What HR can expect from unions in 2017

A new report is offering insight into how unions will be collaborating – or conflicting – with employers in the year ahead.

What HR can expect from unions in 2017
Could a harmonious relationship between employers and unions be on the horizon? It may sound far-fetched to some but one new study suggests 2017 will be a year of collaboration, rather than confrontation.

According to the Conference Board of Canada's Industrial Relations Outlook 2017, continued economic challenges across the country will have organizations on both sides of the bargaining table concerned with job security and managing costs.

"Despite sluggish economic growth and the impending expiration of a number of collective agreements, few work stoppages are expected in 2017 as many unions and employers appear prepared to work together where necessary to maximize benefits for employees," said Allison Cowan, director of leadership and human resources research at the Conference Board of Canada.  

While the report predicts smooth sailing for the year ahead, it also pointed to the top negotiating issues for both employers and collective labour organizations.

For employers, wages, productivity, organizational change, and health benefits take precedent while for unions the top issues are wages, employment security and health benefits.

With the labour relations environment remaining fixed on wages, the Conference Board of Canada predicts employers will be looking to shift pay and pension structures to rein in costs and maintain quality jobs for new and existing employees.

Specific changes being sought by some unions include minimum hours, a higher minimum wage, and a reduction in the use of two-tier wage structures.

The report also predicts modest wage settlements of 1.5 per cent for unionized employees in both the public and private sectors in 2017. Beyond wages, The Conference Board of Canada says employers are looking to increase diversity in their workforces and manage potential labour shortages – in the skilled trades, for example.

From the union perspective, concerns are centred on the precarious nature of many positions in an increasingly service-oriented economy. They’re also working to engage youth in the labour movement and provide education on the benefits of unionization while adapting to challenges brought on by technological change.

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