Bill C-337 (Historical)
An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers)
This bill was last introduced in the 40th Parliament, 3rd Session, which ended in March 2011.
This bill was previously introduced in the 40th Parliament, 2nd Session.
Chris Charlton NDP
Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)
Introduction and First Reading
(This bill did not become law.)
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
June 11th, 2010 / 2:15 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to speak to Bill C-386, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers).
In short, the bill is anti-scab legislation. It is almost identical to my bill on the same subject. In fact, my bill, Bill C-337, was introduced prior to the one we are debating today, but the lottery system that governs the timing of private member's business is such that Bill C-386 has come up first. That is absolutely fine, as long as we can ensure that the long overdue ban on replacement workers finally becomes law.
The last time I spoke to this issue in the House, I was deliberately provocative by quoting Jack London. London, of course, is best known for his novels, The Call of the Wild, White Fang and The Sea-Wolf. However, germane to the debate today is his 1915 Ode To A Scab. I would still recommend that poem to all Canadians who may be watching this debate today. A quick Google search will lead you straight to the verse. However, despite its powerful description of the odious and destructive nature of scab labour, in the interest of not teasing the bears on the Conservative and Liberal benches, I will refrain from reading it into the record today.
Let me, instead, begin by quoting the preamble of the Canada Labour Code. It states:
—there is a long tradition in Canada of labour legislation and policy designed for the promotion of the common well-being through the encouragement of free collective bargaining and the constructive settlement of disputes;
The intent of the preamble is to create some balance in labour relations. Capitalist economies embody inherent conflict between the economic interests of business and the economic interests of workers. The very nature of the employment relationship is authoritarian and exploitative and thus conducive to insecurity, distrust and class antagonism. The level to which these underlying conflicts manifest themselves in the workplace is uneven. However, combined with broader social inequalities and precarious labour market opportunities, employers hold the upper hand. That remains true with or without anti-scab laws.
The introduction of a formal regime of collective bargaining, the right to strike, minimum wages and occupational health and safety laws were all accomplished by the struggles of the labour movement to right that imbalance.
The one piece that is still missing in establishing a reasonable balance of power in the workplace relates to the fact that most businesses in Canada are still permitted to hire people to do the jobs of striking workers.
It is true that there is a provision in the Canada Labour Code that prohibits the use of replacement workers if they are used to undermine the union's representational capacity. That provision is enshrined in section 94(2.1) of the code. While the section sounds like it ought to be effective, in fact, it is a paper tiger. As long as a business keeps up the facade of continuing to bargain with the union, it allows employers to carry on business as usual with the help of scab labour.
That situation is untenable. It undermines a fair and reasonable balance in negotiations between employers and employees. Allowing employers to bring in replacement workers during a legal labour dispute negates entirely the only power that workers have at the bargaining table, and that is the right to withhold their labour.
When workers are so unilaterally stripped of their power, they become desperate. There is a scene in the film Billy Elliot where replacement miners in northern England are bused to work, while the striking workers pelt them with eggs and hurl insults at them. It is a stark visual of what is true in Canada as well. The largest single source of injuries on a picket line is scab labour.
By contrast, anti-scab legislation promotes civilized negotiations during labour disputes, during strikes or lockouts, and reduces picket line violence and the social and psychological problems caused by the extraordinary stress of labour disputes. Banning replacement workers would diminish the resentment that employees feel upon returning to work and would foster a just balance and greater transparency in the negotiations between employers and employees.
That is not simply idle speculation. We know for a fact that anti-scab legislation does indeed have that desired effect. It was well-documented in Canadian jurisdictions that have had anti-scab legislation at the provincial level for some considerable time. Specifically, I am referring to Quebec and British Columbia.
Quebec was the first province to enact the ban on replacement workers in 1977. In the year prior to the ban, the average number of working days lost through labour disputes was 39.4. In 1979, after the act was passed, the average was 32.8 days. In 2001 it was 27.4 days.
