Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Bill 4 and replacement workers

On April 7, Alberta passed Bill 4 (An Act to Implement a Supreme Court Ruling Governing Essential Services). I provided a brief overview of the legislation when it was first introduced on the Parkland Institute’s blog. The crux of Bill 4 is:
Bill 4… provides public sector workers who are governed by these laws with the right to strike. This right, however, is limited by a need to ensure the life, safety, and health of the public. In these cases, unions and employers will be required to negotiate a protocol for the provision of minimal essential public services.
One of the things I didn’t notice when I first read through Bill 4 was section 95.41(3), which governs the content of an essential service agreement. This section read:
95.41(3) During a strike or lockout, the employer shall not use the services of a person, whether paid or not,

(a) who is hired by the employer for the purpose of, or
(b) who is supplied to the employer by another person for the purpose of,

performing the work of an employee in the bargaining unit that is on strike or lockout.
Essentially, public-sector employers that operate hospitals, are regional health authorities or are within the ambit of the Public Service Employee Relations Act are prohibited from hiring or using replacement workers during a strike or lockout.

Replacement workers (often called scabs) are an employer strategy to minimize the impact of a strike by replacing the lost labour of the striking workers. Scabs are relatively uncommon in public sector strikes and, in theory, should not be necessary because the essential services agreement should provide an adequate workforce.

That said, this provision sends an interesting signal to employers about the policy preferences of the NDs. This many be important as it is expected that the NDs will be reviewing the broader labour relations framework over the next year or two.

-- Bob Barnetson

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