Dispute Resolution Methods

Dispute Resolution Methods

Alberta’s Labour Relations Code and Police Officers Collective Bargaining Act provide methods for resolving disputes including:


Collective bargaining is the process through which employers and employees establish the terms and conditions of employment in unionized workplaces. The vast majority of collective agreements in Alberta are reached through negotiations without outside assistance (over 80 per cent) or through negotiations using a provincially-appointed mediator. Fewer than two per cent of collective bargaining negotiations result in a strike or lockout, a need for special action by the parties or special provincial intervention.

The Labour Relations Code automatically extends the terms and conditions of the existing contract that may otherwise expire while bargaining continues. This is called bridging and continues until a new collective agreement is achieved, a lawful strike or lockout takes place, or bargaining rights are terminated.

The Code requires the parties to meet with each other and bargain in good faith. Both sides must make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement. If one party feels the other is failing to meet or to bargain in good faith, that party may file a complaint with the Alberta Labour Relations Board. If the complaint cannot be settled, the Board may hold a hearing, make a finding, and, if necessary, issue directives or impose conditions to ensure that good faith bargaining resumes.


At any time during collective bargaining, either or both parties may ask for the assistance of a mediator. The appointment of a mediator is considered a regular part of the collective bargaining process.

Normally, there are four possible outcomes of mediation:

  1. The mediator can help the parties reach a ratified collective agreement.
  2. The mediator can issue a recommendation for settlement which is accepted by the parties and forms the basis of a collective agreement.
  3. Both or one party rejects the mediator’s recommendations.
  4. The mediator is not able to resolve differences between the parties.

In the case of 3) and 4) above, the parties can continue negotiations, with or without the assistance of the mediator.

The parties also have the options of strike or lockout action, or, if they both agree, voluntary interest arbitration. Disputes where there is no right to strike or lockout are resolved through compulsory arbitration.

If strike or lockout action is considered, a 14-day “cooling off” period is required from the date of the mediator writing out or a party rejecting a mediator’s recommendations before a strike vote or lockout poll can be taken.

If the parties are subject to Essential Services legislation under Division 15.1 of the Code a mediator will only be appointed when one of the following requirements have been met:

  1. The parties have an essential services agreement that has been accepted for filing;
  2. The parties have been granted an exemption;
  3. The Essential Services Commissioner has made a declaration that the provision of essential services during a strike or lockout will substantially interfere with meaningful collecting bargaining; or
  4. The Essential Services Commissioner has consented to a mediator being appointed without a filed essential services agreement.

Labour Tribunals

There are a number of tribunals available to help resolve disputes in collective bargaining.

Voluntary Arbitration Board

If a collective agreement cannot be achieved through negotiations, with or without the assistance of a mediator, Voluntary Interest Arbitration can be considered.

This option is available at any time during the collective bargaining negotiation process. This applies to any kind of bargaining, public or private sector, whether the right to strike/lockout exists, whether there are significant differences between the parties, and whether a dispute strike/lockout is imminent or underway. Both parties must agree to this process.

Arbitration is binding. This means the parties must abide by, and live with the arbitration decision. If the parties agree to voluntary arbitration, they must notify the Minister.

The parties may then appoint either a one or three-member voluntary arbitration board. If the parties do not appoint a board, either party may notify the Minister who will direct them to do so. If the parties are unable to agree on members of the board or the chair, the Minister appoints.

If the voluntary arbitration board is unable to effect a settlement within 20 days, or any longer period that may be agreed upon by the parties or fixed by the Minister, the board will make an award dealing with all matters in dispute.

The parties involved are responsible for all associated costs.

Non-Voluntary Tribunals

The following types of tribunals are used in cases where the right to strike or lockout does not exist, where a labour dispute may be postponed or averted, or where a public emergency may occur.

Compulsory Arbitration Board

Compulsory arbitration applies to those employers and employees without the right to strike or lockout e.g., firefighters.

If an impasse in mediated negotiations has been reached, the Minister or the parties involved may request the appointment of a Compulsory Arbitration Board (CAB). The parties appoint members of the CAB, but if they fail to do so, they can request the Minister to make the appointments.

The CAB determines its own process, including the method of arbitration to be used.

The CAB must make its award within 20 days after it was established or a longer time fixed by the Minister or agreed to by the parties. The award is binding on the parties and included in the terms of the new collective agreement.

The parties involved are responsible for all associated costs.

Interest Arbitration Board

An Interest Arbitration Board (IAB) is very similar to a CAB, and is the dispute resolution process for police officers and their employers, under the Police Officers Collective Bargaining Act (POCBA).