Looking at aggregate numbers, the picture is even more impressive. In 1976, the year prior to the adoption of anti-scab laws in Quebec, 6.4 million worker days were lost to strikes. In 1977 the number of days lost dropped to 1.2 million.
Another interesting set of statistics makes an equally powerful case for anti-scab legislation. In all cases, they demonstrate that banning replacement workers helps to reduce the number of work days lost to labour disputes.
First, the average work time lost from 1992 to 2002 is 15.9 days for workers who come under the Quebec Labour Code and 31.1 days for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. That represents a difference of 95.6% in days of work lost. Those lost days represent a lot of money for both companies and Canadian workers.
Second, and again looking at 2002 statistics, despite the fact that workers under federal jurisdiction made up only 6.6% of the labour force in Quebec, they accounted for a whopping 48% of the days lost as a result of labour disputes.
Third, the number of days lost per 1,000 employees from 1999 to 2002, was 121.3 for workers covered by the Quebec Labour Code compared to 266.3 for workers subject to the Canada Labour Code. That is a huge difference: 145 more days of work lost. Again, this can largely be attributed to the use of scabs.
Quebec is not the only province where anti-scab legislation is in effect. British Columbia passed a similar law in 1993, which had the effect of reducing strike days to levels comparable to those in Quebec. It also resulted in a 50% drop in the ratio of time lost.
Ontario, too, adopted anti-scab legislation, albeit all too briefly. The NDP government enacted it in 1992 and Mike Harris repealed it immediately upon taking office. Nonetheless, even in that brief period, precipitous declines in work stoppages were evident in Ontario as well.
Clearly, the introduction of anti-scab legislation did not lead to the creation of strike-happy unions run by unreasonable and irrational negotiators. One of the biggest fears of employer organizations has always been that a ban on replacement workers would render unions more militant and difficult at the bargaining table. However, there is little evidence to suggest that any relationship exists between jurisdictions using anti-scab legislation and increased wage demands or settlements. Unions are not interested in negotiating an employer out of business. Economic conditions, rather than the presence of anti-scab laws, are what continue to dictate the tone and content of negotiated agreements.
Where does that leave us? Anti-scab legislation diminishes picket line violence, fosters a fairer balance in the negotiations between employers and employees, reduces the legal proceedings that arise during strikes and lockouts, and mitigates the bitterness felt by employees when they return to work. All of these are benefits to both the workers and the businesses involved in labour disputes. Clearly, it is a win-win.
Why then is the Canadian business community so adamant in its opposition to a ban on replacement workers? It is fundamentally about power and who wields it. That is why the existence of anti-scab laws not only matters to workers and bosses, but also to anyone concerned about the growth of corporate power and its consequences for democracy.
The Conservatives have made their agenda clear. At every step they support their corporate friends at the expense of hard-working Canadians. As recently as their last budget, they chose to give $6 billion in additional corporate tax cuts to their business friends in the most profitable corporations, while at the same time robbing the employment insurance fund of its $57 billion surplus. They know which side they are on.
However, there are more of us than there are of them, both in the House and right across this country. Labour rights and democratic rights are basic human rights, and yet they were not won without a struggle. Without resorting to hyperbole, it is true that people literally gave their lives to secure these rights for those of us who follow.
Now the responsibility falls to us to defend those rights. Each and every one of us in the House has a choice to make. We have to ask ourselves what kind of Canada do we want to leave for our children and our grandchildren? We have to ask ourselves, which side are we on?
So far, each time similar legislation has been before the House, New Democrats and the Bloc supported it unanimously and each time, as would be expected, the Conservatives opposed banning scabs. We all know which side we are on.
So, the spotlight will shine once again on the Liberal members in the House. On all previous occasions that the ban of replacement workers was debated on the floor of the House, the Liberals said all the right things. But when push came to shove and they had to stand up and be counted, they voted against the legislation in sufficient numbers to ensure its defeat.
Although I make no claims of clairvoyance, I am absolutely certain that under the current Liberal leadership the same will happen again. They will once again allow Bay Street to determine how they will vote and I fear this bill, too, will be defeated.
