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L’expérience d’une Commission conjointe de recherche dans un cas de conversion industrielle

L’expérience d’une Commission conjointe de recherche dans un cas de conversion industrielle

Gérard Dion

Volume : 21-4 (1966)


The Experience of a Joint Research Commission in a Case of Industrial Conversion (Domtar, Windsor, Québec, 1965).

In October 1964, Domtar Pulp and Paper announced a modernization program at the Pulp and Paper Mill it operated at Windsor, Québec. Windsor is a community with about 6,000 people and the Mill is the only plant in the place. Domtar was giving employment to about 1,000 workers, and first estimated that there would be a layoff of 250 workers as a result. Afterwards, this number was reduced to 172. The layoff was to be made gradually, starting at the end of 1965.

In order to avoid as far as possible the sad consequences for the workers involved as well as the negative effects for the economy of the community, under the suggestion of the Manpower Consultative Service of the Department of Labour of Canada and the Department of Labour of Québec, the Company and the Syndicat national agreed to create a Research Commission which would study the problem. The Commission was set up in April 1965 under the chairmanship of a university professor with 3 representatives of the Company and 3 representatives of the Syndicat. The Government of Canada and the Government of Québec also had one observer on the Commission. This one was to report before the 31st of August ; but the period was afterwards extended to the 4th September 1965.

Article 4 of the Agreement between the four parties described the mandate of the Commission :

4. « The research committee shall have the following terms of reference insofar as they relate only to possible lay-off of employees of the Company at Windsor resulting from the modernization of the plant :

(a) The Committee shall meet under the direction of its Chairman

( i ) to adopt rules for the conduct of its meetings and for the general conduct of its activities ;

(ii) to determine the areas and directions of studies to be carried out, and to prepare an estimate of the cost of such studies, and to submit such estimate for approval to the Company and the Syndicate ;

(iii) to conduct approved studies, to identify and evaluate the effects of this modernization on employment with a view to determining what measures can be taken to avoid lay-offs, or what adjustments are required in manpower to meet the impact of such modernization ;

(iv) to review the report of studies carried out and to formulate recommendations based on the findings of such reports ;

(v) to submit reports and recommendations to the Company and the Syndicate based on the review of studies conducted, and

(vi) to forward confidential copies of such reports and recommendations to the Director of Manpower Consultative Service and to the Provincial Minister. »

To carry out the research studies, four researchers were contracted and worked under the direction of the president. The Report of the Commission was ready at the end of August.

The object of this paper is to describe how the research program was performed and to underline the difficulties encountered. A few suggestions will also be presented which were derived from the experience.

The Commission had two purposes : a) to study the possibilities of avoiding or of reducing the number of workers to be laid-off; b) for inevitable lay-offs, to see what could be done to help in matters of placement, reclassification, reorientation, requalification and relocation.

The Commission decided to undertake its research work along the four following lines :

a ) Study of local and regional labour market ;

b ) Study of measures which could be taken in order to reduce the lay-offs ;

c) Study the characteristics of the workers who were to be laid-off in order to facilitate their placement, their reorientation, their reclassification or requalification ;

d) Study of measures which could be taken by the Company, the Government of Canada and the Government of Québec in order to readapt and properly realocate those workers.

The study of the measures which could reduce the number of the lay-offs considered the following hypotheses under the aspect of the number of jobs created and the cost of their application :

a ) Integral application of the 40-hour week ;

b ) Reducing the 40-hour week to 38 hours ;

c) Continual operation at the plant;

d) Continual operation and integral 38-hour week;

e ) Advancing retirement age for employees 60 years and over in 1966 ;

f ) Maintain in employ the 172 workers ;

g ) Improved vacation plan ;

h) Resorption of sub-contracts by the Company.

The conclusion of such a study demonstrated that a set of those measures, without using them all, could be economically applied and would permit continued employment of the 172 workers the Company was to lay-off.

Difficulties in the functionning of the Commission and in the completion of researchers' work were encountered during this experience. They arose from different interacting causes : a ) the ambiguity of the nature of the Commission ; b) the composition of the Commission; c) the shortness of time to perform the task; d) the choice of the subjects to be studied ; e) the obtainment of data necessary for the studies ; f ) the nature of the studies themselves.

The determination of the subjects to be studied was considered differently by the Company representatives and representatives of the Syndicat. The first had a tendency to a certain reticence, while the second wanted the Commission to expand their number. In the beginning, the Company seemed more interested in finding sources of employment while the Syndicat insisted more on the reduction of the lay-offs. As the members of the Commission representing the Company and the Syndicat were the same who used to meet at the bargaining table for collective bargaining, they carried at the Commission their bargaining complex and had a tendency to consider the problems thinking always, on one hand, to managerial prerogatives and, on the other hand, to the discovering of weapons for the negociation of the next contract. Both also were hesitant to accept the disclosure of the list of projected workers to be laid-off and, at the end, imposed the researchers to use it as a confidential matter, which increased unnecessarily the difficulty of their task.

On account of the shortness of the time and the scope of the task, the Commission was obliged to proceed according to a method which eliminated the maximum of risks to the workers and which could lead to any eventuality, that is considering all hypotheses at the same time. Normally, in fact, during the first stage of research, the Commission should have started by exploring all the possibilities of reducing the number of lay-offs proposed by Domtar following plant modernization, and wait for the decisions taken by those interested. Once assured the certain and inevitable lay-offs, the second stage of research should have been to study the work market able to absorbe this laid-off work-force, and the charact-eristics particular to the same work-force for placement and requalification all the while exploring measures that could be taken by public authorities to favour placement and requalification. This would have been the ideal situation. In fact, however, at Windsor, all the studies had to be undertaken simultaneously. This meant that there had to be a number of procedures which served only to delay and complicate results which might have been more easily forthcoming.

In spite of the inexperience of the Commission and of the researchers, in this area, the results were nonetheless very valuable. What will be the future of commissions of this kind ?

The Federal Government and the Government of Québec are now setting up permanent bodies with specialized staff which are intended to dispense systematic services in the manpower field and to deal with the ever increasing cases of industrial conversion. There is no doubt about their necessity. Only a governmental organization can carry out properly extensive and up-to-date studies of the labour-market. And it is also the role of the government to supply all the services in order to take care of the manpower problems in matters of placement, reclassification, requalification and relocation.

Nevertheless, the Domtar experience at Windsor suggests that an AD HOC commission in cases of plantshutting as well as of industrial conversion has a place and may play a unique role, although more restricted. For exploring and studying means in order of resorbing manpower, it is not quite likely many companies will be ready to let government people do the research. But, if we want those commissions to be very efficient, I submit that the following conditions should be satisfied :

a) the workers to be laid-off should be advised of this possibility six months in advance;

b) Company and Union representatives on a research commission should be people in authority and not the same who meet at the bargaining table. Their number should not be more than two for each party ;

c) the chairman who is responsible for the performing of research should have more power and have the last word in the determination of research subjects ;

d) the duration of the commission's mandate should be long enough in order to facilitate the organization of the research according to a logical sequence and also to leave the chairman play a conciliation role in the measures to be adopted when the researches have been completed ;

e) in no way, should a research commission take the place of governmental manpower services, but it should operate in conjunction with them and receive cooperation from them.