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Federal Memo Reveals 40 Percent of Strikes and Lockouts Utilize Replacement Workers

Replacement workers have been used in 40 percent of strikes and lockouts in federally regulated sectors since 2011, according to figures by the Department of Labour.

“Between June 2011 and October 2022, there were 75 work stoppages in federally regulated sectors,” said the federal department in its memo dated Feb. 3 of this year.

“Labour Program research suggests that replacement workers or managers were used in 40% of these work stoppages (that is, 30 of the 75 work stoppages) to perform some or all of the work of bargaining unit members who were on strike or locked out.”

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At present, only Quebec and B.C. have legislation that prohibits employers from using replacement workers during work stoppages, the memo noted, as first covered by Blacklock’s Reporter.

In 2022, the federal government signed a Supply and Confidence Agreement with the NDP, promising to introduce a similar bill nationwide by the end of 2023 in order to bring “a better deal for workers.”

The legislation will “prohibit the use of replacement workers, ‘scabs,’ when a union employer in a federally regulated industry has locked out employees or is in a strike,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he announced the Liberal–NDP agreement on March 22, 2022.


The February memo reiterated Mr. Trudeau’s stance, saying the government is committed to maintaining a “fair and balanced approach” to labour relations for employers, unions, and employees in the federal jurisdiction.

The memo noted employers and unions hold “strong views” regarding the use of replacement workers. From November 2022 to January 2023, the labour department held five meetings with representatives from each side to address the issue, but no consensus was reached.

“In these sessions, union representatives argued for a strong prohibition on replacement workers with robust enforcement mechanisms,” the memo said.

“By contrast, employer representatives argued that prohibiting replacement workers is not necessary and that doing so will destabilize labour relations in federal sectors, leading to more and longer work stoppages.”

Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan said last year that because the use of replacement workers “pits workers against each other, it’s undignified and it’s dangerous.”

“The best deals are made at the negotiating table,” he said at a press conference on Oct. 19, 2022.

By March of this year, the minister described the meetings as “messy,” but necessary.

“I sat in them,” Mr. O’Regan said. “We had even the placement of seats, you know, we didn’t have unions on one side and employers on the other. Everybody sat around interspersed and it was messy.”

‘Preserves Critical Services’

On Feb. 2, a coalition of more than 80 business groups issued a joint letter to Mr. O’Regan, as well as to Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne and former Transport Minister Omar Alghabra, raising “serious concerns” about the proposed anti-replacement worker legislation.

The letter said while “rarely used,” the ability to use replacement workers allows employers to “provide a basic level of service that preserves critical services to Canadians.”

It added that the elimination of such an option “has the potential to destabilize our economy.”

“It will disrupt the carefully-constructed balance we have built within our labour relations system.”

A study conducted by think tank C.D. Howe Institute in 2010 argued that where replacement worker bans exist, there are more strikes, and they last longer.

“[B]anning temporary replacement workers increases strikes by 0.11 per month per province, an increase in strike incidence of about 15 percent,” wrote researchers, who compiled data on how legislation impacted private sector strikes from 1978 to 2008.

“The average strike is about 60 days in length, but we find that replacement worker bans and reinstatement rights increase the length to about 90 days.”

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