Chair's message - 2020 annual report
The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic have touched us all, both personally and professionally. It is a lived experience that is global in scale.
The words exceptional and unprecedented have become commonplace as we assess and reflect upon COVID-19’s impact on our lives, the economy, and our workplaces.
These impacts had to be addressed in real time and with little precedent. The effects of COVID-19 on workplaces and the economy have created new labour relations challenges for employers, unions, and employees. The Board had to move quickly and find solutions that provide a fair process for parties, maintain access to justice, and reflect the reality that many labour relations matters must be dealt with quickly, pandemic or no pandemic.
The Board’s challenge was to continue to deliver services yet mitigate the risks of transmission for our employees and the public. The in-person interactions that are the foundation of labour relations relationships, and the internal work of the Board, are the very thing that spreads the virus. It is those interactions that were halted or modified to mitigate risk.
In this new reality, the Board never stopped providing services. However, it had to do things differently. The majority of the Board’s staff and vice-chairs continue to work from home. In-person hearings, mediations, settlement discussions, and votes were replaced with new virtual processes. Technology became a critical tool and pipeline for communication, adjudication, votes, and dispute resolution.
Addressing these challenges while maintaining operations and services has been difficult, as it has been for organizations across British Columbia. While there was an initial slowing of applications filed in the Spring of 2020, they picked up. As you will see from the decision highlights section of this report, many new and complex issues needed to be addressed as the Board and stakeholders continue to contemplate the effects of the 2019 Code amendments and the pandemic.
A significant amount of work has happened behind the scenes this year. The Board had to focus time and resources to address the pandemic, including developing safety plans as an employer and guides and policies to help vice-chairs, mediators, staff, and the parties become familiar with, and confident in, new ways of interacting.
At the same time, we were fully engaged in the important and ongoing work of modernizing the Board’s infrastructure.
I have asked vice-chairs and staff, already tasked with a full workload, to do more and to do things differently. Each one of them has risen to the challenge and worked tirelessly to keep things going and to embrace change. They each have my deepest gratitude.
While COVID-19 will continue to make its mark on 2021, we have much to celebrate as we look forward to a new year.
In many ways, the pandemic is an opportunity to look closely at our processes and ask how we can do better. It prompted us to use new tools to meet our statutory mandate, such as electronic voting. Virtual platforms for hearings, mediations, informal dispute resolution, or meetings offer an important option to increase access and participation while reducing costs and travel time. There is no going back.
We have continued to move forward with our modernization initiatives and are very pleased to announce that we will be launching a new website in the Spring of 2021. It is modern, dynamic, and creates an accessible and meaningful digital presence for the Board. Our new case management system, while not without its challenges, is coming into its own. We could not have maintained our operations in a remote work environment without it. With these two new tools in place, we are looking at ways of providing enhanced statistical reporting and information as a regular part of our operations.
This Annual Report also signals a new approach. From the results of a survey we conducted in the Fall of 2020, we have re-oriented it to focus on trends and decision highlights, while also maintaining our general statistical table to facilitate year over year comparisons of the work of the Board. We have also highlighted the work going on behind the scenes to give a fuller picture of the Board’s duties and commitments as a public institution.
The 2020 Annual Report looks inward. However, looking outward, I want to acknowledge the labour relations parties with whom we interact. They have shown, time and again, flexibility, patience, and creativity. There can be no doubt that the issues faced by employers, unions, and employees are incredibly challenging. The very foundation of the work we do is to support their relationships, whether through adjudication, mediation, information, or informal dispute resolution. As our Provincial Health Officer said – we are in this together. And in that spirit, we are ready to take on 2021.
Jacquie de Aguayo