More union-friendly legislation from the Liberals

The government wants to prevent the use of replacement workers in federally-regulated workplaces in the event of a strike. Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan (pictured) called the proposed legislation “one of the most monumental changes to collective bargaining in Canadian labour history.” Photo credit: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld


Now that the federal House of Commons is sitting once again after the summer break, the Liberal/NDP government is looking to advance a bunch of legislative bills that have been introduced but not yet passed. One of these is a ludicrous bill intended to prevent the use of replacement workers in federally-regulated workplaces in the event of a strike. As part of the Supply and Confidence Agreement with the NDP,  the Liberals committed to passing this legislation before the end of this year. 

Collective bargaining is supposedly predicated on a balance of rights for both unions and employers, such that each side has tools it can use in the event that workers go on strike or the employer locks employees out. One of the key tools for employers is the ability to use replacement workers to enable the business to keep operating in the event of a strike. For employees, their key tool is withdrawing their labour in the form of a strike. Removing the ability of employers to be able to keep operating with replacement workers is a foolish and massive unbalancing of this relationship that will shift the advantage to labour unions even more than already exists.  

Union members will be able to extort businesses for higher wages and/or benefits to a much greater degree than they can currently, which is likely to be inflationary and damage competitiveness. It is also dangerous, even for workers. For example, if a union held out for a large wage increase that would make the employer uncompetitive, the business could go bankrupt, eliminating the jobs it provided. A protracted strike with the employer not being able to keep operating with replacement workers could also push a firm into bankruptcy. 

Some recent data show that replacement workers are used in 40 per cent of strikes and lockouts in federally regulated industries. British Columbia and Quebec already have legislation preventing the use of replacement workers in strikes and lockouts. Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan commented that “This is one of the most monumental changes to collective bargaining in Canadian labour history.” For once, a Liberal minister was not exaggerating. 

Federally-regulated industries in Canada include telecommunications, banking, transportation, airports, grain elevators and most Crown Corporations such as Canada Post. About one-third of the employees in these industries are unionized. Recent data show that Canada has serious productivity problems and is falling behind other countries in terms of our standard of living. Giving more powers to unions will be sure to worsen this situation, as protracted strikes and labour disruptions will harm productivity further. 

As well, foreign investment in Canada has fallen sharply in recent years as the federal Liberal government puts more roadblocks in the way of business development. With imbalanced laws like a prohibition of replacement workers, foreign investors will be even more likely to give Canada a pass. 

This week, a number of Canada’s largest corporations asked for exemptions for their sectors on the basis that some or all of their work could be viewed as essential services. This is a pretty compelling argument for industries such as airlines, telecommunications companies, railways, and broadcasting, among others. The damage that could be done to the Canadian economy would be significant if any of these sectors were out of commission for a period of time. 

Unions have consistently shown themselves to be irresponsible in pursuing their demands and oblivious to the negative impacts on other Canadians when they go on strike. The notion that they should be trusted with this major new weapon with which to beat businesses is unconscionable. 

This Liberal/NDP government is absurdly biased in favour of unions, and clearly doesn’t understand the vital importance of some balance in union-management relationships. Canadian unions already enjoy very favourable legislative treatment, with forced dues in unionized workplaces whether employees are in favour of paying them or not, and zero requirements for financial transparency. 

As we saw in this week’s Million March for Children, the unions mobilized to oppose the parental march, taking a political position that many if not most union members would not support, financed by those members’ dues. Furthermore, most unionized employees in Canada are government workers, paid by tax dollars with no requirement for transparency as to how those tax dollars are spent. Most other countries have requirements for financial transparency, some have dues that are voluntary, and many do not permit mandatory dues to be used for political events. But not in Canada. Pity. 

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