Canadian MPs vote to ban replacement workers with ‘anti-scab’ bill

Click to play video: 'NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calls for ‘anti-scab’ legislation while attending Manitoba union picket line'
NDP leader Jagmeet Singh calls for ‘anti-scab’ legislation while attending Manitoba union picket line
On Thursday, New Democratic Party Leader Jagmeet Singh attended a strike outside of a rail industry manufacturer to support union members, saying, 'I'm probably the only federal leader who walks picket lines with workers and the NDP is working hard to bring forward anti-scab legislation.' – Apr 4, 2024

Canada’s legislation banning some replacement workers, known as the “anti-scab” bill, has cleared its final vote in the House of Commons.

Bill C-58 seeks to ban the use of replacement workers if there’s a strike in a federally regulated workplace, a key part of the supply-and-confidence agreement between the Liberals and NDP.

The bill was adopted in the House of Commons with 317 votes in support from all parties, and no opposing votes. It will now head to the Senate.

“I think it is a real message to workers right across this country that they are valued and that parliamentarians have heard them, and that scab labour is wrong,” Labour Minister Seamus O’Reagan said following the bill’s passage.

“So, this is a big moment for workers in this country. It’s a big moment for labour. And we’re thrilled that it passed unanimously.”

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“We hope that not only will we make sure this is banned at the federal level, but we can inspire provinces and territories to put in place similar legislation so that we can, once and for all, ban scab workers at every level across this country,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said ahead of question period Monday, flanked by members of the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC).

“That’s our ultimate goal.”

Both British Columbia and Quebec have their own pieces of legislation banning the use of replacement workers on the books already.

O’Reagan said he has talked with the other provinces and territories about anti-scab legislation, but he doesn’t plan on putting forward too much overt pressure.

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“You’re better to lead by example than necessarily hectoring provinces and territories. Best to show them that this works. And in fact, in B.C. and Quebec, it does work. So, we’ve learned an awful lot from those jurisdictions and it’s informed how we will go about this,” O’Reagan said.

Even before the vote was officially tallied, leadership in the labour movement lauded the expected passage.

“This is something that workers and their unions have been fighting for decades for. It’s incredibly important that we level the playing field at the bargaining table. And this legislation does exactly that,” CLC president Bea Bruske said Monday afternoon.

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“The use of scabs really just drags out negotiations. And not only does it drag out negotiations, employers can decide that they will never actually get to a deal, that they’re just going to try to starve out their workforce.”

At the same time, the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses warned the move could have consequences, saying the legislation “tilts Canada’s labour laws even more heavily in favour of unions.”

“If the legislation is passed and proclaimed, the current and future governments will deeply regret removing this important provision for employers keeping the economy moving during strikes or lockouts,” said Dan Kelly, president of the CFIB, in a statement.

“Unions are already threatening a ‘summer of discontent,’ and what does the government and opposition do in response? They vote to make it worse.”

Kelly added: “When work stoppages shut down essential services, such as federally regulated ports, railways and airports, it’s small businesses, their employees and Canadians who pay the price. CFIB is asking the Senate to provide the sober, second thought needed to seriously consider the implications this bill would have on Canada’s economy.”

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Under this legislation, as part of job action both the employer and union would have to come to a “maintenance of services” agreement on what work could be done during a strike or lockout in the event an incident took place that threatens public or environmental health and safety.

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If a union feels an employer is using replacement workers in a way that goes beyond this agreement, they can file a complaint with the Canada Industrial Relations Board. If the complaint is valid, the employer faces fines of up to $100,000 per day.

In the 2021 election campaign, the Liberals committed to bringing in replacement worker legislation and it is also stated as a priority in Labour Minister Seamus O’Reagan’s mandate letter.

Speaking on background, a government source says the maintenance of service clause is the key difference for the Liberals bringing this forward from past bills introduced by the NDP.

At the time of its introduction, O’Reagan said he plans to implement the bill 18 months after its passage. However, the NDP introduced an amendment to speed up this timeline, and now the legislation is set to take effect 12 months after it is adopted.

With this legislation applying to federally regulated workers, it covers a wide variety of workplaces including ports, airports, railways, telecommunications, broadcasting, banking and federal Crown corporations.

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