On December 12, 2013, the new Nova Scotia Liberal government fulfilled a campaign promise by passing legislation to replace a law that had automatically triggered First Contract Arbitration in newly unionized workplaces that fail to negotiate a speedy collective agreement.  The new law will only trigger arbitration if one of the parties is shown to be bargaining in bad faith.

The passage of this legislation follows over two years of advocacy from Retail Council of Canada and a coalition of industry groups calling on government to bring balance back to the process of negotiating a first contract.

The legislation amends the Trade Union Act and brings the Nova Scotia bill more in line with the model used by the federal government and several other provinces, covering 85% of Canadians.

This is a significant victory for Retail Council of Canada, all of the industry associations who worked together in fighting for these changes; and for anyone who believes in true collective bargaining. 

Member To-Do:

Please contact RCC’s Atlantic Director, should you wish to discuss.

What RCC Did / Next Steps

RCC presented to the Nova Scotia Legislature’s Law Amendments Committee on this issue in 2011.

RCC communicated with Ministers and the Premier in the former and current Nova Scotia governments on this issue.  RCC also worked closely with a group of industry associations and large Nova Scotia employers to present a united front in opposing the former NDP government’s First Contract Arbitration bill.

RCC supported the Liberal government’s bill as it will bring balance to the system and a harmonized approach with the rest of Canada.  RCC noted in its submission that some of its members are opposed to First Contract Arbitration in any form.  However, RCC noted that it has union and non-union members and the vast majority of its members support this balanced, harmonized approach.


In 2011, the former NDP government passed one of the most regressive first contract arbitration laws in Canada, which ensured that a contract would be in place within a year of union certification.  The law discouraged true collective bargaining as either the employer or the union could simply wait out the strict timeframe for bargaining and allow the Labour Board to impose a settlement.

Many employers felt that unions would simply use this former bill to encourage workers to sign union cards as there was no risk involved.  Union organizers could guarantee workers would get a contract without risk of a labour disruption.

Under the new bill, there will be no time limit on conciliation between an employer and a union in a newly certified workplace.  The conciliator will have to determine that negotiations are at an impasse before referring the matter to the Labour Board.  The Board will be able to direct parties back to conciliation or impose arbitration if it determines either the union or the employer is bargaining in bad faith.  Even if one side is found to be bargaining in bad faith, the Board would only impose arbitration if the other side requests that arbitration be imposed.

The Liberal Party won the election in October 2013, with a strong majority in the House of Assembly.  Given the government’s majority in the House of Assembly, combined with the fact that they campaigned on a promise to amend the Trade Union Act with respect to first contract arbitration, it was a certainty that the bill would pass.  Therefore, the passage of the bill came as no surprise to industry associations in Nova Scotia.

The government introduced the legislation to the Nova Scotia House of Assembly on December 6, 2013.  The bill went to the Nova Scotia Law Amendments Committee on December 10, 2013 and the bill was passed on December 12, 2013.

If you have any questions or concerns, please don't hesitate to contact Jim Cormier at: [email protected] or (902) 422-4144.