 13. As a result, employers with this language in their PPWC collective agreements can assign work flexibly within the maintenance department without distinguishing between employees who are certified “trades” and other employees who are not.

Fletcher Challenge was represented by Harris & Company counsel.