What is Labour Law?

Labour law is the set of rules regulating the unionized workplace. Employment law, on the other hand, is the set of rules regulating the non-unionized workplace.

Labour Law governs the relationship between employer and employee as per those parties “collective bargaining agreement”. In the same vein, labour law governs the rules regarding the creation of a union and interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement. In this regard, labour lawyers on the union side help unions form, while labour lawyers on the management side help employers stay union free. Thereafter, if the employees have formed a union, both party’s labour lawyers act to bring or defend a dispute under the collective bargaining agreement.

A collective bargaining agreement establishes wages, job descriptions, promotions, discipline, benefits, and other employment terms (in place of employment legislation such as the Employment Standards Act) as well as the procedure for handling disputes (i.e. grievances). In this regard, labour law is unique in that workplace disputes must first usually be settled by alternative dispute resolution processes (i.e. meetings with management and/or arbitrations), and not the courts, unlike employment law. As such, unionized employees who are wronged by the employer cannot hire a lawyer to write a demand letter or sue. They must complain as per the procedures set out in the collective bargaining agreement and they must use their trade union’s chosen lawyer. The only time they can use another lawyer is to complain their union failed to properly represent them. This is called an unfair labour complaint, which is something both employment and labour lawyers usually do, but is very, very hard to prove and costly.

As such, our employment law firm does not do labour law other than act for employers in defence of union drives (all we usually do is employment law). Why? The old unions all have their own legal counsel from traditional union side only law firms, and if another law firm (like ours) does not limit itself to union side law, or employee side employment law only, unions will not hire that firm. Therefore, as Dutton Employment Law acts for both employers and employees, we will not market ourselves to trade unions. In addition, we have realized, as so many have, that Labour law is an increasingly small portion of all workplace disputes in Ontario. More and more employers are becoming union free, and less and less workplaces are unionizing for the first time.

If you are an employee seeking to unionize, or a trade union seeking counsel, we would suggest you please phone the Law Society of Upper Canada Referral Service directly at 1-855-947-5255 or 416-947-5255 (within the GTA), Monday – Friday, between 9 am – 5 pm.

If you are an employer facing a union drive, please contact us, or another specialized employment and labour lawyer immediately; our law firm will act for employers in those circumstances to keep them union free and under the purview of employment law.