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Canada: Parliament to debate anti-scab law

Parliament to debate anti-scab law in early March

Canadian Labour Congress urging workers across Canada to lobby MPs

Ottawa - A rare debate will resume in Parliament during the week of March 7 when a private member's bill to ban the use of scab workers during strikes and lockouts returns for second reading.

If passed, Bill C-263 would apply to all employers governed by the Canada Labour Code. Traditionally, private members bills don't fare well in Parliament. Most die on the order paper after they are introduced. But there is hope that this one stands a better chance with the government facing a minority Parliament.

Introduced by Bloc Quebecois MP Roger Clavet (Louis-Hébert), the bill received first reading on Nov. 4 and was debated for an hour, as allotted by house rules. A second hour of house time is scheduled when the debate resumes.

"Every effort must be made to pass Bill C-263, which aims at banning the retrograde practice, for that is what it is, of using scabs during strikes and lockouts," Clavet said when he spoke on the bill in November.

"Anti-scab legislation also promotes industrial peace. Businesses, big or small, benefit by it. It is, so to speak, the cornerstone of balanced bargaining power. This can never be over-emphasized: there has to be a balance of bargaining power between employers and employees. Otherwise, things do not work too well," he told the Commons.

The Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has set up a special page on its web site with links to the full text of the bill and to a transcript of the full parliamentary debate that took place in November. The congress is urging supporters across the country to get busy in the meantime and contact MPs.

"Labour legislation should treat workers and employers fairly in the event of a strike or lock-out," the CLC says.

"Both sides must pay an economic consequence in such situations. Workers who do strike or who are locked out do not picket on the assumption that they will lose their jobs to replacement workers or scabs. Disputes need to be settled as quickly as possible and not dragged out through the use of replacement workers who endanger the livelihood of the regular workers."

Anti-Scab background
Currently there are two provinces with anti-scab legislation - Quebec and B.C.

Quebec introduced such legislation in 1977 in response to a number of violent strikes. The average number of working days lost to labour disputes dropped from 39 days in 1976 to 32 days in 1979.

By 2001, with the law still in place, the average number of working days lost dropped to 27.4 days. This legislation continued in effect through several changes in government. Business has also learned to live in such an environment.
British Columbia passed anti-scab legislation in 1993 with a similar reduction in time lost due to strike. The amount dropped by 50% in the year following the introduction of the law, which remains in effect today.

Ontario outlawed scabs in 1992. Opponents of the move forecast increased unemployment, strikes and an imbalance of bargaining power. But the experience during the short time the legislation was in effect did not bear out the dire warnings.

The period following the implementation of Bill 40 was characterized by few work stoppages, moderate trade union demands at the bargaining table and picket line peace. Furthermore, in the first full year following the passage of Bill 40, Ontario’s economic growth in GDP was 5.5%, the highest in the G-7.

Disputes involving scabs

In the Northwest Territories, the Royal Oak Mine in Yellowknife saw nine miners killed on September 18, 1992, when a striker so frustrated by the use of scabs took matters into his own hands and placed an explosive device in the mine. Yellowknife has not been the same since.

In Quebec, Sécur workers, after voting 99% to go on strike in 2002, faced replacement workers, who did their jobs by filling ATM machines. The situation deteriorated and the strike (which was not subject to the Quebec law) was prolonged and the employer’s property was vandalized.

In June 2002, a security worker hired by International Truck (Navistar) in Chatham Ontario to break the CAW strike, drove over a picketer and injured four others in the process. The strike was prompted by demands for concessions and aggravated by the use of a strike-breaking company.

A Vidéotron dispute, not covered by the Quebec legislation, lasted 10 months in 2002 and 2003, and involved 2,200 workers. Scabs were used and company facilities were vandalized. More than 350,000 days of work were lost during the strike. NUPGE


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