Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (HUMA)

Main Image
A women standing in front of parliment in the cold

Opening Statement – Lana Payne, Unifor National President

Thursday, March 21, 2024, 8:15 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

Honourable members of the Committee, I am here before you today as the President of Unifor, representing 315,000 workers across Canada, including almost 70,000 in the federally-regulated private sector such as air, road, rail and marine transport as well as telecommunications and media.

I thank you for the opportunity to speak about Bill C-58 and the urgent need for anti-scab legislation in Canada. I sincerely thank MPs of all parties in the House of Commons who unanimously voted in favour of this legislation at Second Reading. Now we need to get the job done. 

Peaceful labour relations in Canada – and indeed all over the world – rely on the principles of free and fair collective bargaining. Principles that have improved living and working conditions for Canadian workers over many decades.

No country has achieved shared progress and prosperity for working people without strong unions and strong collective bargaining laws. Our ability to bargain in a framework that truly respects the voice and power of working people has historically been the only way to raise standards for all workers, both unionized and not.

Our union bargains a collective agreement practically every day in Canada, as do many other unions. The majority of those negotiations are concluded without a dispute.

Even in rare cases of labour disputes, many employers engage respectfully in the process, including by refusing to use scabs. Of course, both sides engage in hard bargaining – that is part of the process.

But still there are employers who refuse to respect the rights of workers in Canada who behave as if workers do not have Constitutional rights and this is what brings me to the important need for C-58 to be adopted as law.

I have a current example to raise with you involving an employer who mostly operates in the federal jurisdiction, but this case involves a group of workers under a provincial certification. 

On February 27th, the first day of a perfectly legal strike, Autoport, a subsidiary of the very profitable CN Rail, brought replacement workers – scabs - across the picket line, aggressively undermining the fundamental right to strike of 239 Unifor members in Nova Scotia. The scabs are still there doing the jobs of our members - including 71 year old Heather Wildsmith who has worked at Autoport since 2015. She is a mom and a grandmother, with 5 beautiful grandchildren. She works hard and takes great pride in her work. 

While at a bargaining table with us and a federal conciliator, CN was hiring and training scabs. That is not fair and free collective bargaining.

CN is also a member of FETCO, which has vocally and actively lobbied against not just this legislation, but workers’ right to strike in Canada. Suffice it to say, their recommendations would render this legislation – and indeed the collective bargaining rights of workers – completely meaningless. 

And here I want to be very clear. This path proposed by FETCO leads to chaos. It will force working people and their unions to resort to more direct methods to enforce our collective rights, causing major challenges for employers, workers and governments alike. It will not lead to labour peace. Indeed the exact opposite.

Legislation to ban replacement workers is needed because the use and the threat of the use of scab labour during disputes:

  1. Undermines workers’ constitutional protected right to collectively bargain.

  2. Undermines our constitutional right to strike.

  3. Prolongs labour disputes - six times longer when scabs are used.

  4. Removes the economic pressure workers have in negotiating with employers.

  5. Increases conflict and violence on picket lines.

  6. Jeopardizes workplace safety.

  7. Destabilizes normalized labour relations and creates poisonous and toxic workplace relations afterwards.

  8. Removes incentives for employers to negotiate and settle fair contracts at the bargaining table.

Voting for C-58 is the very least elected officials can do - and thank you again for the full support at second reading. It modernizes Canada’s labour relations system to reflect the current social and economic context of this country, where increased corporate power and wealth requires an effective counter-balance.

Quebec and British Columbia have had similar laws for many years. Manitoba has announced it will introduce a law as well.

C-58 must pass and be implemented without delay.

Thank you for hearing me today, and I look forward to answering any questions the committee may have.