A better way to resolve grievances

A better way to resolve grievances

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Contributors:

Conciliation and Mediation Services
Jarrod Baboushkin Chief Conciliation and Mediation Officer

Most unionized workplaces have grievances filed from time to time. Collective agreements are complex legal documents and there are bound to be disagreements around interpretation of language and varying points of view on workplace incidents.

So, what happens if an employer and union don’t see eye to eye, but don’t want to pursue the time-consuming and costly option of arbitration? Grievance mediation, an informal and without prejudice approach to dispute resolution.

A report from The Conference Board of Canada entitled Staying Out of Court: Alternative Dispute Resolution as a Business Tool states that alternative dispute resolution (ADR), such as grievance mediation, can lead to significant savings in time, money and interpersonal relationships. It goes on to say the results from ADR are “often immediate and dramatic.”

Grievance mediation involves using the services of a professional mediator to help solve the problem. The mediator works as a neutral third party and keeps the process flexible, informal and creative. This means they are not on the side of labour or management in a dispute. The mediator has no stake in the outcome and their only motive is helping the employer and the union come to an agreement they both can live with, without harming their relationship.

The Conference Board of Canada’s 2016 Industrial Relations Outlook featured a spotlight on dispute resolution services in which management representatives “highlighted the importance of discussions with the union and grievor, including face-to-face meetings, and creating opportunities for frank conversation between the parties.” Management respondents also indicated that “making use of mediation ahead of the arbitration process is helpful not only in resolving disputes, but also in terms of minimizing costs.”

In a grievance mediation, there are no rules of evidence, calling of witnesses, cross examinations or other elements generally included in arbitration. The intent is to find solutions that satisfy the interests of both parties, rather than having someone outside decide and impose an outcome. However, if the mediation is unsuccessful, arbitration is still an option for the dispute.

Believe it or not, grievances can actually be good for the labour-management relationship if they are handled correctly. They can provide an opportunity to problem solve and develop consensus around an issue, making for a stronger relationship and potentially clarifying collective agreement terms. To gain the most benefit from a grievance, both labour and management should be willing to think outside of the box and be open to compromise and creative solutions that may not have been previously explored, ideally through mediation.

Sitting down and talking through issues with a neutral party allows for time to consider solutions that might otherwise be overlooked. Mediation lets participants craft mutually agreeable outcomes that are more durable and reflective of their day-to-day realities. No one wins, no one loses and everyone compromises, which can really help the relationship and the labour relations climate of the workplace over the longer term.


CMS has a variety of free-of-charge programs and workshops available to assist labour-management groups, including grievance mediation. To find out more, go to novascotia.ca/lae/conciliation/, email conciliation@novascotia.ca or call 902-424-4156.

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