Ottawa banning use of replacement workers during strike

Government says they can 'distract from negotiations, prolong disputes'

Ottawa banning use of replacement workers during strike

The federal government will introduce legislation by the end of 2023 to prohibit the use of replacement workers in federally regulated workplaces during a strike or lockout.

This comes with Ottawa’s releasing its What We Heard report on this issue and improving the maintenance of activities process. The report summarizes feedback from consultations with employers, labour organizations and Indigenous partners, that concluded earlier this year.

“Our economy depends on employers and workers staying at the table and reaching a deal,” says Seamus O’Regan Jr., minister of labour and senior. “The use of replacement workers can distract from negotiations, it can prolong disputes, and it can poison labour relations for years after.”

Ottawa first announced its intention of introducing a policy banning replacement workers back in 2022.

Collective bargaining can be hard work, but Canada’s economy “depends on employers and workers working together to reach collective agreements,” according to the government.

Prior to 1999, employers were not prohibited in any way from using replacement workers during a strike or lockout. That year, however, Part I of the Code was amended to provide a limited prohibition on the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage, with the intention of “undermining a union’s representational capacity,” notes Ottawa.

“This 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.”

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.

What We Heard report on replacement workers

In the report, unions argued that using replacement workers:

  • violates workers’ right to strike and causes imbalance in collective bargaining;
  • creates tensions on picket lines and in the workplace; and
  • threatens workplace safety as well as public safety.

“The right of workers to withhold their labour in order to achieve common goals in their workplace is the foundation of the trade union movement, essential to meaningful collective bargaining, and a fundamental right in our democratic society,” read one written submission from a union, according to the report.

Unions also claimed that allowing the use of replacement workers tilts the balance in favour of the employers as it weakens the workers’ right to strike. 

Unions also argued that when an employer brings in replacement workers, it increases the risk of picket line violence.

Meanwhile, employers disagreed. They noted that the Seeking a Balance report found replacement workers necessary sometimes for keeping a business economically viable.

Some argued that the use of replacement workers is rare, and no evidence has shown the need to fix the current system. They stated that prohibiting the use of replacement workers would be a solution looking for a problem.

“The use of replacement workers balances the union right to strike, and maintains the safety and security of sensitive industries, like nuclear, or the security of the supply chain for transport, which is relied upon every day by Canadians,” one employer comment read, according to the What We Heard report. 

Other specific feedback detailed on the report focused on three issues:

  • the processing time of maintenance of activities requests;
  • the need for review of maintenance of activities agreements; and
  • the involvement of the Minister of Labour in the process.

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