When union employees go on strike, they typically do so because they are seeking better pay, benefits or work conditions. By not working, they put pressure on employers to negotiate or meet their demands. However, some employers respond to strikes by hiring replacement workers in an attempt to reduce the impact of the strike on business.
In British Columbia, the provincial Labour Relations Code prohibits employers’ use of replacement workers except in certain limited circumstances. Recently, the federal government formally tabled similar legislation for debate that would apply to federally-regulated employers who are subject to the federal Canada Labour Code.
Banning the use of replacement workers
If passed, Bill C-58 would prevent federally regulated workplaces from hiring replacement workers — often colloquially referred to as “scabs” — when employees are on strike or during a lockout. Employers who violate the law would be subject to an investigation and could face fines of up to $100,000 per day.
However, there would be important exceptions to the ban. Businesses could hire new workers or contractors during a strike or lockout under special circumstances. These include where the services of the replacement worker are necessary in order to deal with imminent or serious health and safety threats or serious damage to the employer’s property or premises.
What does the future hold?
Various provincial and federal governments have considered replacement worker legislation in the past, and this type of legislation does not always succeed. On one hand, critics of this type of legislation fear that prohibiting employers from hiring replacement workers in the event of strikes would only increase costs and strike frequency, which could devastate small businesses. On the other side are supporters of this type of legislation, who say that it is crucial to preserve and protect workers’ rights to strike.
We will continue to follow any developments with this proposed federal legislation. We will continue to advise employers, unions, employee groups and individuals in labour relations matters.