The Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers (CALL) has expressed “grave concern” over the Ministry of Labour’s decision to hire the British Columbia Law Institute (BCLI) to conduct research and analysis in relation to workplace dispute resolution.
In an Aug 27 letter to the Institute, CALL executive Sheila Greene says she’s concerned the consultations are being conducted in response to a push to “transfer jurisdiction from the BC Human Rights Tribunal (BCHRT) to some other entity charged with resolving workplace disputes.”
In a June 30 press release, BCLI stated they would be “conducting an international review of approaches to resolving workplace conflict and investigating the range of labour and employment conflict resolution systems in operation in other parts of Canada and select other countries, with a view to highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches.”
“Our chief concern is the utter lack of transparency over what they are doing,” says CALL spokesperson and former BCHRT board member Lindsay Lyster. “What it appears they are doing is engaging in the formulation of public policy behind closed doors.”
“I do know they are engaging in a targeted consultation with people who are unknown with matters they choose not to disclose, and I understand through contacts with those being consulted that a new model would eliminate the Human Rights Tribunal’s jurisdiction over all employment-related matters.”
The consultations follow a shakeup of the BCHRT board. In July, it was announced that longstanding board chair Heather MacNaughton and board member Judy Parrack would not be reappointed. In March, Lyster resigned to pursue opportunities in private practice.
“This initial phase of research is a small part of a much broader project that the Ministry of Labour may undertake, subject to a review and decision of Cabinet,” says Labour Minister Murray Coell. “I’m hopeful that the research from BCLI will show us how to improve protection of employee, employer and union rights in the workplace, by making the system more efficient and responsive to the realities of the current workplace. I look forward to receiving the Institute’s report in the fall of this year, at which point our government will consider the next steps.”
Coell’s response raises more questions than answers, says Lyster.
“If there is a much broader project, it’s not one to which the public has been notified nor is it one of which the stakeholders have been notified.”
She says that CALL would have liked to participate in the process.
“We wanted to be a part of the consultation process, but we were not given information necessary to do that in any meaningful way.”
Lesbian lawyer barbara findlay has little faith in the consultations.
“As a member of the very small community of lawyers who act for complainants in human rights cases, I am very concerned that this development is part of a back-door method to further reduce the effectiveness of the BC Human Rights Tribunal, by rolling many of their cases into a tribunal with no experience in human rights matters,” she says.