Sat. Feb 24th, 2024

Worker mobilizations in 2023 could shape their future rights

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More than 7,000 workers at more than 30 British Columbia ports went on strike this summer. (Archive photo)

Radio-Canada

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Two professors of economics and labor relations believe that the labor unrest that took place across the country in 2023 is a positive sign for the labor movement in general, and that it could be a factor in the next federal election.

In British Columbia, several major strikes took place this year, including a strike in the ports which would have cost billions of dollars according to economic actors , a 3-month transportation strike in the Fraser Valley, and ongoing strikes at Rogers Sugar and hotels in Vancouver.

Professors believe strikes across the country have capitalized on a sense of anger at executives who have made increased profits during the pandemic, and that unions will benefit in the long term from this sustained attention.

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The strike at Rogers Sugar, which began September 28, caused sugar shortages in Western Canada this fall. (File photo)

Fiona McQuarrie, professor emeritus at the University of the Fraser Valley's business school, says workers' anger at management won't evaporate quickly in 2024. She notes that the increase The cost of living is one reason for worker discontent, as employers have sought to cut costs after supply chain issues hit their bottom lines.

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Coming out of the pandemic lockdowns, both employers and employees experienced financial difficulties […] I feel like both sides, in some ways, when they are entering into new collective agreements, trying to regain some of their financial position lost during [the pandemic].

A quote from Fiona McQuarrie, professor emeritus, University of the Fraser Valley School of Business

The cost-of-living crisis has sparked calls for workers' rights laws, and a federal bill could include banning replacement workers if sick leave. According to John-Henry Harter, professor of history and social studies at Simon Fraser University, this bill would help reduce work stoppages in the years to come.

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It's simply true that if the employer can't bring in replacement workers, they are much more likely to come back to the bargaining table […] This has a really positive effect for workers, and for people who like to think abstractly, about economics in general.

A quote from John-Henry Harter, Professor of History and Social Studies, Simon Fraser University

< p class="StyledBodyHtmlParagraph-sc-48221190-4 hnvfyV">British Columbia already has an anti-scab law and wants to better protect gig workers, like Uber drivers. John-Henry Harter nevertheless criticizes this bill, because he considers that it creates second-class workers who will not be fully covered by the Employment Standards Act.

However, in the long term, it could lead to workers in the sector unionizing, given that it recognizes that they are employees, he says. The sector was previously difficult to organize because companies treated gig workers as independent contractors.

The upcoming federal election could be defined by these widespread worker actions. Data from Statistics Canada shows that more than two million person days were lost to work stoppages in 2023, a 10-year high.

Despite numerous work stoppages in 2023, union membership has remained stable in Canada over the past two decades. Statistics Canada reports that 28.7% of all Canadians were unionized in their main job last year.

However, John-Henry Harter notes that union-resistant sectors, such as coffee and restaurant chains, saw an increase in worker organizing in 2023, and that this could lead to the formation of unions, although it could take decades to come to fruition.

John-Henry Harter and Fiona McQuarrie both believe strikes will be on voters' minds in the next federal election, which will take place no later than October 2025.

John-Henry Harter thinks voters might support the Liberal Party because that he did not order striking workers at the ports to return to work. Others, however, might on the contrary think that the conservatives' request to use a special law was justified.

Fiona McQuarrie also says she is curious about whether the agreement between the federal NDP and the ruling Liberals will be used as a reason to once again support the New Democrats in the eyes of the unions.

With information from Akshay Kulkarni

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