Workers to MPs: Either stand with us or the rich business lobby

January 17, 2024

By Bea Bruske, President of the Canadian Labour Congress as published in iPolitics

Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre speaks so loudly on so many issues. Which makes his silence deafening on how he’ll vote on a new law, Bill C-58, that would ban the use of replacement workers during strikes and lockouts.

After months of trying to woo workers with sympathetic words about the challenges people face, Mr. Poilievre now faces a big test. Will he stand with Canada’s workers or turn his back on us and our families? Will he put his vote where his mouth is?

NDP, Bloc and Liberals have all pledged to support this new law. In fact, New Democrat and Bloc MPs have worked with us for decades to get an anti-scab bill passed.

Scabs, sometimes called “replacement” workers, are brought in during a lockout or strike to take regular workers’ jobs. This intensifies labour disputes and pours poison into workplaces. What might have been a short-lived dispute solved around the bargaining table becomes a destructive and drawn-out fight.

I think we know why Conservatives are so indecisive. Corporate Canada is spending big bucks lobbying against this bill. No wonder, right now rich corporations have the upper hand and are desperate to keep it that way.

The thing is, the powerful business lobby doesn’t want to tell you how Quebec has had an anti-scab law for over 45 years and B.C. for 30 years. They don’t want you to know how these laws and similar ones around the world shorten labour stoppages, reduce the damaging effects scabs have on inflaming disputes, and bring better balance to labour relations.

Companies fighting this bill want to keep the power to strongarm their workers into accepting bad contracts, just to keep their jobs. It’s part of a race to the bottom intended to pit worker against worker.

The fact is, businesses today just have too much power over workers. This has led to workers’ pay lagging behind, reduced benefits and worsening working conditions. Meanwhile, corporate profits have soared to the stratosphere.

A 2022 analysis by Jim Stanford showed that after-tax corporate profits reached their highest share of GDP ever in the first quarter of that year. While companies’ profits surged ahead, wages lagged well behind inflation. A recent Statistics Canada report showed Canada’s top 20% now controls more than two-thirds of the wealth in Canada. While the bottom 20% account for less than 3% of the wealth.

An anti-scab bill can finally start balancing the playing field. But to do so, it must be strong and effective.

To be effective, it must have strong enforcement mechanisms and be brought into force quickly, not a year and a half after it has passed. To protect workers’ rights, the law must apply to all work regularly performed by bargaining unit workers. To make sure it’s applied fairly, it must not have overly broad essential service barriers that take away workers’ right to strike.

Workers and families are now looking to Members of Parliament to turn sympathetic words into concrete action. Canada’s unions are ready to work with all parties to strengthen and swiftly pass this bill.

But make no mistake, when the next election comes Canada’s workers will also remember anyone who caves to the rich business lobby and tries to delay or weaken this important new law.

Bea Bruske is President of the Canadian Labour Congress. Follow her on Twitter @PresidentCLC

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