The parties involved are responsible for all associated costs.

Disputes Inquiry Board

A Disputes Inquiry Board (DIB) can be established by the Minister when parties need neutral third-party assistance to resolve a dispute. By appointing a DIB, both parties have the opportunity to explore all avenues open to them to clarify the issues and find an agreeable solution without resorting to a strike or lockout. The parties may request a DIB but in most cases it is the Minister who initiates the action.

If a DIB is established before a strike or lockout begins, neither the union nor the employer can take these actions until the Board process is complete. A DIB does not affect the ability of a party to take strike or lockout action after the process is completed. If a strike or lockout has already begun, establishing a DIB does not stop these actions.

How the process works

  • The Minister has the discretion, under the Labour Relations Code, to establish a DIB for parties that have the right to strike or lockout by issuing a Ministerial Order.
  • Both parties to the dispute are notified that a DIB has been established.
  • The Minister appoints a member or members and designates a chair if there is more than one member.
  • If the DIB is unable to help the parties reach a settlement within 20 days of being established – or a longer time fixed by the Minister or agreed to by the parties – it makes recommendations to the Minister and these recommendations are forwarded to both parties.
  • The parties have a set amount of time to review the recommendations before they are posted publicly. They have 10 days to notify the Minister of their acceptance of the recommendations. If both parties accept the recommendations, they are binding.
  • If one or both of the parties does not indicate acceptance of the recommendations, the Labour Relations Board conducts a vote of the party or parties that did not accept them.
  • If the recommendations are rejected again after the vote, the parties can continue negotiating a settlement on their own, or give a 72-hour notice to strike or lockout.

Government pays the costs associated with a DIB.

Public Emergency Tribunal (PET)

In the case of an existing, or imminent strike or lockout, the provincial government has the option to end a dispute by declaring a public emergency and referring the matter to a Public Emergency Tribunal (PET), which is a form of compulsory arbitration.

This can only be used when a dispute may result in damage to health or property (e.g., disruption of health services, water plant, etc.) or unreasonable hardship is placed on persons not involved in the dispute.

A time period will be set during which the parties can meet on their own or with a government appointed mediator to reach a settlement. If a settlement cannot be reached on or before the fixed date, the dispute is referred to the PET.

The PET process is initiated and the Minister fixes a deadline by which the PET must issue a binding award.

The award is binding on the parties and is included in the terms of a collective agreement.

Government pays for all costs associated with a PET.

Construction Industry Disputes Resolution Tribunal

The Code provides that, for the purposes of collective bargaining, construction industry trade unions associated with registered employers organizations are grouped into components (divisions) of the construction industry.

The largest division is general construction.

General construction industry disputes can be referred to a Construction Industry Disputes Resolution Tribunal (CIDRT) once 75 per cent of the trade divisions have ratified agreements. For example, if there are 24 trade divisions and 18 have new collective agreements in place, the remaining six disputes can be referred to a CIRDT.

The Minister refers the matter to a CIDRT if requested by one or more of the parties that have not entered into collective agreements. All strike and lockout action must end upon the referral.

The Minister will appoint one or more members. If more than one person is appointed, the Minister may appoint a Chair.

All affected parties to the dispute are notified that a CIDRT has been established.

The Tribunal works with each outstanding group to reach a settlement. There is no fixed deadline.

If no settlements are reached, the CIDRT issues awards which are binding on each of the parties and included in the terms of a collective agreement.

The parties involved are responsible for all associated costs.

First Contract Arbitration

In the event employers and unions are bargaining their first collective agreement (first contract), the Labour Relations Board (Board) may order a collective agreement be attached through arbitration.

Prior to this, one or both of the parties in bargaining must apply to the Board for assistance in settling the terms of the first collective agreement. This must occur either after 90 days have passed since notice to bargain was served or bargaining had commenced, or after strike or lockout notice has been served. The Board may, after considering the circumstances i) direct each party to provide its last proposal, ii) direct the parties to continue bargaining, iii) appoint any person to provide enhanced mediation, or iv) provide any other directions or supervise or conduct any votes, including strike votes or lockout votes. If efforts by the Board to resolve the dispute are unsuccessful, and the Board is satisfied that arbitration is appropriate, the board may declare that the dispute be resolved through arbitration. If so, the Board may arbitrate the matter itself or, after consulting with the parties, appoint a single arbitrator or the members of an arbitration board. The award of the arbitration board comprises the terms and conditions of the first collective agreement.

Modified: 2017-10-27
PID: 5864

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