He said, she said

Kerri Breen
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Groups disagree over anti-replacement worker legislation

Richard Alexander, executive director of the Newfoundland Employer's Council and Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, agree on one thing - anti-worker replacement legislation would significantly affect the climate of labour relations in the province.

Payne said a law banning the use of replacement labour in strike situations would make them shorter while Alexander said all the research he has read suggests otherwise.

Richard Alexander

Richard Alexander, executive director of the Newfoundland Employer's Council and Lana Payne, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour, agree on one thing - anti-worker replacement legislation would significantly affect the climate of labour relations in the province.

Payne said a law banning the use of replacement labour in strike situations would make them shorter while Alexander said all the research he has read suggests otherwise.

"It does the exact opposite of what unions claim that it does," he said. "It increases the frequency of strikes and it increases the length of time it takes for that agreement to be resolved."

"For every bit of research the employers' council could put forward there's been a whole bunch of other research done by the labour movement so I don't put much credence into that," Payne said.

The issue of anti-replacement worker legislation was brought up by NDP Leader Lorraine Michael at the House of Assembly Monday. Labour Minister Susan Sullivan said government will bring forward a bill after a review of labour legislation is complete.

A committee of representatives from business, labour and government has been meeting for the last year or more to do a comprehensive review of provincial labour laws.

Alexander said the current legislation helps balance negotiations and denying employers the opportunity to hire outside labour gives workers an unfair advantage.

"The union has the ability to withdraw their services to inflict economic hardship on the employer in order to enforce the employer to agree to what the union is asking for in negotiations. The balance to that in the legislation is that the employer has the ability to maintain operations using management, non-unionized workers or in some cases replacement workers."

Payne said using replacement labour gives employers no incentive to bargain.

"What greater advantage is there then in a legal strike to be able to replace the workers who are on the picketline with substitute labour. That, in my opinion, provides an incredible advantage and imbalance."

The employers' council updated and released a position paper on anti-replacement worker laws last month.

"A ban on replacement workers creates a one-sided bargaining system in which a union can effectively choose to shut down an employer's operation and inflict loss on that employer and those who depend on that employer indefinitely, regardless of the reasonableness of its demands," it reads. It would be detrimental to business attraction and retention, Alexander said.

Payne said when employers bring in outside labour, it's viewed as in bad faith.

"There is a fundamental underlining principle in labour relations and its called bargaining in good faith. In my opinion, and in the opinion of the labour movement, when you use scab labour in a workplace then that means you're not bargaining in good faith."

Payne said since 2008, increasing amounts of Newfoundland and Labrador employers are bringing in replacement labour or threatening to do so as a bargaining tactic.

"That really changes the climate around labour relations," she said. "We've seen it in four strikes in the last two years."

The most recent of the studies cited by the employers' council report examined 4,340 contracts negotiated at large private-sector companies in Canada from Jan. 1967 to March 1993.

It found the average duration of a strike to be 86 days if the hiring of replacement workers is forbidden and 54 days in the absence of such measures.

"It's been examined to death," Alexander said. "We know conclusively what it does."

kbreen@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Newfoundland Employer, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada

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