Industry leaders slam bill to ban replacement workers during strikes
By Christopher Reynolds
Industry leaders are warning that a bill to ban replacement workers during a strike or lockout could lead to greater disruptions in sectors ranging from aviation to package delivery and internet services.
Tabled in Parliament on Thursday, the Liberals’ legislation would be applicable to federally regulated industries such as air travel, ports, banking and telecommunications and fine companies $100,000 a day for each violation. It would affect roughly a million employees — including at most Crown corporations — about 34 per cent of whom are unionized.
A ban on replacement workers would threaten critical infrastructure and supply chains, according to the Federally Regulated Employers – Transportation and Communications industry group.
“During this time of extraordinary strain on the labour relations system, as supply chains continue to recover from the economic ravages of the COVID-19 global pandemic, a replacement worker ban will create an enormous imbalance at collective bargaining tables, incentivizing strike action, with serious negative consequences for Canadians,” CEO Derrick Hynes said in a release.
He also cautioned the bill could prolong strikes and give small bargaining units in large companies outsized power to shut down entire operations, pointing to airlines and ports as examples.
Grain sector issues warning
Wade Sobkowich, who heads the Western Grain Elevator Association, said a ban could hit the grain sector hardest via railway work stoppages, injecting uncertainty into the shipping process.
“Canadian grain is a vital food ingredient around the globe, and a vital source of income for farm families,” Sobkowich said in an email.
“The true sufferers in a railway strike or lockout are grain shippers and exporters who cannot move the grain, their customers who are waiting for product to arrive in the country of import and grain producers who are not able to get paid because they cannot deliver.”
CUPE says current rules unfair
However, Canadian Union of Public Employees president Mark Hancock said current rules give management unfair leverage in negotiations by allowing firms to hire outside labour, which can drag out strikes.
Rather than destabilizing labour relations, the proposed rules would result in shorter job actions and compel more attention from bosses to the plight of workers, said Unifor president Lana Payne.
“When you’re able to use scab labour, it lengthens the strike,” she said in an interview. “When people finally go back to work, it is a toxic, poisonous workplace for a very long time.”
The legislation does not apply to the federal public service and includes exceptions for situations where replacing employees is necessary to prevent threats to public health and safety. Serious property or environmental damage are among the other exemptions.
The bill also includes language requiring both sides in a bargaining process to try to reach a consensus on what work must continue in the event of a strike or lockout. Such a deal would need to come within 15 days after notice for collective bargaining is given.
If an understanding isn’t reached after 15 days, the Canada Industrial Relations Board would handle the issue within 90 days. And without such a plan, unions will not be able to issue a 72-hour strike or lockout notice.
If the legislation passes, it would come into force 18 months after receiving royal assent to give those involved time to change their strategies, and to ensure the labour board is prepared.
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