Today’s introduction of legislation banning scab workers during strikes marks a monumental first step for Canadian workers and protection of the right to strike in Canada. The IAMAW applauds the introduction of this bill and will work diligently to ensure it becomes federal legislation. This bill is the culmination of multiple efforts and decades of advocacy, which would not have been possible without the supply-and-confidence agreement between the NDP and the Liberals.
Strikes have been a contentious topic for a long time and in recent years we’ve seen attempts to outright criminalize strike activity, “this, proposed legislation would uphold the Constitutional right to bargain freely, of which part and parcel is the right to strike. Unions rely on employers’ willingness and financial capacity to continue employing workers, in turn, the only leverage unions have are strikes, without which bargaining loses its effectiveness. This legislation will make the process of bargaining fairer, reduce the intensity of bitter strikes and lock-outs ensuring parties come to agreements on equal footing.” David Chartrand, General-Vice President of IAMAW stressed in response to the announcement. He added that, “after numerous attacks on workers’ rights, provincially and federally, the news is uplifting.”
If Canada fails to enshrine this bill into law, we will remain in poor company of countries with weak and antiquated labour laws, which would also go against International Labour Organization Conventions on the right to strike to which Canada is a signatory.
We recognize that in some instances, essential work must continue, but we maintain that essential work must always be done by skilled, trained and experienced workers, instead of scab workers who may pose a threat to themselves, and/or the community.
The IAMAW is proud to have advocated, along with other Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) affiliates and engaged in rounds of consultations with the federal government, putting forward our position on this issue by, first and foremost, emphasizing the impact lack of anti-scab legislation has had on our members, and their communities.
In 2015, IAMAW members in Manitoba engaged in a bitter strike during which the employer used scab labour. Scab workers from across the country were hired, and the employer booked an entire hotel for accommodations, hiring 7 buses and 52 guards who were on duty 24/7 to protect the replacement workers. The employer intentionally prolonged the strike starving the local of funds, which put pressure on the strikers. In small communities, strikes often spill over into the community, as was the case in this instance, tearing apart the close-knit community with lasting divisions to this day.
As strike activity in Canada intensifies, and workers are pushed to the brink of the bargaining process, the only mechanism for ensuring fairness in bargaining is a ban on replacement workers. The Canadian General Vice President stressed that this legislation is welcomed and was greatly anticipated, and will undoubtedly protect the right to strike. He pointed out that despite this positive development, some uncertainty remains and a hard road awaits unions as we intensify lobbying efforts to make this bill law.