Printer icon Print Page

2018 To Be a Challenging Year for Both Sides of the Bargaining Table

Ottawa, January 16, 2018—Economic uncertainty, the need to contain costs, and legislative changes are all factors that will make the bargaining environment increasingly complex this year, according to The Conference Board of Canada’s Industrial Relations Outlook 2018.

“Despite stellar economic growth and record-breaking employment numbers in 2017, a slower Canadian economy, and lingering uncertainties in the global economic climate will create a challenging bargaining environment this year,” said Allison Cowan, Director, Total Rewards and Labour Relations Research, The Conference Board of Canada. “Legislative changes surrounding employment and labour standards, minimum wage increases, and the legalization of recreational cannabis bring a number of additional complexities to the bargaining table.”


  • Despite strong economic growth and record-breaking employment numbers, lingering uncertainties in the global economy will create a challenging bargaining environment in 2018.
  • Upcoming legislation changes in jurisdictions across Canada will make for a challenging bargaining environment.
  • Both labour organizations and employers appear willing to work together to reach productive agreements for employees.

Wages continue to be the top bargaining issue for both management and unions in 2018. For unionized employees, the average projected negotiated wage increase for 2018 is 1.4 per cent, slightly lower than the 1.7 per cent increase for contracts negotiated in 2017. Private sector organizations are projecting higher increases (1.7 per cent) than are public sector organizations (1.1 per cent).

Aside from wages, top priorities for unions include reducing precarious employment and improving health and safety provisions for their members. Unions are also taking a hard stance on violence in the workplace and will be looking to integrate collective agreement language that ensures affected employees receive fair treatment and appropriate leave. Additionally, technological change continues to be a significant factor for unions and management alike. While changes in technology can provide a safer work environment, automation is increasingly putting previously well-established jobs at risk.

For employers, flexible work practices are the second most important issue after wages, marking the first time that they have been a top-three negotiation issue for management in over a decade. This sudden increase in importance may be reflective of changing demographics with Millennial and Generation Z workers placing a high priority on flexible work hours, locations, and shifts. Other top bargaining issues for employers include improving productivity, business competitiveness and workforce planning.

Many jurisdictions across the country have introduced or are set to introduce new legislation that will see a rise in minimum wages and changes to leave provisions and pay equity, adding an additional layer of complexity to the bargaining environment this year. Organizations operating in these jurisdictions will have to adapt their practices and may be required to find savings to cover any increased costs associated with the changes. Meanwhile, on a broad national scale, the legalization of cannabis for recreational use is set to take place later this year and will pose an entirely new set of challenges for unions and management alike.

The annual Industrial Relations Outlook, published by The Conference Board of Canada, provides a comprehensive overview of issues that may influence labour relations and collective bargaining in Canada over the coming year. The outlook is based on Conference Board of Canada research and the proceedings of an annual roundtable among senior leaders from both labour and management.

For more information contact

Corporate Communications

Monthly Newsletter

Get updates about Conference Board research and events by signing up for our monthly newsletter.

RSS Feed

RSS Feed  Subscribe to the Conference Board’s News Release RSS Feed

Access Our Research

Access to The Conference Board’s reports is free of charge to professional journalists upon request.

Access Our Experts

We have a team of experienced researchers and economists who are able to comment on current events or share their expertise for news features.

Connect with Us