In a recent matter, the arbitrator had to determine whether the installation of cameras to monitor production lines at a pork processing plant constituted an unreasonable work condition, thus violating section 46 of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

The Facts

In its grievance, the union called for the immediate removal of surveillance cameras inside the plant and monetary compensation for each of the workers who were subject to working under camera surveillance. 

At the hearing, the employer explained that the cameras were installed in order to detect a source of contamination and to eradicate it. In fact, one year earlier, management had entered into an important agreement with a Japanese client that had required an investment of $150 000 for the creation of a new production line. 

Upon receipt of its first order, the Japanese client discovered that the meat was contaminated. Company management responded immediately with remedial measures, but in vain. The meat was no less contaminated at the time of the second order. 

As a result, the client terminated the agreement, resulting in an annual loss of profits in the order of $2 million and an additional charge invoiced in the amount of $ 60 000. Plant management consequently resolved to immediately install on-site cameras in order to detect the source of contamination. 

The Decision

The arbitrator dismissed the grievance. He ruled that although camera surveillance may indicate a breach of section 46 of the Charter, the special conditions of this case were serious and warranted urgent measures, particularly since management had not installed the cameras for the purpose of spying upon employees. 

Reference : Unifor, section locale 145 v. Aliments Prémont inc., 2018 CanLII 12945 (QC SAT).

Practical Advice

It is thus important to analyze each situation meticulously in order to assess whether specific facts warrant the installation of cameras in the workplace. Any review of these special circumstances has to be conducted prior to any contemplated installation of cameras. The number and location of devices are also relevant factors to consider. Damage awards can be prohibitive for the employer in cases where camera installation is ruled to be unjustified or abusive. Given that, we would recommend seeking advice prior to any such contemplated installation.