Time lost to work stoppages at 15-year high

Disputes at CBC and Telus contributed to record number of days lost

If Canadian organization can’t bring down the total days lost to work stoppages, the economy and workers will be at risk as firms choose to move to countries with more stable labour environments, said a chief analyst at Statistics Canada.

“Strikes cost quite a bit, not just to the strikers, but to the employers and shareholders,” said Ernest Akyeampong, chief labour and household service analyst. “There’s no winner here. Good industrial relations are important in an increasingly global economy.”

Last year about 4.1 million workdays were lost to industrial disputes, more than twice as much as in 2003 and the highest since 5.1 million workdays were lost in 1990, according to a new Statistics Canada study Increased Work Stoppages.

Until last year the overall number of lost days had been declining over the past two decades, said Akyeampong.

In the 1980s the time-loss ratio, the average of workdays lost per 1,000 employees, was at 541. It dropped to 233 in the 1990s and is currently at 203 so far for the new millennium.

“We were on the right track for the past 20 years,” he said, but then the time-loss ratio went up to 301 in 2005.

In terms of days lost due to work stoppages, Canada is always at the top of the list among industrialized nations, along with Spain and Italy, said Akyeampong.

“Our biggest competitor, the United States, is very low,” he said.

One of the ways the U.S. is able to keep the number so low is by offering employees stock options, said Akyeampong.

About 15 per cent of all union workers and 14 per cent of non-union workers hold stock options, according to the U.S. National Opinion Research Center. Options have been used as part of total compensation packages because they can result in added income for the employee if the stock does well. (Figures on the numbers of Canadian workers receiving stock options were not available.)

“If you own stock in the company, why would you want to go on strike and hurt yourself?” asked Akyeampong.

Labour disputes at the CBC and telecommunications giant Telus contributed to the higher lost workdays because they went on for so long and involved so many employees. In fact, the number of labour disputes in Canada in 2005 was only slightly higher than in 2003, but about 429,000 workers were involved in work stoppages last year, compared to 81,000 in 2003.

Increased inflation and a low unemployment rate might have emboldened unions to make more demands and could account for the increased lost days, speculated Akyeampong.

“However Alberta, which is doing very well, has labour shortages and still they don’t have very high strikes,” he said.

To read the full story, login below.

Not a subscriber?

Start your subscription today!