Policy Briefs: Picket lines and replacement workers: labor law and the role of the provincial government

By Kyle White

After long months on the cold picket line, the employees of the Labatt Brewing Company are returning to work. The signing of a collective agreement has ended the eleven-month long strike, though, in the process, has left the provincial government with many unanswered questions relating to labour policy.

Following the decision to strike, Labatt brought in replacement workers (“scab” workers) to ensure production continues. This has aroused the scab-beer movement throughout the province, as workers encouraged people to boycott any Labatt products. Similar campaigns also made it to campus at Memorial, as the Memorial University of Newfoundland Students’ Union (MUNSU) took stance supporting the workers, including prohibiting the sale of Labatt products in the campus bar, the Breezeway. However, despite these efforts, it has been reported that Labatt has incurred no profit losses during this time.

As the strike progressed, many union representatives called on Minister of Justice Darin King to appoint a third party conciliation board to guarantee the end of the strike. Section 107 of the Labor Relations Act states:

“Where a conciliation officer fails to bring about an agreement between the parties engaged in a collective bargaining or in a case where the minister considers it desirable to do so, the minister may appoint a conciliation board for the purpose of trying to bring about an agreement between the parties.”

Despite the union’s call for intervention, the government failed to uphold this legal obligation.

Similarly, the leader of the provincial New Democratic Party (NDP), Lorraine Michael, called on the government to introduce anti-scab legislation in response to the strike. However, multiple times King publicly stated the government had no intention of doing so. Such legislation, if introduced, would have restricted further production at Labatt and created a greater incentive to reach an agreement with workers. It is worth asking whether such legislation would subordinate firms to the whims of unions, or instead protect the rights and interests of Newfoundland workers during similar disputes.

While the Labatt strike may have ended, the long months without income are a reminder that unions are not the ultimate defense against the corporation. The provincial government failed to implement legislation that would end the strike or create the conditions for adequate collective bargaining. We must now ask how long the next major strike will last? Will the outcome be as favorable for the workers as was the case with Labatt? Or will Newfoundland workers be forced to bow down to multi-national corporations?

 
Filed under Opinions on Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 at 4:00 pm.
 

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