Labour law in Canada is different in some respects to the law in Britain or Ireland.

In Canada, unions act on behalf of all employees in a legally recognized bargaining unit. A union's job is to negotiate wages, benefits and working conditions as part of a legally binding union contract.

The union contract, or collective agreement, has a fixed term, commonly from one to three years, and is renegotiated when it expires. The collective agreement sets out the wages and benefits employees get, but also their rights in the workplace. For example, seniority rights are important when considering promotions, shifts and vacations; the collective agreement sets out the procedures to be followed in these cases.

The contract also sets out a system of legally binding arbitration in the event of a dispute over the interpretation of the collective agreement. A member who feels he or she has been unfairly passed over for promotion, for example, can file a grievance - a complaint that the procedures outlined in the collective agreement were not followed. If the grievance can't be settled by discussions between management and union, the collective agreement sets out an arbitration procedure that will be binding on both parties.

Strikes are only legal at the expiration of the agreement and then only after negotiations and government-led mediation and conciliation procedures.

Your union contract is like a constitution of the workplace. It is your guarantee that your rights will be respected on the job.