Accueil » 18-1 ( 1963) » Convention collective et sécurité sociale

Convention collective et sécurité sociale

Jean-Réal Cardin


Convention collective et sécurité sociale

Le régime canadien des relations du travail repose sur la convention collective négociée au plan de l'établissement. Graduellement le contenu des conventions collectives s'est élargi pour comprendre non seulement la plupart des aspects de la vie au travail mais encore ceux de la vie du travailleur hors les cadres de l'entreprise même touchant sa sécurité économique et sociale ainsi que celle de sa famille. Quelle est l'extension de cette sécurité sociale dans les conventions collectives ? Quelles en sont les limitations ? Est-ce que la sécurité sociale organisée par l'État fera disparaître la forme contractuelle ? Voilà quelques-unes des questions auxquelles répond l'auteur.


Social Security and Collective Bargaining


The practice of collective bargaining performed on a private and contractual basis surely constitutes one of the main characteristics of our present industrial relations system. This is true both for Canada and the United States according to the fact that the same «pattern », to a large extent, applies in both countries.

This « contractual » or « private » character of our collective bargaining system is not determined solely by the « capitalistic » régime of our economy, nor is it exclusively a consequence of the pragmatic philosophy of our labour movement coupled with the viguor of our private law. Instead, it merely reflects, in our opinion, die traditionnally dynamic nature of the North American economy of which we are part. Our economy can still afford tolerating a certain amount of freedom in private economic decisions and competition on the labour market may take place in a measure sufficient to enable a « private » system of collective bargaining to work successfully.

In spite of repeated criticisms, collective bargaining has assumed new dimensions unthought of some thirty years ago; so much so, that we may now pretend without risk of being refuted, that it really constitutes the core of the whole industrial relations system of ours. What originally was a mere compromise concerning a few items of negotiations has now become the device « par excellence » through which the labour force, not only secures the promotion of its economic interests, but also acquires a new and unproved status in our economic society.

This new role of collective bargaining has been assumed progressively from the moment when trade-unionism, taking advantage of new texts of law emanating from public authorities short before the last World War, has revised its structural, functionnal and ideological positions. Union demands were no longer limited to wages and conditions of work, but covered a host of subjects heretofore considered as the exclusive prerogatives of management. Accordingly, the scope of collective bargaining was enlarged so as to include most of the workers' work-life phases, including social security in and out of the negotiations unit.

In a country where social security systems emanating from the State have taken so long to develop, collective bargaining has assumed a pioneer role that is not going to vanish soon. What trade-unions have gained from governments, in other countries, they have in part secured in North America through collective bargaining. No matter the conception one has of the trade-union movement in our country, the facts clearly establish that it is through collective bargaining that workers have secured enlarged social security benefits.

Long term collective agreement were relatively new twenty years ago; they are now a current practice. Attempts to solve problems of employment and income security, retirement, illness and hospitalization were not common fifteen years ago as they are today. We assist presently to a proliferation of formulae aiming at the coverage of such risks through collective bargaining.


Considering that more than one million and a half workers throughout Canada are covered by collective agreements, it is easy to measure the impact of such a device on the standard of living and on the status of wage earning people among the Canadian population. According to a survey conducted by the Department of Labour of Canada in 1960, over 66% of the labour force in manufacturing industries were covered by collective agreements. In the mining industry (« metal » section) the proportion attained 82% and was up to 89% in the « coal » section of the same industry. In Quebec, more particularly, there are presently over two thousand collective agreements in force covering more than three hundred thousand people.

Moreover, owing to the strategic concentration of the trade-union membership in the most vital sectors of the economy; and due to the direct impact of the negotiations in large concerns over satellite firms, collective bargaining derives a much larger influence than official statistics show.


Collective bargaining in itself has already contributed largely to the social and economic security of the wage-earners. Now, through what we call « fringe benefits » collective bargaining reaches the heart of the problem of economic and social security' for union members. Twenty years ago, such benefits were largely ignored by the parties to collective bargaining. Presently, they represent something like about 20% of the average labour costs in industry. Though the expression « fringe benefits » is very inclusive, there is a distinction to be made between benefits representing a mere addition to the labour income and those aiming above all at securing a better security and an improved welfare for workers and their families, without being too closely related to the remuneration of the work done. The latter are mainly to be considered when reference is made to the potentialities of collective bargaining as regards economic security and social welfare.

Negotiated systems of retirement benefits, schemes for group life-insurance, accident and illness insurance, hospitalization benefits, guaranteed annual wage systems, supplementary unemployment benefits and like devices are to be counted in the latter group of benefits. They cover the main sources of insecurity for workers on the economic and familial grounds.

In 1956, in Canada, according to a survey of the Department of Labour, a little more than 10% of the existing labour agreements in the manufacturing industry provided for unemployment supplementary benefits or guaranteed employment to a different extent.

For the same year (1956) about half the number of existing collective agreements studied by the survey contained clauses concerning life and accident insurance as well as indemnities for hospitalization, medical and chirurgical cares for workers and their families. Near 25% of these agreements provided for a pension plan with the contribution, in whole or in part, of the employer.


In spite of the fact that collective bargaining has already done much toward the social welfare of those covered by it, and irrespective of its spectacular development in this respect since one decade or two, it is unquestionably true that, by its very nature and due to the limited degree of its future expansion, such a device presents built-in limitations that one never must lose sight of.

Structural and technical difficulties impose certain limits to the development of collectively bargained social security programs through «private» collective agreements. There must be, for the non-unionized labour force, and to a lesser degree, even for those covered by collective agreements, a specific and decisive intervention of the State in social welfare matters. So long as our industrial relations system remains what it is presently; so long as more than half the labour force stays outside the scope of our «private» collective bargaining institutions; so long as the means of cooperation between organized workers and managements are not improved and enlarged in some institutionalized fashion, it would be pure fancy to pretend that collective bargaining could be the global solution to welfare problems.

Larger and more inclusive schemes of a private or public nature have to be deviced, toward which collective bargaining should normally assume a subsidiary function.