Ban on Replacement Workers Could Improve Health and Safety – The federal government introduced bill C-58 in early November. The bill seeks to prohibit the use of replacement workers by employers in contract disputes. The bill has a wide-reaching impact on labour relations and in particular on worker health and safety in federally regulated sectors.
The bill is the result of decades of work by the Canadian labour movement. It also meets a key requirement in the Liberal and New Democrat confidence and supply agreements. The bill would affect a number of sectors, including banking, telecom, air and railway, trucking and more.
It is estimated that more than one million workers are employed in federally regulated sectors, with roughly one third of them unionized.
The Ban on Replacement Workers
“This bill is very important for unions and for workers,” says Adam King, assistant professor in the labour studies program at the University of Manitoba. “It potentially will make labour relations less contentious because it removes that threat of replacement workers.”
King, who teaches a course on occupational health and safety, believes the ban will help reduce tensions during labour disputes, fostering a more collaborative approach to resolving differences at the bargaining table.
From a health and safety perspective, this reduction in tension is crucial. King explains, “by removing the threat of replacement workers, it compels employers to take bargaining more seriously and can reduce the likelihood of tensions flaring up, which can sometimes lead to violence or other forms of tension on picket lines.”
Health and safety risks of replacement workers
King also highlights the workplace risks associated with the use of replacement workers. He notes that replacement workers may not always be adequately trained in health and safety practices, potentially posing risks to themselves and their colleagues.
“Sometimes replacement workers are moved within a firm or within an industry, so you may be bringing people in who have the expertise,” says King. “But in many cases, you don’t. There are definitely health and safety risks with the employment of replacement workers.”
King says by banning the use of replacement workers, Bill C-58 would help mitigate these risks, creating a safer working environment for all parties involved.
Support and next steps
Bill C-58 enjoys broad support from the NDP, the Liberal Party, and the Bloc Québécois. The NDP, in particular, has been a strong advocate for anti-scab legislation over the years. However, the Conservative Party has expressed the need for further study of the bill, potentially due to political considerations.
A group of more than 70 labour experts, including King, have signed an open letter supporting the legislation. But they oppose the timeline.
While the bill is likely to pass, it will come into effect only 18 months after receiving royal assent. Critics argue this extended timeline is unnecessary given the size of the federally regulated private sector workforce.
Bill C-58 signifies a significant shift in labour relations and worker safety in federally regulated industries. By banning the use of replacement workers during strikes or lockouts, the bill aims to create a more collaborative and safer work environment for employees. As health and safety professionals, it is crucial to stay informed about these changes and their potential impacts on your workplace.