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Ottawa to ban use of scabs during strikes, lockouts in federally regulated workplaces

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November 9, 2023
By Talent Canada

(jekershner7/Getty Images)

The federal government has introduced legislation to ban the use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout in federally regulated workplaces.

“We’re banning the use of replacement workers because we believe in collective bargaining. Our economy depends on employers and workers negotiating an agreement at the table,” said Minister of Labour Seamus O’Regan Jr.  “That’s where we get stability for our economy, that’s where strong labour relations are forged, and that’s where the best deals are made.”

The legislation, Bill C-58, would ban employers from using replacement workers to do the work of unionized employees who are on strike or locked out. An exception would apply in situations where there are threats to health and safety, or threats of serious property and environmental damage that could not be managed by the employer’s existing workforce.

If a union believes the employer is using replacement workers in capacities beyond this exception, their recourse would be to file a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board (CIRB), who would then investigate the issue, Ottawa said in a press release.


The federal government also said that the current maintenance of activities process can be lengthy, further prolonging or complicating disputes.

“To strengthen the maintenance of activities process, Bill C-58 would require employers and unions to come to an agreement early in the bargaining process to determine what work needs to continue during a strike or lockout, if any,” it said. “The parties would have 15 days to do this. If they cannot come to an agreement, the CIRB would decide what activities need to be maintained within 90 days. The Minister would continue to have the authority to refer questions to the CIRB to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

Part I of the Canada Labour Code governs workplace relations and collective bargaining between unions and employers. This part contains provisions related to replacement workers and maintenance of activities, as well as dispute resolution, strikes and lockouts. It outlines the labour relations rights and responsibilities of employers, trade unions and employees.

Prior to 1999, employers were not prohibited in any way from using replacement workers during a strike or lockout. In 1999, Part I of the Code was amended to provide a limited prohibition on the use of replacement workers during a work stoppage, with the intention of undermining a union’s representational capacity. This limited prohibition was the result of recommendations made in the Sims Task Force’s 1995 report Seeking a Balance, based on extensive consultations with employers and unions at the time.

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