Three Toronto judges denied an application Friday by Vale Ltd. for a judicial review of an Ontario Labour Relations Board decision on how evidence is being presented at a bad-faith bargaining complaint by United Steelworkers against the company.
Vale asked divisional court of the Superior Court of Justice to scrap eight days of hearings already held into the complaint and start over again with a new panel from the labour board, says USW lawyer Brian Shell.
The complaint was filed Jan. 13, 2010, at the halfway mark of a bitter year-long strike against Vale. It began as an attempt to force Vale back to the negotiating table when contract talks were stalemated.
That complaint has turned into a fight to have an arbitrator appointed to rule on the dismissals of eight Steelworkers, whom Vale said were fired for unacceptable behaviour on picket lines and in the community during the labour dispute.
Vale insists it has the right to fire employees, whether they are on strike or not, and has refused the union’s call to let a third party settle the matter in arbitration.
The labour board ruled last week that, after six days of hearing evidence, Vale would have to start presenting written statements from its witnesses, — known as ‘will-say statements’ — instead of having witnesses appear in person.
USW lawyers would then cross-examine witnesses, then Vale lawyers could question them again.
When the labour board made the ruling about will-say statements, Vale’s first witness, pro-t ection services supervisor Mike Neault, had been testifying for almost three days and Vale intended to call several more witnesses.
The union had previously called its one and only witness.
The labour board set eight more days of hearings, including closing arguments, to be heard in Sudbury on Jan. 26, 2012, and called for the written statements to get the complaint heard in the scheduled time.
Vale called that decision unfair and tried to have the hearings stopped this week. But the labour board met with both parties Wednesday and Thursday while the application for judicial review was set for Friday.
Vale spokeswoman Angie Robson said the company is trying to “to ensure fairness in the process, not to delay the proceedings. We remain committed to resolving this matter fairly and expeditiously.”
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