In keeping with the goal of the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act (FPSLRA) to modernize labour relations, eliminate inefficiencies and place greater emphasis on labour-management co-operation, the FPSLRA expressly provides for the use of pre-hearing conferences. These pre-hearing conferences can be held both with respect to grievances that have been referred to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board (FPSLREB) and which are to be heard by an adjudicator, as well as in relation to all matters that are before the FPSLREB proper ( i.e., unfair labour practice complaints, applications for certification etc.).
According to section 20(b) of the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board Act (FPSLREA), once a matter has been filed with the FPSLREB, it may order that a pre-hearing conference be held. This section of the PSLREBA provides the FPSLREB with the power to order pre-hearing procedures, including pre-hearing conferences, in relation to any matter before it. According to this same provision, these procedures are to be held in private, unlike hearings, which are normally open to the public.
The Chairperson of the FPSLREB also has the authority, granted in section 223(3) of the FPSLRA, to direct the parties to attend a pre-hearing conference with respect to a grievance that has been referred to adjudication (as distinct from a matter referred before the FPSLREB), in order to attempt to settle or simplify the issues in dispute.
While the power to order pre-hearing conferences has been granted to the FPSLREB or the Chairperson of the FPSLREB, the initial requests for such conferences often come from the parties.
The objective of all pre-hearing conferences is simple: to reduce hearing time and the number of issues in dispute, to focus the parties on the issues that divide them and, finally, to possibly open avenues for mediation and settlement. The types of matters that can be discussed during a pre-hearing conference include (but are not limited to) the following:
- the number of hearing days that will be required;
- the witness list;
- an expert's credentials;
- the jurisdiction of the Board or adjudicator;
- the order of proceedings;
- the need for particulars;
- the disclosure of documents;
- settlement possibilities; and
- a narrowing of the issues dividing the parties.
Section 20(c) of the PSLREBA provides that pre-hearing conferences may be conducted using any means of telecommunication and the PSLRB is consequently equipped to offer clients pre-hearing conferences by means of teleconferencing. This enables parties to have access to a pre-hearing conference without necessarily having to incur additional travel expenses.
Pre-hearing conferences may be presided over by any member of the FPSLREB and need not be presided over by the adjudicator or Board member assigned to hear the case.
Paragraph 20(b) of the PSLREBA gives the FPSLREB the power to set the date, time and place of the pre-hearing conference.
In accordance with section 101 of the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Regulations, the FPSLREB is required to provide the parties and intervenors with notice of a pre-hearing conference at least three days in advance, unless the matter is urgent and such notice cannot be provided due to time constraints.