Sask CA affirms union right to observe job interviews despite privacy claim

7 Feb

On January 31st, the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan affirmed a union’s right to observe job interviews with external candidates notwithstanding the employer’s claim that the observation right should be “read down” to protect individual privacy.

The case involves a collective agreement provision that gives a union a right to observe job interviews “for which any [bargaining unit member] has applied.” At arbitration, the employer argued that the union’s observation right extinguishes after all bargaining unit members have been eliminated from a competition. It raised the privacy rights of external applicants in making this argument.

The arbitration was a disaster for the employer. The arbitrator held that the union’s right to observe was unlimited. The arbitrator also suggested that the Saskatchewan Local Authority Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act required the employer to notify external candidates of the union’s observation rights and obtain their consent. The employer managed to have the latter finding overturned on judicial review by successfully arguing that the disclosure to the union was for a “consistent purpose.” It did not upset the arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective agreement provision, however, so appealed.

The Court of Appeal affirmed the arbitrator’s interpretation of the collective agreement based on the reasonableness standard of review. It also suggested that the employer’s privacy argument was disingenuous, questioning how the employer could argue that observation by the union was okay so long as bargaining unit members were in the competition but offensive to external candidate privacy interests if they were not.

Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology v Saskatchewan Government, 2013 SKCA 8 (CanLII).

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