Two unions representing thousands of tradesworkers across B.C. have lost the fight for their members to be paid overtime for work done on the day of Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral last September.
The unions had argued the national day of mourning for the late monarch on Sept. 19 should have been recognized as a statutory holiday based on five different collective agreements, which would have entitled the private sector workers to extra pay.
An arbitrator disagreed, ruling that government leaders had deliberately stopped short of declaring the day as a state holiday for workers outside of the federal government.
“Neither level of government declared the day as a holiday for anyone beyond those specified. As a result, the grievance cannot succeed,” read a ruling from B.C.’s labour arbitration board.
The ruling is believed to be one of the first labour decisions in Canada to consider the issue in the wake of the Queen’s death. Before that, it hadn’t been considered since the deaths of her ancestors decades ago.
Politicians’ remarks opened door to challenge
The unions at the centre of the complaint, United Association Local 170 and Millwrights Union Local 2736, represent thousands of private sector plumbers, pipefitters, millwrights and other trades workers across B.C.
Their argument for double pay centred on public statements from government officials and proclamations made after the deaths of Queen Elizabeth II’s father and great-grandfather.
The first modern-day statement came from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announcing the day of the Queen’s state funeral would be a national day of mourning in Canada.
“It will be designated a holiday for the public service of Canada, and other employers across the country are also invited to recognize the National Day of Mourning,” it said.
Federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan followed up with a tweet to say the same, while Gov. Gen. Mary Simon issued a proclamation asking Canadians to “set aside” the day for mourning.
Then-B.C. premier John Horgan said his government would “follow the lead of the federal government.”
The unions argued all of those statements designated Sept. 19 as a holiday.
One of five collective agreements they put forward said, “any day that may be declared a holiday in the future by the Government of Canada or by the Province of British Columbia” would be a statutory holiday. The other four agreements had slightly different language but said the same in essence.
The unions also pointed to proclamations made after the death of King Edward VII in 1910 and King George VI in 1952. The first said “all persons” in Canada should observe the national day of mourning, while the second said the day would be a “public holiday.”
The arbitrator sided with the employer, finding governments had been deliberate in their wording — the day in 1952 had clearly been dubbed a public holiday, and the governments had deliberately avoided saying the same for 2022.
“In my view, the contrasting wording of the proclamations is not merely semantical but rather represents a significant policy difference,” read the ruling from arbitrator Randall Noonan.
“Had the federal government intended the day to be a holiday applying to anyone other than those in the public service of Canada, one would have expected the proclamation to use similar wording to that used in 1952 or that the Prime Minister’s statement would have indicated that.”
Noonan also noted the B.C. government “seemingly went out of its way to avoid declaring Sept. 19 as a holiday for private sector employees.”
“Rather, the statement from the Premier’s office stated, ‘We encourage private-sector employees to find a way to recognize or reflect on the day in a way that is appropriate for their employees.'”
Queen Elizabeth II was Canada’s head of state and the British monarch for more than 70 years.