Here's what the province could do in the event of a full-scale transit strike

UPDATE — Nov. 27, 2019: A tentative deal has been reached between the union representing thousands of transit workers and Coast Mountain Bus Company, narrowly averting a complete suspension of bus service in Metro Vancouver. Unifor said strike action is over and bus service is returning to normal levels.


A full-scale strike could trigger a system-wide shut down of most of Metro Vancouver's bus system for three days starting Wednesday.

The two sides in an ongoing labour dispute, Unifor and Coast Mountain Bus Company, are set to resume negotiations Tuesday.

But if a negotiated settlement is not reached and job action escalates as promised by SeaBus operators and bus drivers, there will be mounting pressure on the province to step in. 

Until now, B.C.'s labour minister and premier have repeatedly said they're not ready to interfere, leaving the two sides to try to reach an agreement on their own.

However, there are several options on the table if — or when — government does decide to intervene: 

Appointing a mediator would be a likely first step. This could go so far as the appointment of a "special mediator," who is given specific terms of reference and reports back to the labour minister directly.

Declaring "essential service" levels would determine a certain level of service based on language in the Labour Relations Code about what constitutes immediate threats to health, safety and welfare. 

Directing workers to vote on employer's latest offer. The parties could ask the province to order a membership vote. This might happen if the employer believes there's broad support among workers to accept the last offer, even if union leadership has rejected it. 

An industrial inquiry commission could be ordered as type of a "fact finding" investigation. This review can go so far as to collect evidence and hear from witnesses, with recommendations compiled in a final report.

Back-to-work legislation would be a last resort. Ordering an end to a strike doesn't necessarily end with a resolution on the issues at the centre of the dispute, but could involve binding arbitration or imposing a new contract.

Tanya Fletcher / CBC

Government intervention not expected soon

The NDP has made it clear it will remain at arms-length as long as possible in the name of free collective bargaining. 

That's why Tom Knight, industrial relations expert at UBC's Sauder School of Business, doesn't expect the province to step in anytime soon.

"This government is very supportive of the right to collective bargaining, which does from time to time include the right to strike, so I think we have to go through this and see where we are by the weekend or by early next week." 

Knight pointed out the last major transit strike in 2001 went on for months under the B.C. Liberals before employees were eventually ordered back to work.

In the meantime, the province still has to be strategic from a political standpoint by keeping the dispute — and its impact — at the forefront.

"The government is going to have to be seen to be right on top of it in saying supportive things," said Knight. "I'm sure there are lots of conversations going on backstage, but I don't expect to see sudden or dramatic intervention in the near future."