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LRB sides with Canfor over payouts for Mackenzie sawmill workers

Decision means company won't have to provide "group termination pay" of up to eight weeks wages to workers who lost their jobs

A Labour Relations Board panel member has set aside an arbitrator's decision that would have entitled workers to "group termination pay" following closure of Canfor's Mackenzie sawmill.

On June 10, 2019, Canfor issued a six-week closure or "curtailment" and one week later, on June 17, 2019, laid off almost all of its 187 unionized employees. Then, on July 18, 2019 - 10 days before the mill was scheduled to re-open - the company announced that the curtailment would be extended indefinitely.

In turn, the Pulp, Paper and Woodworkers of Canada Local No. 18 filed a grievance which contended in part that, in accordance with the Employment Standards Act, an employer must pay out group termination pay whenever it terminates 50 or more employees at a single location within any two-month period.

Canfor disagreed, asserting that since the starting dates for the layoffs began 24 hours the employees' various recall rights were to expire, effectively staggering the start dates so that the threshold had not been met.

In a decision issued May 10, 2021, arbitrator, Nicholas Glass, agreed with the union. But in a decision issued on Monday, the panel member, LRB vice chair Stephanie Drake, found in favour of Canfor.

The differences between the findings centred on interpretations of the relevant section of the ESA.

Had the outcome gone the other way, Canfor would have been facing a significant bill, ranging from one week's wages to as much as eight weeks, depending on how long the employee had worked at the operation.

Following the arbitrator's decision, Canfor had sought a review at the B.C. Court of Appeal but was redirected to the LRB. As a result, the appeal to the LRB was filed more than eight months after the arbitrator's decision, and well past the 15-day time limit.

In her decision, Drake found there were "exceptional and compelling reasons" for granting an extension and hearing the appeal, saying the issue presents "significant implications not just for the immediate parties but also for other employers, unions and employees with recall rights."