Arbitral Collective Agreement Interpretation: The Modern Approach (Rev 4)


This paper discusses the “modern contextual approach” to collective agreement interpretation; namely, “In the interpretation of collective agreements, their words must be read in their entire context, in their grammatical and ordinary sense, harmoniously with the scheme of the agreement, its object, and the intention of the parties”, or the words of a collective agreement are to be read in their entire context and in their grammatical and ordinary sense harmoniously with the scheme of the collective agreement, the object (purpose) of the collective agreement, and the intention of the parties to the collective agreement. Part II of this paper discusses the modern contextual approach. Part III of this paper discusses terms implied into collective agreements as a matter of law, and as a matter of fact.

It is necessary, in every case, for the arbitrator charged with interpreting a collective agreement provision to undertake the contextual and purposive approach and thereafter to determine if the words are ambiguous (patently or latently). Other principles of interpretation only receive application where there is ambiguity as to the meaning of a provision. Part IV of this paper discusses the concept of ambiguity, and Part V discusses some “other principles of interpretation” that may be applied if ambiguity is identified. Part VI of the paper discusses the principle of “estoppel”—promissory by conduct (past practice)—in the context of labour arbitration.

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