Unions urge broadening of Quebec anti-scab law

Employers call proposal “straight jacket,” urge loosening of restrictions

A committee hearing of the Quebec National Assembly was the unlikely site for a battle this week concerning so-called “e-work.”

Unions are arguing that the province should broaden the terms of the Labour Code to take in replacement workers who provide services electronically rather than on the employer’s premises during a strike.

The issue behind this demand is the way that strike-bound Quebec newspaper publishers circumvent the provincial ban on replacement workers by having reporters and columnists work remotely and send in their copy electronically.

The unions, and several spoke before the Commission on the Economy and Work, want the term “establishment” in the Code redefined more broadly to take in all the places where employees and contractors of the employer do their work.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, the representative of Journal de Québec workers who were locked out for 14 months in 2007 and 2008, also complained that it took the Quebec Labour Board 14 months to find that the newspaper was using replacement workers, while “if an employer wants an injunction to limit the number of picketers, the decision is given in a few hours.”

“To neglect new technologies and new methods of organizing work is to abandon more and more workers, but also to treat businesses differently, because some have been able to continue activities with no constraints, while others are even more limited by the law,.” said the Confédération des syndicats nationaux in its brief.

The Conseil du patronat du Québec called the replacement workers law a “straight jacket” and termed it “needless and detrimental.” The employers’ group called for its repeal, claiming that it is no longer needed and that by “abusing the rights of employers and, potentially, the rights of the workers themselves,” it is susceptible to a Charter challenge.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business argued that a change should not be made in the law in order to deal with a single dispute. Spokesperson Martine Hébert also caste her corporate members in the role of David, battling the unions’ Goliath, “alone facing a union side that has at its disposal millions of dollars and numerous experienced lawyers, negotiators and advisors.”

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