Canadians deserve better. They deserve a Parliament that is working to represent their interests when public policy decisions are made, and there is nothing more fundamental to those interests than the protection of their basic human rights.
I hope all members in this House will reflect upon this bill in that light and then maybe, just maybe, we will--
Canada Labour Code
Private Members' Business
December 3rd, 2009 / 6:20 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
Madam Speaker, I am delighted to participate in today's debate on the anti-scab legislation brought forward by the member for Argenteuil—Papineau—Mirabel.
As members here will know, I introduced a similar bill, Bill C-337, even earlier in this Parliament than the one we are debating today, but the lottery system that assigns our days for debate means we are debating Bill C-386 first, and I am good with that. In spite of the huge egos that some members bring to the House, it is not all about us. In fact, it should not be about us at all. We are sent here to represent the views and aspirations of our constituents and to protect their interests, not ours. Therefore, I do not care who brings forward solid pieces of public policy, I will stand in my place and proudly support them.
This, as has been said before, is not the first time we have debated anti-scab legislation in the House. Each time, as would be expected, the Conservatives opposed the ban on replacement workers and the NDP and the Bloc supported it. Each time, the Liberals said all the right things, but when push came to shove and they had to stand and be counted, they voted against the legislation in sufficient numbers to ensure its defeat.
Although I make no claims to be clairvoyant, I am absolutely certain that under the current Liberal leadership, the Liberals will once again allow Bay Street to determine their vote and this bill too will be defeated. However, that does not mean it is not worth fighting for. In fact, it is now more crucial than ever.
Just this past Monday, we debated a motion related to back to work legislation. I spent a considerable amount of time talking about the importance of a level playing field to the success of collective bargaining. I will not repeat the arguments here because I only have 10 minutes in today's debate. Suffice it to say that allowing employers to bring in replacement workers during a legal labour dispute negates entirely the only power that workers have at the bargaining table, and that is the right to withhold their labour. When workers are so unilaterally stripped of their power, they become desperate. The largest single cause of injuries on a picket line is the use of scab labour.
In Ontario we had a brief period of time when the NDP outlawed scab labour. The benefit of that legislation is beyond dispute. During the time that the ban on replacement workers was in effect, the strikes and lockouts were shorter. That benefited both workers and employers, but sadly, Mike Harris, who never let good public policy stand in the way of ideological politics, repealed the legislation as soon as he came to power. I guess that should be expected because it is also successive Conservative and Liberal governments that sold out our country to foreign businesses and allowed their culture of labour relations to flourish here.
Let me tell members how the American business model has impacted my hometown of Hamilton. In the last 20 years, we had watched business after business, representing thousands of well-paying manufacturing jobs, be sold off to American corporations, only to shut their doors within months. They send in new plant managers and CEOs who have no personal stake in my community, do not bring their families to live among us and approach their new roles in the manner of colonial overlords. They do not want to be here and cannot wait to go home.
They reap huge individual bounty for short-term assignments and leave hundreds of devastated lives in their wake. They ignore the workplace culture and challenge the laws of the land. They defy the unions to take them on and even when they lose their challenges before the OLRB or the WSIB or the MOL, these employers continue to ignore the decisions to the brink of enforcement.
They even find ways around legislative protection for the disabled. They enter into agreements with the government of the day in bad faith, knowing that the deals are weak and likely unenforceable. They have closed plants and transferred standing product orders to U.S. facilities. They have locked workers out for no other reason than to take advantage of the current economic distress, thumbing their very noses at Canadian labour laws.
At the former Stelco plant, previously known as Hilton Works, U.S. Steel idled the blast furnace and curtailed production barely a year after acquisition. It forced hundreds to retire who were not, under normal circumstances, prepared to do so. It has recalled the remainder only so as to avoid severance payments while simultaneously locking out the workers at Lake Erie Works.
That is the new culture in the workplace, not just in Hamilton but at Vale Inco at Sudbury, at ECP at Brantford, and at countless other companies right across the country. Companies come into our country and tell Canadian workers that they want and need to change the culture of the workplace.
