What is Work-to-Rule?

When it comes to Bargaining Agreement negotiations, your eyes might instinctively gloss over. After all, much of it sounds like a strange language, with different sides throwing around terms like "Collective Agreement", "Interest Arbitration", "Labour Action", "Work-to-Rule", etc. But as a post-secondary stakeholder, it's important to be aware of a few key concepts.


Let's back it up.


"Collective Bargaining" is the process whereby unions and employers negotiate, with the ultimate goal to reach a "Collective Agreement". This agreement essentially lays out all the terms & conditions for unionized employees, as well as the rights and responsibilities of all three parties: the employer, union, and employees.


Still with me so far? Great.


Now, the Collective Bargaining process will roughly follow 5 steps (*although there are always exceptions), as follows:

  1. Notice to Bargain

  2. Conciliation

  3. Mediation

  4. Strikes, Lock-outs, & Imposition

  5. Interest Arbitration


When negotiations with a neutral, 3rd-party (eg Conciliator, Mediator) fail, both sides may choose to escalate.

In the context of this ongoing situation, the Employer issues a "No-Board" report, which essentially begins a countdown until the Employer can legally either lock-out faculty (ie "Lockout"), or impose terms (aka "Imposition").


In response, the Faculty Union may (and often do) choose to hold a strike vote (ie "Labour Action vote". If the majority of Faculty members vote in favour of Labour Action, this enables the Faculty to initiate a series of labour actions, up to and including a Labour Strike.


One of these options is called "Work-to-Rule".


Work-to-Rule is an organized labour action that has employees (ie "Faculty") do their jobs to the letter of their contract.


For example, let's say you are a faculty librarian, with a work contract for 35 hours/week. During Work-to-Rule, you would only complete those 35 hours. So those extra workshops, holiday overtime hours, volunteer events, or unpaid seminars your boss wants you to work....all are off the menu.


The goal with a Work-to-Rule is to put pressure on the Employer administration, with minimal disruption to classes and learning, with the ultimate goal of convincing the Employer to return to the negotiating table in "Interest Arbitration"(where a neutral third-party negotiates a new, binding Collective Agreement)

Often, Work-to-Rule is quite successful. True, if the Employer continues to refuse to negotiate, Work-to-Rule is set to escalate more targeted labour actions. But so far, there has never been a cancelled college semester due to labour action in Ontario.


So, when you hear rumours of an impending "Strike" on your campus, or fears of class disruptions, remember that it's not a "Strike", it's actually "Work-to-Rule".

For more info, check out this Provincial outline.