Accueil » 29-1 ( 1974) » Changement technologique et sécurité d’emploi

Changement technologique et sécurité d’emploi

Gilles Laflamme


L'auteur examine la difficulté pour le syndicalisme à contrôler le changement et à assurer aux travailleurs une sécurité d'emploi et de revenu.


Technological Change and Employment Security

Upon observing the evolution of collective agreements in Canada, it can be seen that the bargaining of clauses aiming at technological change, employment, and income security is hindered rather by a freeze inherent to the topic itself than by a lack of union interest in the matter. This freeze can be explained by three factors: the nature of the socio-economic system; bargaining structures; life of the agreement.


The requirements of national and international competition as well as those of consumption compel management to produce more and at lower prices. Technological change is a solution to such imperatives and allow a considerable reduction in manpower costs. The resulting mass layoffs plus short and long run unemployment become or tend to become inherent elements of the economic developments (structural unemployment) and appear as one of the consequences or necessities of competition in a liberal system. It seems that the interval between the demands relating to the standard of living and job-keeping and their fullfilment is determined by the degree of implication of union control on the freedom allowed to managers in response to external factors affecting the enterprise and influencing their decision. Demands concerning wages and working conditions are of another nature and easier to absorb at the enterprise level, because they can be recovered by the system through policies susceptible of increasing productivity, reducing manpower or by the choice of the employer to fluctuate prices while his firm keeps competing.


Collective bargaining at the plant or enterprise level, as in Canada in general, hardly favours the creation of a manpower policy effective in a given industrial sector nor the feasibility that most competitors will absorb the social costs of change.

The entrepreneur is by nature reluctant to take over the training costs of laidoff workers for fear that they will seek employment with a competitor. Broken down structures of bargaining sustain such reluctance by suppressing the possibility of a policy assented to that effect within a sector and concede to union organization but one channel by which one is seeking total or partial job security (seniority clause, contracting out limitation) at the plant or firm level either by a control of technological change or by the refusal of layoffs upon such changes. Therefore any manpower or employment policy is impaired by the aim of the trade-union to guarantee a maximum job security to the worker at the enterprise level. Wider and more centralized bargaining structures at an industrial sector level would perhaps modify the balance of powers and comprise a series ofproblems directly related to the industrial development and would facilitate special agreements.


Collective bargaining is not only a statement of reciprocal rights but impliesbona fide, i.e. implicit obligations or at least moral pledging from union leaders to dissuade workers from illegal strikes or even sympathy strikes during the life of the agreement to support workers already involved in a strike or a lock-out.

The life of the agreement should not be separated from the enterprise's tenurial objectives and from a certain management method as long as it is related to a whole system of mechanisms capable of giving solution to internal disputes and to organizational tensions. Therefore the enterprise often controls this tenure by stretching the agreement coverage particularly concerning questions related to the grievance procedure and by favouring this tenure through better working conditions and higher wages for workers.

It may be assumed that the enterprise is more willing to negotiate these clauses when a steady production is forseen and when its rational development lies on a planned action.

The life of the agreement is therefore important for two reasons. On the one hand, long time agreements enable management to modity the production process in the short run, i.e. during the life of the agreement. Moreover the no-strike clause keeps the workers from an efficient collective action at the enterprise level for fear of possible repraisals from management or legal penalties against them. Furthermore while negotiating it is hard for the trade-union to claim effective changes because management projects and their consequences are little or badly known. On the other hand, it is not easy to engage workers from other firms and non involved in the change because their own agreement keeps them from any sympathy strike. The possibility of a global action towards such aims is rather belittled by the fact that agreements do not expire at the same moment.


Considering the difficulty to incorporate certain social targets aiming at the protection of the worker's social status, a more obvious necessity resulting from a greater technological change, mass layoffs, and plant shutdowns, it seems that the present bargaining structures and the extension of the life of the agreement may weaken union power or at least keep it from effectively safeguarding workers' rights when changes occur.