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Banning Replacement Workers is All About Politics

Banning Replacement Workers is All About Politics

Who keeps the trains, planes and ports operating if companies can't hire replacement workers during a strike?

By: Robin Guy, Vice President & Deputy Leader, Government Relations
This article originally appeared in Financial Post.

Over the past few months, Canadians have seen waves of strikes disrupt their economy. From the West Coast ports strike this summer, to the St. Lawrence Seaway strike this fall, Canada is building a reputation as an unreliable trading partner. To put it into perspective, a recent Scotiabank report stated that Canada is losing more hours worked to striking workers than it lost at any point during pandemic restrictions. And all signs indicate more labour unrest is forthcoming.

Although politicians claim to be addressing Canada’s productivity challenges, they are advancing anti-replacement worker legislation that will reduce productivity, further erode our global reputation and keep Canada from simply getting things done.

The government understands the risks. In fact, its own discussion paper on anti-replacement worker legislation stated that the majority of studies on prohibiting replacement workers showed they came with more frequent strikes and lockouts. If that research is correct, the ban could harm the economy by subjecting Canada’s federally regulated telecommunications and transportation infrastructure — the trains, planes, trucks and ships that form the sinews of our supply chain — to frequent and lengthy job actions.

Replacement workers allow organizations in rail, ports, telecom and air to sustain a basic level of “lights on” continuity that preserves critical services for Canadians. These workers, typically non-union employees of an organization facing a work stoppage or contractors with a long-term relationship with the organization, are an essential backstop for our economy, able to step in on a temporary basis — in the interests of Canadians — until a work stoppage ends.

There are serious ramifications for all Canadians if we prohibit these workers from keeping those lights on.

Outages to our telecommunications infrastructure, which we all count on to be fast and reliable, are often resolved without issue. But during a strike replacement workers would not be able to fix problems. Customers in an affected area could be without even emergency services — including access to 911, be their need ambulance, fire department or police. Local coffee shops or restaurants would lose their ability to process payments, while Canadians wouldn’t be able to reach loved ones.

Consider as well that Canadians across the country rely on commuter public transit to get to where they’re going, including many who rely on rail service to get to and from work each day. Approximately 70 million passengers use rail each year, including along our biggest corridors in the Greater Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver areas. During a rail strike, replacement workers could not ensure trains continued to move on schedule. Tens of thousands of Canadians would be forced to find alternative ways to get to where they needed to go.

Air travel would also be significantly impacted, especially in the many communities that can only be accessed by plane. If baggage handlers or the workers who fuel planes were to go on strike, replacement workers would not be able to ensure Canadians could keep moving. Canadians going on vacation would need to cancel their trips. Workers wouldn’t be able to get home. Canadians in fly-in communities would be cut off.

Simply put, no need or benefit from banning the temporary use of replacement workers can justify losing critical services, given the risks involved. Not to mention that numerous studies, dating back decades and across multiple jurisdictions, have demonstrated that banning replacement workers discourages investment and leads to lower wages, fewer job opportunities and more frequent and longer strikes — with all the attendant economic damage.

Canada’s long-established collective bargaining system has been carefully crafted to encourage employers and unions to reach agreements at the bargaining table. This new legislation would tip the balance of power in favour of unions and inflict serious damage on Canada’s economy. Our already-fragile reputation as a reliable place to do business would be further at risk, and the government will have undermined Canadians’ ability to receive the services they require.

Parliamentarians are aware of the dangers associated with banning replacement workers. But instead of doing what is in the best interest of the country, they continue to play politics. Canadians will suffer the consequences.

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