Let me remind members what that culture looked like in Canada. It was a culture in which workers had dignity, where workers were treated with respect, where workers were able to earn wages that provided a decent standard of living for them and their families. It was a culture where workers were able to bargain at the negotiating table with their employers for things like pensions and health benefits for their families. That is the culture we had in our country, a culture where workers could go to work in the morning and come home safely in the evening because we had health and safety standards in this country.
Was it a perfect world? No. There was plenty of room for improvement. New Democrats have been fighting for that at every possible opportunity. However, it was a far cry from what we see now, where companies come in and tell workers, “You are no longer able to expect to receive the very things that you have negotiated after decades and decades of bargaining. Not only can you not expect that any more, but we will put you on a picket line and we will have other workers come in and do your jobs until we break the backs of you and your union brothers and sisters”.
By failing to protect workers from these predatory employers, we are complicit in their corporate agendas. I, for one, refuse to play any part in that. Along with my NDP colleagues, I will fight that agenda every step of the way so workers have the protection of Canadian laws and we as legislators live up to the commitments we have made as signatories to UN and ILO conventions.
It is not just unionized workers who have a stake in this fight. Every Canadian does. In fact, it makes no sense that anyone would want to be a scab. In the end, those people are only hurting themselves.
In the type of economy that we have developed, where there are more and more unemployed and where people are earning lower and lower wages, sometimes family heads, women or men, feel compelled to take any job at any price. Although at first blush that is understandable, it is ultimately shortsighted.
The effect of scabbing, especially now when the theme in labour relations by the corporate world is to end defined benefit pension plans, when the agenda of the corporate world is to reduce wages and when the agenda is to reduce workforces, scabs simply join with that agenda. They endorse it, they support it, they advocate for it and they make that agenda possible.
In the end, they lose along with every other Canadian worker. It is no wonder that the very notion of a scab evokes such strong responses. Let me read just one quote:
After God had finished the rattlesnake, the toad and the vampire, he had some awful substance left with which he made a scab.
A scab is a two-legged animal with a corkscrew soul, a water brain, a combination backbone of jelly and glue. Where others have hearts, he carries a tumour of rotten principles.
When a scab comes down the street, men turn their backs and angels weep in heaven, and the devil shuts the gates of hell to keep him out.
No man or woman has a right to scab so long as there is a pool of water to drown his carcass in or a rope long enough to hang his body with.
Judas was a gentleman compared with a scab. For betraying his master, he had character enough to hang himself. A scab has not.
Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. Judas sold his savior for thirty pieces of silver. Benedict Arnold sold his country for a promise of a commission in the British army. The scab sells his birthright, his country, his wife, his children and his fellow men for an unfulfilled promise from his employer.
Esau was a traitor to himself; Judas was a traitor to his God; Benedict Arnold was a traitor to this country; a scab is a traitor to his God, his country, his family and his class.
That is what Jack London had to say back in 1905. More than a century has gone by, but many of the thoughts behind that quote are still as relevant today as they were then.
By voting for the anti-scab legislation before us today, I am voting for my country, my family and my class. I urge all members to join me in taking that stand.
Canada Labour Code
March 11th, 2009 / 3:15 p.m.
Chris Charlton Hamilton Mountain, ON
moved for leave to introduce Bill C-337, An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code (replacement workers).
Mr. Speaker, it is my great pleasure today to introduce a bill to ban replacement workers, or scabs, during strikes and lockouts.
New Democrats have always struggled for the rights of working people and this bill represents a critical piece of that struggle. It is essential for ensuring that the right to free collective bargaining cannot be undermined.
Some may say that this is the wrong time to introduce this legislation but I would suggest that the opposite is true. In this great recession, the need for labour and management to work together in a spirit of cooperation, involvement and trust is greater than perhaps at any other time in our country's history. However, nothing breaks that trust more quickly than a company's ability to hire scabs during a legal strike.
I would ask all members to support this bill at first, second and third reading so we can finally bring the Canada Labour Code into the 21st century.
(Motions deemed adopted, bill read the first time and printed)