B.C.’s government is not going to be overriding existing collective agreements between the unionized hotel employees and their employers.
“I have decided the best course of action is to refrain from interfering in the collective bargaining process. I have always been clear that the best resolution for all parties is negotiated at the bargaining table,” said the province’s minister of labour, Harry Bains, in a press release.
Bains’ comments are in response to a report issued by Sandra Banister, a lawyer who was commissioned by the province to conduct a review of the unionized hotel sector in regard to the prolonged impacts of the COVID-19 emergency. Her report stated the provincial government must make “difficult policy decisions” when it comes to the future of hotel workers in B.C.
Banister’s report comes as members with Unite Here Local 40 union continue to protest and lobby the province to provide protections to hospitality workers who lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Unite Here, which represents hotel and hospitality workers in B.C., says 85 per cent of its members are laid off and 50,000 union and non-union hotel workers in B.C are at risk of losing their jobs.
The union has also said thousands of hotel workers will lose their right to recall, between September 2020 and March 2021, and are at risk of not being hired at all.
Unite Here, which is currently negotiating six new collective agreements with various hotels or employers that have expired, previously expired, has called on the province amend the Employment Standards Regulation Act, in order to allow employees to have a right of recall until they are actually recalled or 12 months after COVID-19 pandemic has ended.
Recall rights are included in the majority of collective agreements in the hotel industry and allow employees who have been laid-off to return to work, without losing senority, within a defined period of time — usually between 13 weeks and 24 months.
According to Banister’s report, employers in the industry believe the process of collective bargaining should be respected and any extension of recall rights must be bargained.
In her report, Banister said the hotel sector employs roughly 60,000 employees – mainly women, immigrants, or people of colour – and has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 and will likely be “one of the last” to recover. She also said there is “little common ground” between Unite Here, other unions and hotel owners, and other industry employers at the moment.
“Confronted by devastating layoffs caused by the unimagined exceptional circumstance of a worldwide pandemic, hotel unions support government intervention to ensure unionized workers will be returned to their jobs with their seniority intact when the sector recovers and that non-union workers in the sector share that protection,” she wrote. “Employers maintain the process of collective bargaining should be respected and any extension of recall rights must be bargained.”
Banister concluded that the province is likely going to have to answer a number of difficult questions such as does the economic crisis caused by the COVID pandemic and the resulting layoffs, require government intervention to protect workers’ recall rights? and whether or not unionized workers be required to bargain for additional rights in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, regardless of whether their collective agreements are open for renewal?
However, Bains said the province has taken “considerable steps to support employers and workers impacted by COVID-19” and “made serious efforts to ensure resources are there for non-union workers,” including those in the hotel sector.
The labour minister also stressed that the provincial government, while it respects and appreciates the content of Banister’s report, will not be getting involved.
“Government will not be overriding existing collective agreements and the bargaining now under way in the hotel sector, including negotiations involving Unite Here Local 40 and other unions,” Bains said, adding. “I am hopeful all parties involved can come to mutual resolution at the bargaining table, and I urge both sides to get together as soon as possible to work out a voluntary resolution to this important issue.”