Accueil » 51-1 ( 1996) » Modes de rénumération et structures de salaire au Québec (1980-1992)

Modes de rénumération et structures de salaire au Québec (1980-1992)

Gilles Ferland


Cet article vise à appréhender la réalité québécoise en matière d'évolution des modes de rémunération et des structures de salaire négociés par les syndicats et les employeurs en mettant en évidence les changements qui se sont produits dans les conventions collectives depuis 1980.


This article examines the evolution of compensation and wage structures in unionized Quebec workplaces. Drawing on a study of 200 collective agreements, the article investigates changes to wage and compensation clauses since 1980. Assuming that employers in unionized settings are looking for ways of increasing financial and functional flexibility, the author puts forward three hypotheses :

1- Financial (pay) flexibility induces union-management bargaining over compensation Systems. Compensation moves away from seniority-based determination and towards individualized pattems based on organizational performance.

2- Financial flexibility also accelerates bargaining over wage determination and progression structures, the costs of which are spread over longer periods of time than previously.

3- Functional flexibility promotes negotiation and review of wage structures with a decline in salary grades and in employment levels.

The author concludes that financial flexibility has not led to bargaining over compensation Systems. To the contrary, wage structures are remarkably stable and only rarely are individual financial incentives agreed upon and made part of collective agreements. Moreover, wages remain tied to specifie job contents rather than to individual abilities, performance and know-how. Collective bargaining over wages in Quebec thus remains within the scientific management model and has not moved towards a humanistic vision of work, still less towards strategie compensation.

Many factors explain these conclusions. On the one hand, the research hypothesis rests on the postulate that employers are pursuing organizational flexibility as a means to remain competitive. This may, however, not be the case for unionized segments of the workforce. Consequently, we would not find financial flexibility structures in collective agreements.

On the other hand, Quebec unions have strategies in this regard which may prevent the growth of flexibility clauses in collective agreements. The two major labour organizations in the province, the CSN and the FTQ, have clear policies over workplace flexibility. Both favour wage structures tied to job definition and content rather than to the attributes of individual workers. Such a strategy is consistent with rules designed for tightly defined jobs supported by the seniority principle for progression in wage scales. In short, union strategy remains wedded the goal of wage security and Quebec unions appear more willing to accept a decline in real wages than to support changes to the structure of wage determination.

These findings suggest a tendency for unions and management to change wage scales in such a way that the cost of compensation is spread over a longer period of time than previously. Employers' obvious rationale is to lower labour costs in the short and in the long term. In those workplaces where wage and compensation structures have been the object of review by the parties, these do not seem to be part of a process of increasing functional flexibility. Job enlargement and multiskilling are not part of the redesign of salary structures. The author finds little evidence of change in the number of occupational and job classifications. Rules setting boundaries between tasks and barriers between trades remain dominant features of Quebec collective agreements. The author points out two limitations of this study. First, the analysis is restricted to those collective agreements registered with the Bureau du Commissaire general du travall and thus excludes flexible arrangements made by the parties outside the realm of collective bargaining (functional, gain-sharing, profit-sharing, so on). Second, the sample of agreements excludes workplaces for which no collective agreement existed in 1980.

First collective agreements concluded in the last 3 or 6 years may include such financial and functional flexibility provisions. A study of these union management agreements could best measure if age-history of collective relationships is a significant determinant of changes in work rules towards more flexibility.