Back in 1992 when the NDP government’s labour law reforms were passed, commonly referred to as Bill 40, Ontario became the second province in Canada (Québec being the first) to implement what is knows as “anti-scab legislation.” This legislation was aimed at limiting the number and type of replacement workers that an employer can use to maintain operations during a legal strike or lockout.
The purpose of such legislation is to avoid the bitter and sometimes violent confrontations that are often associated with the use of scab labour by placing legal restrictions on its use. The Québec Labour Code of 1997 came out of just such a turbulent context. Indeed, violence in Québec labour relations had reached the point that several striking workers were shot by security officials as the Robin Hood Flour Mills in Montreal.
Most evidence suggests that, since its introduction, the provisions of the Québec Labour Code concerning replacement workers have been successful in restoring “a healthy balance between the parties and eliminating practices which lead to tension and violence during disputes” Ontario Ministry of Labour, 1991:33). The data also shows that labour disputes in Québec have been less violent since the introduction of anti-scab legislation.
An anti-scab provision, contrary to the belief of some employer representatives, does not cripple industrial relations. Over 95% of all collective agreements are settled without a strike or lockout. Less than 5% of collective agreements end in a dispute and most of these do not involve scab labour. The only employers who are affected, therefore, are that very small minority who make a deliberate decision to be confrontational.
If the right to resort to economic sanctions forms an integral part of the collective bargaining process in a democratic society, then the pros and cons of anti-scab provisions muse be viewed from this perspective. A union’s primary economic sanction, the strike, is effectively negated by allowing employers to use scab labour. To render more equality in the alleged “balance of power” between employers and employees, it is vital that employers be prohibited from using replacement workers during a legal strike or lockout.
As the Ministry of Labour’s own discussion paper of 1991 stated, the failure to place restrictions on the use of replacement workers in such circumstances can “reduce the willingness or ability of both parties to engage in meaningful and effective collective bargaining” (33). Further, anti-scab legislation focuses the efforts of both parties on the real bargaining issues that divide them as opposed to picket line instances that can only embitter the situation and inhibit settlement.
However, no matter the facts, the Harris Conservative government repealed the anti-scab reforms for short-sighted political reasons, and it is time to reverse this wrong-headed decision.
If the goal is more fairness, less confrontation and a more equal balance in labour relations, anti-scab provisions are an important part of the solution and we therefore ask you to support Bill 45.