I was reading an article on rankandfile.ca that was interesting in that it deals, squarely, with one of the proposals being made by unions at consultation meetings before the Special Advisors. That proposal relates to amendments to the Labour Relations Act, 1995 that would, if passed, restrict an employers’ ability to operate its business through the use of replacement workers during a lawful strike. Unions, of course, use more pejorative and pointed language to refer to strike replacements among others “scabs”.
I am reminded that there are two sides to every debate.
My substantive paper in law school (over 25 years ago) was on the Quebec strike replacement legislation and experience. It was an interesting and enlightening process (as I recall through the haze of time). In any event, the article, What are we going to do about scabbing? provides a particular perspective of the subject.
The Ontario Federation of Labour (“OFL”) posted their Preliminary Submissions in the Changing Workplace Review. The OFL believes that the employers' ability to use replacement workers to operate during a strike “undermines the collective bargaining process and unfairly weakens unions’ ability to bring about a negotiated resolution.” They raise some of the examples referred to in the What are we going to do about scabbing? article. They recommend that the use of replacement workers during work stoppages be prohibited and that the LRA be amended to reflect this.
I am having flashbacks to the days of the Bob Rae NDP government who, with the passage of Bill 40, repealed the pre-existing LRA and introduced, among other things, significant prohibitions on the use of strike replacements by employers.
What reasons do unions put forward in support of restricting the use of strike replacements? The authors of A Federal Anti-Scab Law for Canada? The Debate Over Bill C-257 provide a good overview of some of the most common reasons put forward by proponents of so-called anti-scab laws:
- Positive impact on picket line violence;
- Bringing about workplace balance; and
- Reducing incidence and length of labour disputes.
Another helpful article is Has Ontario's Anti-Scab Law Made any Difference - Legally, Economically, or Otherwise? by Professor Langille.
For a terrific historical look at the topic of labour law reform, generally, have a read of Kevin Burkett’s The Politicization of the Ontario Labour Relations Framework in the Decade of the 1990s.
Will the Workplace Review Process result in changes to the laws in such a way as to restrict an employers' ability to operate its business during a strike using strike replacements or bargaining unit employees who cross the picket line? I don't think so. I think there are larger issues to address at this point to deal with and focussing on strike replacements would distract from the larger issues that the government needs to consider and that it began to deal with through Bill 18.