What is a grievance?

A grievance is a violation of the employee's rights on the job. It is the steward's job to determine what right was violated or if the grievance is legitimate, e.g., is it a complaint or an official grievance?

  1. Most employees' rights are contained in the collective agreement, so this is the first place you, as a member or steward, must look to see if there is a grievance. If the grievance is a clear cut violation of the contract, it will be easy to prove, provided you stick to your guns. If it is an interpretive issue, it can be more difficult. Either one, though, constitutes a legitimate grievance. If it is an interpretive issue, previous arbitration cases on similar or same language will help you prepare your argument. 
  2. Violation of federal or provincial law. Here you may be filing a grievance or dealing directly with the appropriate agency to deal with the issue, or you may do both. It may be a health and safety violation or human rights violation, both of which deal with a separate agency. Most collective agreements have specified language on this. 
  3. Violation of past practice in the workplace. This can be the basis for a grievance, particularly in areas where the contract is silent or unclear or where a past practice has been violated by the management. To be considered as a past practice, the circumstances must have been:
  • repeated over an extended period of time;
  • accepted explicitly or implicitly by both workers and management, e.g. by verbal agreement or in writing without either side formally objecting; or
  • while violating the contract, neither side has demanded that this part of the contract be enforced.

4. Complaints must be dealt with. If you think your rights have been violated, see your steward. They will do the investigation and let you know whether there has been a violation. If there hasn't, they will clearly explain why.

Return to the BCGEU Steward page

Types of Grievances

A steward can classify grievances according to where they come from and how they arise. We also classify grievances according to who is affected.

A steward can classify grievances according to where they come from and how they arise. We also classify grievances according to who is affected.

  • Individual grievance - A complaint that an action by management has violated the rights of an individual as set out in the collective agreement, law or some unfair practice. The steward will file the grievance and require your signature so that it can be processed. When an individual's right have been violated and they refuse to sign a grievance, the steward may still file the grievance on behalf of the union. In this way, the collective agreement is still being defended and it shows management that the union will not acquiesce. If you don't file, it may be that the employer will continue violating the agreement, and when you finally do file, you may lose because you acquiesced.
  • Group grievance(also called "et-all") - A complaint by a group of workers, a department, or shift, that has been affected the same way and at the same time by an action taken by management. An example would be where a shift wasn't given premium pay as per the agreement.
  • Policy grievance - A complaint by the union that an action of management, (or its failure for refusal to act) is a violation of the agreement that could affect all who are covered by the agreement. A policy grievance normally relates to the interpretation of the contract rather than the complaint of an individual. A steward doesn't deal with this directly as the standard grievance form is not filled out. The steward informs the staff of the union who will send a letter, stating that the issue is one of policy and the issue will be forwarded automatically to Step 3 or the arbitration procedure.
  • Union grievance - This grievance involves an issue where the union's rights have been violated. The grievance would be from the union itself. An example of this would be where the employer did not deduct union dues, or did not allow union leave to the bargaining committee.