Accueil » 41-1 ( 1986) » Le plafonnement de la densité syndicale au Québec et au Canada

Le plafonnement de la densité syndicale au Québec et au Canada

Jacques Bélanger et Jacques Mercier


L'étude porte sur les facteurs d'ordre structurel et institutionnel pouvant expliquer le plafonnement de la densité syndicale. L'analyse insiste particulièrement sur les facteurs associes à la structure des activités économiques et de l'emploi et sur certaines caractéristiques du régime de relations du travail


Contrary to the situation observed in the United States, where union density has declined significantly over the last decades, the data presented in Table 1 show the remarkable stability of union density in Quebec, as well as in the whole country. Indeed, from 1968 to 1981, the ratio of union membership to non-agricultural paid workers remained almost unchanged at 39 per cent in Quebec and 34 per cent in Canada. This study seeks to explain this «ceiling-off» of the aggregate union density over a period of almost fifteen years. The discussion focuses mainly on some factors related to changes in the industrial structure, and others associated with the pattern of labour relations. The first section deals with the various sources on union growth in Canada and the reasons for retaining Statistics Canada series on union members (catalogue 71-202) for the study. The second section analyses the impact of structural changes in the labour market on union density. More specifically, it is suggested that the changing industrial distribution of employment during the 1962-1981 period would have led to a ten per cent decline in Canadian union density in the absence of compensating changes such as substantial union gains in the public sector. Moreover, this section examines the influence of other phenomena, including the relative female employment growth and the increase of part-time employment.

The third section then focuses on factors associated with the Canadian pattern of labour relations. The current legal framework, introduced in the context of war production, certainly contributed to the maintenance of a cycle of growth of industrial unionism in the mass production sector. After a decade of stagnation which started in the early fifties, the adaptation of this model to the public sector in several jiurisdictions again favoured major gains from the mid-sixties onward. Over the last decade, however, it became more obvious that some features of this pattern of union representation impeded upon the relative growth of unionization. Union certification as well as the level of bargaining appear to bear some influence on the problem under study. Hence, it is suggested that union certification, mainly at the establishment level, and the fragmentation of bargaining units may be associated with low levels of union density in small and medium sized manufacturing units as well as in private services. There may be some interaction between certain limitations on union growth associated with changes in the industrial structure and other factors more directly related to labour relations institutions. Finally, the authors discuss recent American studies which document the employers' growing resistance to unionization. Some additional research in Canadian entreprises is needed before a good assessment can be made as regards the actual impact of these developments in this country.