Work stoppage figures show continuing downward trend

First nine months of 2007 higher than 2006 but below 17-year average

With statistics for the first three quarters of 2007 now available from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) in a report entitled Chronological Perspective on Work Stoppages 1990 – 2007, this year seems to be shaping up as relatively peaceful on the strike/lockout front. Extended to the end of the year at the current averages, 2007 should see fewer than two million person-days of work lost, the second-lowest total since 2001 and the seventh-lowest since 1990.

There have been 177 work stoppages in Canada so far in 2007 (an annual rate of 236 if projected at the same rate to year-end) compared to 298 in 2004, 260 in 2005 and only 150 in 2006. Manufacturing strikes and lockouts stand currently at 40, fewer than last year, while public administration, at 10, is marginally ahead of 2006 and education, health and social services already double at 39.

During 2007, there have been several large strikes that have inflated the numbers. The Vancouver municipal workers’ stoppage lasted roughly three months, and the Forest Industrial Relations strike went on slightly longer. Ontario construction workers were not off the job for long, but their numbers are significant. The energy pattern settlement, however, was arrived at with relatively little problem.

2006 was uncharacteristic in having very few and very short strikes. At 0.02 per cent of total working time lost to strikes and lockouts, it set a record. Time lost, however, rarely gets above 0.1 per cent of total hours.

2005, in contrast, saw 0.12 per cent of time lost to stoppages. Among the larger strikes that year were the Telus strike in Alberta and British Columbia, Teck Cominco in Trail, B.C. and Hydro One’s scientists and professionals in Ontario, in addition to the rotating strikes in the Quebec public service involving several hundreds of thousands in total.

Manufacturing has had more work stoppages, but they have affected fewer workers. The average manufacturing strike in the first nine months of 2007 resulted in 12,490 lost days. This is well over the average of 8,384, but still half of the 25,100 in public administration.

Each manufacturing work stoppage in 2007 involved an average of 285 workers, well below the average of 349 in all sectors. By contrast, in 2006 the spread was greater with the average of 283 workers on work stoppages in all sectors surpassing the average of 182 in the manufacturing sector.

As the following table shows, the number of strikes and lockouts in Canada is declining. As well, the proportion of those strikes occurring in the manufacturing sector, although still the highest among industries, has fallen further.

The HRSDC report is based on statistics for work stoppages involving one or more workers. There was no breakdown in the report between the number of work stoppages caused by strikes as opposed to lockouts. (A 2006 Statistics Canada report on this topic noted approximately 84% of work stoppages and 87% workdays lost from 2003 to 2005 were initiated by unions, the rest by employers.) In Canada, the threshold for entering a work stoppage in the official record is 10 or more person-days lost.

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