Accueil » 41-2 ( 1986) » La législation et les travailleurs québécois, 1894-1914

La législation et les travailleurs québécois, 1894-1914

John A. Dickinson


L'auteur analyse la législation fédérale et provinciale avant d'aborder les principaux règlements municipaux des grandes villes québécoises visant à gérer la croissance de la fin du 19e siècle et à protéger les travailleurs québécois et canadiens.


The industrialization of the late nineteenth century created new socio-economic structures, but it was only in the period 1894-1914 that the first steps were taken to manage this growth and to protect Quebec and Canadian workers through legislation. The division of power between federal, provincial, and municipal governments complicates matters when one tries to get an overview of the situation. This article will, therefore, first analyse measures taken by the federal government, and then deal with those taken by the Quebec government. Finally, it will look at some of the more important by-laws passed by municipal governments in the major Quebec cities.

Decisions rendered by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had progressively undermined the federal government's responsibility in social affairs. Nevertheless, Ottawa did pass several laws, notably those concerning labour disputes, which affected Quebec workers. Other measures, such as those concerning reasonable wages and the Lord's Day Act, were used as models by provincial legislators. Industrial growth was essentially a provincial matter. Quebec passed laws concerning industrial establishments, public buildings and public health as early as 1894, but this legislation was amended several times in the following years in order to better regulate working conditions. Much of this legislation was aimed at limiting the exploitation of women and children, perhaps the greatest social problem of the period. Workers received greater protection when laws concerning industrial disputes, industrial accidents, placement services and Sunday closings were enacted. However, despite thèse efforts, more than half Quebec workers were left completely unprotected by any legislation in 1914, Municipal powers depended on each city's charter and varied from place to place. Both Montreal and Quebec had considerable power especially by virtue of the Masters and Servants Act, which set working conditions. Despite these powers, cities do not seem to have been very active in social affairs and even their inspection services were not efficient.

Passing legislation is only part of the story; laws have to be vigorously upheld in order to have a concrete influence on the lives of workers. By analyzing the reports of the various inspectors and civil servants, who were responsible for seeing that the laws were obeyed, this article attempts to evaluate the legislation's impact on workers and its usefulness.

On the whole, Quebec labour legislation during the period 1894 to 1914, was haphazard and sought to remedy problems before they got out of hand rather than trying to create new, coherent structures that would be able to create «a feeling of security» for the workers.