The latest Statistics Canada job figures have made headlines again in Québec, with the numbers showing that about 3 people are unemployed for every available job (reported the Montreal Gazette today). Some say the numbers are a “blip” others say that they are very “serious debacle“. The next quarter’s stats will tell us more. While there is much dispute as to the source of these problems, it is clear they are resulting in a very tense labour situation.
Indeed, the new year has brought much high-profile labour strife in Canada, particularly in Québec in Ontario. Those labour disputes have even made international headlines. The Wall Street Journal reported on the situation on January 2:
Labor strife has been on the rise in Canada as unions push back against corporate cost-cutting drives and governments strive to reduce wage and pension costs. “Unions are under the gun; they really are on the defensive and companies, instinctively, are feeling aggressive,” said Laurel Sefton MacDowell, a University of Toronto labor-relations expert and historian.
Unions wield immense power in certain industries in Canada and even more in Québec given its “particular” labour laws. Québec is alone among the largest four provinces to have a Labour Code which provides both for “card-check” access to unionization (making it easier to unionize – reflected in Québec’s higher unionization rate) and strict anti-scab provisions (making it harded for employers to hold-out during a strike).
In tough economic times, are “defensive” unions helping or hurting the economy? Should companies be entitled to seek concessions at the table? Do Québec’s laws make sense when compared with the other provinces?