B.C. Community Benefits Agreement back in court

A coalition of contractors and construction unions has this week resumed its legal challenge of the framework

The Illecillewaet four-laning project is expected to complete in the spring of 2022. The project falls under the province's Community Benefits Agreement | Province of BC/Flickr

What happened: The province's Community Benefits Agreement is once again before a B.C. court, with those against the agreement seeking to overturn a lower court ruling that their challenge ought to be heard before the BC Labour Relations Board.

Why it matters: The Court of Appeal will decide on whether the BC Supreme Court or Labour Relations Board is the appropriate forum to hear the concerns a coalition of contractors and unions have about the agreement.

A coalition of contractors and construction unions has this week resumed its legal challenge of the provincial government’s Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) – a framework intended to ensure local hiring, priority hiring and apprenticeship training on designated public infrastructure projects.

The Independent Contractors and Business Association (ICBA) and others argue that part of that plan – the requirement that workers must join one of 19 unions – violates workers’ Charter freedom of association.

Earlier this year, the ICBA and 18 petitioners sought to bring their Charter challenge before the Supreme Court of British Columbia. The court rejected claim, and referred the matter to the BC Labour Relations Board.

This week, the coalition is challenging the BC Supreme Court ruling before the British Columbia Court of Appeal.

At issue is where the coalition’s Charter challenge should be heard.

“There is no issue in this case about whether this arrangement … breaches the labour code. It’s accepted that it doesn’t breach the labour code. The issue solely is whether the minister’s decision to require workers to work under that arrangement is a lawful exercise of her statutory authority under the Transportation Act,” argued the appellants’ counsel Peter Gall on Thursday.

“There can be no doubt or dispute… that the Labour Relations Board has no jurisdiction to adjudicate the legality of the minister’s decision under the Transportation Act,” he said.

The coalition has renewed its campaign against the province’s CBA. It argues that four public works projects built under the agreement have collectively seen an additional $384 million in cost overruns.

Proponents of the CBA argue that having such a framework in place can mitigate risks and costs by establishing clear policies around wages and hiring, and by eliminating the possibility of strikes and lockouts.

The matter is before the Court of Appeal Thursday and Friday. At the time of writing, the respondents – the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, the Attorney General and the Allied Infrastructure and Related Construction Council of B.C. – had not yet had an opportunity to respond in court.  

Read BIV's in-depth piece about the history of Community Benefits Agreements and the legal challenge making its way through B.C. courts.