Ottawa looks to ban scab workers

'We're banning the use of replacement workers because we believe in collective bargaining'

Ottawa looks to ban scab workers

The federal government has introduced legislation to ban the use of replacement workers in federally regulated workplaces during a strike or lockout.

Ottawa made this a rule under Bill C-58.

“We’re banning the use of replacement workers because we believe in collective bargaining,” says Seamus O’Regan Jr., minister of labour and senior. “Our economy depends on employers and workers negotiating an agreement at the table. That’s where we get stability for our economy, that’s where strong labour relations are forged, and that’s where the best deals are made.”

Ottawa first said in 2022 that it will introduce legislation banning scab workers, and the government launched consultations to hear from Canadians and stakeholders about the subject. In September, the government said that the legislation would come by the end of the year.

Under the legislation, however, an exception would apply in situations where there are threats to health and safety, or threats of serious property and environmental damage that could not be managed by the employer’s existing workforce.

If a union believes the employer is using replacement workers in capacities beyond this exception, they can file a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), who would then investigate the issue.

Prior to 1999, employers in the country were not prohibited in any way from using replacement workers during a strike or lockout. In 1999, Ottawa amended Part I of the Canada Labour Code to provide a limited prohibition on the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage. 

The limited prohibition was the result of recommendations made in the Sims Task Force’s 1995 report Seeking a Balance, based on extensive consultations with employers and unions at the time.

Faster bargaining process

Bill C-58 would also require employers and unions to come to an agreement within 15 days to determine what work needs to continue during a strike or lockout, if any. 

If they cannot come to an agreement, the CIRB would decide what activities need to be maintained within 90 days. The minister would continue to have the authority to refer questions to the CIRB to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

"When we say the best deals are made at the table, we mean it," O'Regan says in a CBC report. "So today is about keeping parties focused on the table and providing more stability and certainty to the economy."

Use of scab workers ‘undermines’ bargaining

Canadian unions welcomed Ottawa’s introduction of Bill C-58.

“We have seen years of record corporate profits while workers’ pay lagged far behind. Workers are rightly demanding fairer wages, better safety standards and respect from their employers,” said Bea Bruske, president of the Canadian Labour Congress. “If we ban the use of scabs once and for all, we can take a real step towards less labour disruptions, avoiding work stoppages and building a more balanced economy—while increasing the benefits and respect workers deserve.”

CLC claims the use of scab workers “undermines fair and transparent collective bargaining, by tipping the balance of power to the employer”. And this often leads to “longer and more contentious work disruptions”.

Bill C-58 is the “culmination of multiple efforts and decades of advocacy, which would not have been possible without the supply-and-confidence agreement between the NDP and the Liberals,” says the International Assn Of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (IAMAW) Canada.

"This proposed legislation would uphold the Constitutional right to bargain freely, of which part and parcel is the right to strike,” says David Chartrand, general-vice president of IAMAW.

“Unions rely on employers' willingness and financial capacity to continue employing workers, in turn, the only leverage unions have are strikes, without which bargaining loses its effectiveness. This legislation will make the process of bargaining fairer, reduce the intensity of bitter strikes and lock-outs ensuring parties come to agreements on equal footing.”

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) also welcomed the legislation.

“Free and fair collective bargaining – without the threat of replacement workers taking their jobs – is the best way to reach fair agreements and stable workplaces,” says Chris Aylward, PSAC national president.

But while this legislation is a start, it’s not perfect, according to the union.

“PSAC has significant concerns about the 18-month delay expected before the legislation comes into force, the many of the exclusions for replacement workers, and the requirement for the already overburdened Canada Industrial Relations Board to rule on every strike action,” it says. 

In July, a Vancouver hotel lost a recent ruling before the B.C. Labour Board when it found the employer used six replacement workers illegally.

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