Labour Board to Review Casual Employee Policy

The Nova Scotia Labour Board is currently seeking input on their policy on casual employees in unionized workplaces.

This is a great opportunity to reflect on the Board’s current policy and how it works. 

What’s the difference between casual employees and regular full-time and part-time employees?

Regular full-time and part-time employees are employees who are regularly scheduled to work each week by the manager making the schedule; the employer and the employee make a reciprocal commitment to promise regular employment. Casual employees are not regularly scheduled; they are called in to replace other employees who are on sick leave, vacation, or off for other reasons, and neither the employer nor the casual makes a commitment of work to the other.

Why the difference matters in a unionized workplace

In Nova Scotia, many unionized workplaces employ casual employees on a frequent basis. This can be a great solution that allows employers to staff as needed and casual employees to decide if and when they want to accept offers of work.

The question is: should casual employees be members of a bargaining unit for the purposes of the Trade Union Act?

Under the current policy, the Board does not normally consider casual employees to be members of a bargaining unit UNLESS:

  • the union and the employer agree to include them in the collective agreement; OR
  • the Board determines that the casual employees’ interests have a strong enough connection (a.k.a. “community of interest”) with the full-time and regular part-time employees’ interests.

Possible changes under consideration

The Board is considering whether it should change the starting presumption and include all employees as members of the bargaining unit, including casual employees, unless the collective agreement or the Board’s review of the circumstances suggest casual employees should not be included.

Reversing the presumption in this way would be a significant change because casual employees and regular full-time and part-time employees typically have different interests.

This is not necessarily a bad thing: there are many benefits to casual employment. Many people’s lives are organized such that casual employment works best for them and their families. Casual employment can also give employees a foot in the door, allowing them to get to know a workplace and be considered for regular part-time or full-time positions. Casual employment offers a lot of freedom and flexibility. The flip side is that casual employees do not have a sustained, long-term interest in the workplace, whereas regular part-time or full-time employees do.

This is critical because a productive collective bargaining relationship between an employer and a union depends on a cohesive bargaining unit whose members have similar interests – to put it plainly, a union requires a degree of unity to properly represent its members. This way, the members can be confident in knowing their interests are being represented and the employer can work effectively with the union knowing it truly represents their employees’ interests. To include casual employees in the bargaining unit may introduce conflicting interests that would make it difficult for unions and employers to have a harmonious relationship free of workplace disruptions.

The Labour Board is accepting written submissions on these possible changes until January 31, 2018. Click here for more information on the process.


Do you have questions about casual employees? Our team is responsive and approachable – give us a call, we’d love to hear from you!