MP argues banning replacement workers will end strikes quicker

NDP prompts labour rules

One of the major wins for Canadians that the federal NDP produced in 2023 was Bill C-58, legislation that will prohibit the use of replacement workers during a lock-out or strike in federally regulated industries such as transportation, banking and telecommunications.

Workers around the world have only one power to balance the relationship with their employers and that is their work, the labour they provide to make the products or provide the services that give their employers their profits.

The withdrawal of that labour, or even the threat of that withdrawal, is the only thing that levels the playing field in labour negotiations.

So, when negotiations break down and workers feel that a strike is the only option left for them to obtain a fair collective agreement, and then the employer brings in replacement workers to break that strike, the playing field is tilted steeply in favour of the employer. The employer has no real reason to bargain in good faith with the workers, or bargain at all.

The NDP put forward this legislation eight times over the last 15 years, and it was defeated by Liberals and Conservatives alike. So, we are very happy and proud that we have forced the current government to table this legislation.

Not only does the use of replacement workers take away any power that workers have to undertake fair negotiations, it often tears communities apart. Especially small communities that have few opportunities for good work. If workers go on strike in that situation and the company hires “scabs,” those replacement workers are taking away jobs from their neighbours, their relatives. This increases tensions within the community, and those tensions sometimes escalate into violence.

One of the worst such events was the strike at the Giant Mine in Yellowknife in 1992. That gold mine had been the mainstay of the Yellowknife economy for many years, but a new owner demanded cuts from the union, then locked the workers out. The company hired replacement workers to keep the mine going, to keep the profits rolling in. Hostilities quickly rose and culminated in a bombing within the mine that killed nine miners—one of the worst mass murders in Canadian history.

That was why we need anti-replacement worker legislation. And that was why British Columbia and Quebec brought it in for provincially regulated labour sectors decades ago.

Critics say the legislation may allow strikes and lockouts to drag on, but in fact it usually has the opposite effect. What impetus does the employer have to end a strike if they can use workers to keep things going, keep the profits coming? Many of the longest labour disputes in Canadian history are those involving replacement workers—because the employer has no reason to bargain with the striking workers.

Fair collective bargaining has not only brought Canadian workers good wages that they can raise their families on, it has also benefited society in general in many ways that we often take for granted.

A lot of those benefits began when the workers in the Rossland mines formed the first Canadian local of the Western Federation of Miners in 1895. That local went on to advance many of the first labour laws in British Columbia and Canada, laws that brought in the five-day work week, the eight-hour work day and laws enforcing safe workplaces—the first workers compensation act.

So when you go home for the weekend, when everyone in the country goes home at five o’clock after an eight-hour work day, and when every worker in Canada knows they have the right to a safe work place, they can thank the members of the Rossland local of the Western Federation of Miners.

That’s the benefit of having a healthy and fair system of labour relations. At the centre of that system is the right of workers to withdraw their work—and (not have) replacement workers destroy that system.

Remember there are two sides to every labour dispute. Intransigent employers are just as often the cause of those disputes as intransigent workers.

The best negotiations, the fairest negotiations, and often the shortest negotiations, are those where both sides have an equal balance of power—nd that’s what Bill C-58 brings to the federal labour scene.

Richard Cannings is the NDP MP for South Okanagan–West Kootenay.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

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