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Bloc Quebecois challenges Liberals to nix 18 month wait from bill banning replacement workers

November 15, 2023
The Canadian Press

Photo: Adobe Stock
By Stephanie Taylor

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet is challenging the federal Liberals to scrap a clause in their bill banning replacement workers that would have the law take effect after an 18-month waiting period — a time frame the New Democrats also want shortened.

In a statement Tuesday, the Bloc called on the government to amend the bill to remove any wait and to pass the legislation before the holidays.

The bill proposes to ban the use of replacement workers during lockouts or strikes in most federally regulated workplaces, such as airports, ports and the telecommunications sector. A company that violates a ban would incur a fine of $100,000 a day.

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan has said the 18-month timeline was requested by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, the two agencies tasked with bringing an end to labour disputes.

Speaking to reporters last week, O’Regan said both bodies told the government they needed time to get staff and the proper resources in place before such any such law would come into force.

The federal cabinet minister has pointed out that most labour disputes are in fact resolved through negotiations, but the government still needs to manage those that do result in disruptions.

This week marks a break for parliamentarians, with MPs mainly in their constituencies before they return to the House of Commons next Monday. O’Regan’s office pointed to earlier comments when asked about the government’s stance on the calls for a shorter period and speedy passage.

Business groups, including the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, have expressed concern that, if the bill is passed, it would remove employers’ ability to lessen harms caused by extended labour disruptions. They say it would lead to further problems with supply chains that are still recovering from shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quebec and British Columbia have had similar laws in place for years.

The proposed Liberal legislation, known as Bill C-58, is expected to cover about one million workers. It will not apply to the federal public service or workplaces regulated by a province or territory.

The Liberals initially promised to bar employers from using such workers during lockouts as part of their re-election campaign in 2021, and they expanded the policy to cover strikes as part of a confidence-and-supply agreement with the NDP.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has celebrated the bill as a success not only for his party, but for the labour movement, whose leaders have pushed to ban the use of replacement workers for decades.

“This legislation is a direct result of the NDP using its leverage to force the government to do it — with fewer seats than the Bloc Quebecois,” NDP labour critic Alexandre Boulerice said in a statement Tuesday.

The Bloc has the third-highest number of seats in the minority Parliament after the Opposition Conservatives.

Boulerice said “of course” New Democrats want to see the legislation passed as early as possible. He added that the Liberals are “aware that the NDP wants a shorter transition period.”

The NDP did not immediately provide a length of time it thinks would be more fitting.

“These provisions should be coming into force at the earliest opportunity. We have fought alongside the labour movement for years to make this happen and we are happy to see the Bloc supporting our efforts to pass anti-scab legislation,” said Boulerice.

In response to concerns from industry, union leaders have said they believe doing away with replacement labour will result in shorter job actions and a less-combative environment once employees return to the job.

Speaking last week, O’Regan expressed openness to seeing the bill passed quickly and working with other parties to make that happen.

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has said his party is still reviewing the legislation. Poilievre has said that while he needs to study the bill, he stands on the side of workers who are fighting for higher wages at a time of rising costs and unaffordable housing, which he blamed on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The bill lands as Poilievre is trying to court the vote of the working class by promising less government and “common sense,” including in ridings held by the NDP in northern Ontario and parts of British Columbia.

While the party sees success in appealing to workers themselves, including some who are unionized, labour leaders have remained wary of the Conservative message, and pointed to Poilievre’s nearly 20-year history of supporting back-to-work legislation in Parliament.

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