Unions go all in for anti-scab legislation

Scab Busters: Postal workers take on the scabs during 1987 Canada Post strikes. This was the last major clash between scabs and striking workers at a workplace under the federal labour code.

“After God had finished the
rattlesnake, the toad, the vampire,
He had some awful substance left
with which He made a scab.

Jack London

IT SHOULD BE A NO BRAINER: employers should not be able to use “scabs” as replacement workers during a strike. Allowing employers to do it denies any possibility of an equal contest between employers and workers—something our Charter of Rights and Freedoms sets out to guarantee. But, that’s not how the federal government and most provinces see it.

Almost no anti-scab laws

Every province, except British Columbia and Quebec, allow employers to hire scabs to break strikes. So does the federal government—but it has promised to stop soon.

The federal government promise of an anti-scab bill was hailed as a “major component” in the recent agreement of mutual support between the federal Liberal government, and the NDP.

The deal promises to introduce a new law, by the end of next year, that would ban the use of replacement workers (aka scabs) if unionized workers in federally regulated sectors are locked out or on strike.

A federal anti-scab law would ban the use of scabs, but only for employers regulated by the federal labour code. This would cover about 10 percent of Canadian workers, including: the entire federal public service, many crown corporations like Canada Post and workers in sectors such as rail, air, banking and broadcasting.

‘Like dropping a grand piano’

The Public Service Alliance of Canada, whose 240,000 members include the federal public service, said it welcomes the pledge. But national president Chris Aylward said the government “must move quickly to enact it.”

That cautious optimism was echoed by Mark Hancock, the national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees.

“I’ll really believe it when I see it, but we’re really happy about it,” he said.

Hancock said bringing in replacement workers shifts the power dynamic in a labour dispute.

“It’s like dropping a grand piano on the employer’s side of the scale,” he said.

“When we go on strike and we’re giving up that paycheque, it’s a strong incentive for us to stay at the bargaining table and work out a deal. Employers who can utilize scab labour don’t have that same incentive to negotiate in good faith.”

Unifor in hot pursuit

Canadian unions have lobbied long and hard for anti-scab laws everywhere—none harder than Unifor. The three longest disputes in Unifor’s history involved the use of scabs.

The union’s current anti-scab campaign includes a major online presence, backed with extensive supporting research and an aggressive petition campaign.

Fairness on the line: The case for anti-scab legislation in Canada, a 23-page study by Unifor, sets out a clear and compelling case for anti-scab legislation.

The report cites research that shows that the use of replacement workers dramatically increases the length of strikes: from an average of 32 days without replacement workers, to just over double that if temporary scabs were deployed; to almost seven times longer if permanent replacements were hired.

The use of scabs was also associated with a higher incidence of violence. Scabs were present in 46% of strikes that involved major violence, while being deployed in only 14% of strikes during the period studied.

Unifor calls on all elected officials at the provincial, territorial and federal level to enact anti-scab legislation, that would:

  • Prohibit employers from using replacement workers for the duration of any legal strike or lockout;

  • Prohibit employers from using both external scabs (those hired specifically to replace striking or locked out bargaining unit members), as well as internal scabs (new hires, members of the bargaining unit who might otherwise cross the picket line, or any other employees at any of the employer’s establishments, including managers);

  • Include significant financial penalties for employers who defy the anti-scab legislation.

You can add your name to the Unifor anti-scab law petition HERE.

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