Religious Objectors Don’t Pay Union Dues

A little known (and rarely utilized) provision in the B.C. Labour Relations Code exempts certain individuals from union membership and the payment of dues. The exempt category is limited to persons who, because of their religious beliefs, object generally to joining trade unions or to paying union dues.

The Labour Relations Board may order that the applicant is not required to join a trade union or to pay any dues, fees, or other assessments to the union. The individual must, however, donate equivalent amounts to a charity registered under the Income Tax Act.

Once exempted, the individual is not permitted to participate in votes conducted by the trade union or pursuant to the Labour Relations Code.

The Board’s policy is that the individual’s personal religious convictions will be scrutinized, not the particular tenets of the religion. As a result, an applicant for this exemption must go farther than to prove membership in a religion which adheres to a non-union philosophy.

The individual must convince the Board that the objection to trade unions is based on deeply held religious convictions. The objection cannot be based simply on social, political, ethical, or philosophical grounds. The individual’s objection must also be to trade unions generally, not to a specific union or a particular action or policy of a trade union.

Applicants should be prepared to demonstrate the basis for their objection and their consistent adherence to their beliefs over time. If the individual’s past conduct indicates an ambivalent position towards union membership, it is unlikely the Board will grant the exemption.

The applicant must also provide the Board with a supporting letter from someone, such as a member of the clergy, who can explain and vouch for the sincerity of his or her beliefs.

An application to the Board is not strictly required if the individual and the union are able to agree on the exemption. It strikes me as unlikely, however, that a union would simply accept the individual’s word for the existence of a religious objection. Even so, asking the union for an exemption is not wasted time because the Board requires applicants to have first discussed the issue with the trade union.

While the evidentiary hurdles are not insignificant, obtaining an exemption may be well worth the effort. Aside from the satisfaction a person might derive from remaining true to his or her religious beliefs, the diverted dues will serve to help out a registered charity.

The required form for applying for a religious exemption may be viewed at The process of applying for an exemption is not complicated and legal advice usually is not required.

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