Carol Hughes – Proposed Anti-Scab Legislation would give workers more power

On November 9th, the federal government introduced their long-promised anti-scab legislation. This new bill would provide a better opportunity for federal workers to negotiate improved wages and working conditions. While it’s been a very long time coming, it’s good to finally have a tangible and viable bill that seeks to protect workers’ rights.

Bill C-58, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Industrial Relations Board Regulations, makes a number of significant changes that would benefit workers in federally regulated industries, and gives them more power to negotiate fair wages and better working conditions. The bill, in its current form, prevents an employer in a unionized workplace from hiring replacement workers, otherwise known as scabs, during a period of a strike or lockout. The bill sets out clear penalties for violating workers fundamental rights to collective bargaining by issuing fines, up to $100,000 a day, to those employers who hire replacement workers with some very specific exceptions. Additionally, the bill also lays out a new process to expedite negotiations between unions and employers to determine which services can continue in the workplace in the event of a dispute, occurring within 15 days of a strike or lockout notice.

This means that unionized workers in federally regulated industries, such as banking, telecommunications, airline & rail, and radio & television broadcasting would have more leverage to negotiate workplace contracts in good faith.

While Bill C-58 applies only to federal workers, it does have the knock-on effect of having provincial legislators consider implementing their own versions of bills that respect workers’ rights. Laws banning replacement workers already exist in British Columbia and Quebec. Ontario used to have legislation banning replacement workers, but it was repealed by former Premier Mike Harris in 1995. However, Sudbury MPP and provincial Labour critic Jamie West has tabled anti-scab legislation (Bill 90) in the legislature, that seeks to restore the provinces previous anti-scab law. There has also been conversations about replacement worker legislation in Manitoba, although nothing has been tabled as of yet.

The bill is a precondition of the Supply and Confidence Agreement between the government and the NDP. It’s certainly refreshing to finally see the government tabling a bill that would ensure workers’ rights are respected during a labour dispute, given they have had a number of opportunities to support anti-scab legislation in the past, and have consistently refused to do so. In fact. eight anti-scab bills have been introduced in the House of Commons in the past 15 years, and the last time one was brought to a vote in 2016, both the Liberals and Conservatives voted against it.

Anti-scab legislation has been demanded by labour organizations for decades. The current rules give management unfair leverage when negotiating a contract, as they can hire scabs and let strikes and lockouts drag on. The practice applies undue pressure on those workers who are striking or locked out of work, and pits union and non-union workers against each other for the benefit of CEOs. At the end of the day, anti-scab legislation gives workers a better chance at a fairer deal.

There does seem to be some degree of consensus surrounding Bill C-58 already as the NDP, Liberal, and Bloc have all voiced their support. It remains to be seen if the Conservatives will do the same.

The use of replacement workers during a strike or lockout significantly diminishes the power of workers in the collective bargaining process. The introduction of anti-scab legislation is an important victory for the entire labour movement. There is still time to strengthen the bill. This includes reducing the 18-month delay for the bill to come into force should it pass.