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I have a union at work. How does this affect my rights as a worker?

If you have a union at work:

  • your collective agreement sets out your conditions of employment, like wages, hours of work, and overtime pay
  • what's in the collective agreement is decided through collective bargaining
  • you pay union dues, which your employer takes from your pay and sends to the union

If you have a complaint against your employer about your rights in the agreement, you have to follow the process in the collective agreement.

The one time you don't have to do this is if your complaint is about something that goes against your human rights. Then, you might be able to make a human rights claim instead of or as well as using the process in your collective agreement.

Minimum standards

The conditions in the collective agreement must meet minimum standards. For most workers in Ontario, these standards are in Ontario's Employment Standards Act (ESA).

Some industries are covered by federal laws. These are laws made by the Government of Canada and they apply throughout the country. These industries include banks, airlines, some trucking businesses, and broadcasting.

Workers in these industries are covered by the Canada Labour Code. Like the ESA, the Canada Labour Code sets out minimum standards employers must follow.

Collective agreements set conditions of employment that are better for workers than the minimum standards in the law.

Human rights laws

If you're in a union, you're also covered by human rights laws. For most workers in Ontario, Ontario's Human Rights Code applies. For workers in federal industries, the Canadian Human Rights Act applies.

Problems at work

If you're covered by the collective agreement, you usually have to work with the union if you have a complaint against your employer.

The collective agreement includes the process that workers need to use if the employer does not follow the agreement. It's up to the union to protect workers' rights if this happens.

But if your complaint is about something that goes against your human rights, you might be able to make a human rights claim instead of or as well as using the process in your collective agreement.

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Next Steps: 

1. Find out if you have a union at work

Sometimes workers don't know if they have a union at work.

To find this out, ask someone at work who's doing a job similar to yours. Or, check your pay stub to see if your employer is taking union dues off your pay.

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2. Talk to your union representative

In a unionized workplace, union members elect another member to be their union representative. Some people call this a "union steward" or "shop steward".

The union representative tries to make sure that the employer follows the collective agreement. They also do things like:

  • share information from the union office, for example, about education programs for union members
  • call meetings of union members to talk about union business, for example, to discuss what to ask for in collective bargaining
  • help workers who have a problem with the employer

Your union representative should give you a copy of the collective agreement and help you understand your rights as a union member.

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3. Learn what's in your collective agreement

The union representative should give you a copy of the collective agreement.

It's important to know what your collective agreement says about:

  • your working conditions, like wages, hours of work, and overtime pay
  • what to do if your employer does not follow the agreement

Collective agreements can be complicated and hard to understand. If you need help understanding the agreement, ask your union representative.

If your union representative can't help you, contact your union office:

  • to get a copy of the collective agreement
  • for help understanding the agreement

If you can't find out from your union representative how to contact your union office, you might need to ask a co-worker who's worked there longer and might be able to help.

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Reviewed: 
December, 2015

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