Accueil » 31-4 ( 1976) » La législation québécoise en matière de relations du travail : 1968-1976

La législation québécoise en matière de relations du travail : 1968-1976

Jean Bernier

Résumé

C'est en regroupant ses commentaires sous quatre titres, le régime fondamental des relations du travail, les relations du travail dans l'industrie de la construction, les secteurs public et para-public et les régimes particuliers qui n'ont pas connu des modifications significatives, que l'auteur tente d'établir brièvement une sorte de constat de la situation en regard du contexte plus global des rapports collectifs du travail au Québec.

Abstract

Current Status of Labour Legislation in Québec : 1968-1976

To make an assessment of the legislation concerning industrial relations in Québec in the past few years represents a gigantic task. Indeed the number of bills which have been presented to the National Assembly lately is really impressive.

Almost ail aspects of labour have been touched as well in the private as in the public sector, as well in the construction industry as in mining or public transportation. We find legislative action on matters as varied as: democratic union practices, employers association, collective bargaining, grievance arbitration, disputes settlement, industrial desease compensation, training and qualification, etc.

We must say also that certain fields have not been modified significantly for numerous years: namely minimum working conditions and the juridical extension of collective agreements. Let us add also that a few bills, some of them considered as important, have never gone further than first reading at the National Assembly.

You will understand easily that facing such an impressive mass of bills and statutes,it is out of question to undertake here the analysis and examination of every pièce of this real puzzle.

I will limit myself to legislation concerning labour relations (leaving aside: training, worksmen compensation, etc) and my comments are grouped under four titles: the basic regime of labour relations, the construction industry, the public sector and some other particular regimes which have not been significantly modified. After a short exposé of the legislative effort (or the absence of it) in each of these fields, I will try to give some second thoughts with regard to the larger context of labour and industrial relations in Québec.

The effort of partial consolidation of many statutes related to labour made in 1964 and 1965 in what has been called the Labour Code (1) was followed by a quiet period of four or five years at the legislative level so that the period examined here in fact focuses, except for a few cases, on the period 1968-1969 and today.

THE BASIC RÉGIME

The basic regime defined in the Labour Code has shown proof of remarkable stability. As far as its general economy is concerned, this regime is highly similar to those in force elsewhere in Canada.

With the exception of some amendments adopted in 1969 (2), to abolish the Labour Relations Board and to replace it by investigation commissionners appointed by the Department of Labour and Manpower and to create the Labour Court, it has remained unchanged.

One must note however that an important project of modification to this Labour Code has been submitted to the National Assembly almost every year since 1974 but never went beyong the stage of the first reading. The preparation of this bill no. 24 (3) had gone through a hole series of consultations among the representatives of the social partners, particularly at the level of the Québec Advisory Council of Labour and Manpower.

This bill contains provisions dealing with many aspects of the basic regime of labour relations, namely: the right of association; the collective bargaining process: making conciliation optional ; grievance arbitration in increasing the powers of the arbitrators. It has also a complete new section devoted to the language issue: enforcing the use of French in collective bargaining, disputes settlement and arbitration of grievances « unless the certified association indicates its wish to use English ».

For unknown reasons, this longtime expected bill has never been discussed at the National Assembly nor in Parlimentary commission.

LABOUR RELATIONS IN THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY

As far as the construction industry is concerned, the situation is far different.

Because of the features of this industry, the Québec Legislator has taken this sector away from the Labour Code in 1968 to have it governed by a specific law. It has been the Construction Industry Labour Relations Act (4) of 1968 which established industry wide bargaining at the provincial level and enforced plural unionism at the bargaining table.

We know also that there has never been a collective agreement legally signed in this industry since then — and this, up to date. The first round of negociations in 1970 ended up with back to work legislation (5) and at the following round in 1973, Bill 9 (6) made retroactively legal an « illegal » contract signed by unions affiliated to QFL and some, but not all, employers associations.

Also, in december 1974, by Bill 201 (7) the government obtained power to modify unilateraly the terms of the agreements signed by the parties, in order to settle disputes arising from union demands relating to wage indexation to the increasing cost of living.

This period was characterized by numerous acts of violence, the climax of which being the riot at the James Bay site in March 1974. This was followed by the creation of the Cliché Inquiry Commission on the « exercice de la liberté syndicale dans l'industrie de la construction ».

The Report of the Commission (8) was followed by series of legislative measures implementing most of the Cliché Commission recommendations and contained in four bills: creation of the « Office de la construction du Québec, » « entrusted with the carrying out of the collective agreement or the decree adopted under the Act ; » creation of a Joint Committee having charge of deciding any dispute respecting the interpretation of the collective agreement or the decree; establishment of a secret ballot for the determination of the representative associations and for the joining of the workers to such associations ; continuation of industry wide bargaining at the province level as well as of the juridicial extension of the agreement ; limits of the number and powers of job site stewarts ; obligation for non-incorporated unions established in Québec to file at the Office a declaration complying with minimum standards defined in the law in relation with some democratic union practices (9) ; disqualification of persons found guilty of some criminal acts from acting as union representatives or executives (10); placing of three unions under trusteeship and prolongation of trusteeship in the case of two other unions (11); establishment of the « Régie des entreprises de construction du Québec » having charge to protect the public against bankruptcies and to assure that contractors are financially sound and technically and administratively capable (12).

If one consider this long list of topics on which the legislator has focused, one might have the impression that nothing has been spared to insure the existence of a new juridicial framework well adapted to this sector. Some may be in disagreement with certain types of measures: for instance, one might find irrealistic the obligation made to employers to all belong to the same association when the law maintains union plurality on the workers' side; one might consider clearly anti-union certain provisions related to job site stewarts, to democratic practices or to union leaders having a criminal file; one might criticised the rules concerning the calculation of the degree of representativity of workers' associations. Nevertheless, this series of new provisions constitute a through revision of the juridicial framework in force in this sector.

But there is one point which has not been directly dealt with by the legislator, and which, in my opinion, is the hard core of the problems arisen in this industry in the past few years: it is the freedom of association in relation with hiring procedures in a context of compulsory unionisation when associations are in competition to share the membership of construction workers. The Cliché Commission had recommended the abolition of union hiring halls to have them replaced by a public placement agency (13).

The legislator prefered not to tackle this problem directly: it has mandated the Office de la construction du Québec which must (not later than July 1., 1976) make anyregulation which shall provide with respects to these hiring halls any measure, including their regulation, their abolition or their replacement by a System controlled by the Office (14).

Personnally, I believe that this is the corner-stone of the whole reform undertaken in this sector. In fact, it is only in the light of the decisions made by the Office in these matters and after an examination of their implementation that it will be possible to evaluate the chances of success of more freedom for the workers in this industry.

With respect to other aspects, it would be at least premature to make a global judgment, the negociations for the conclusion of a first collective agreement being now in progress.

However there is place for some remarks on specific points : because of the new secret ballot created by the Act, the last « raiding » period in the fall of 1975 was really peacefull; the sole association of employers could hardly give itself the structures it needed and the government had to create it by order in council ; many questions have arisen and continue to be asked on the real efficiency of the trusteeship imposed to some unions; finally, it remains that despite all the provisions the Act puts forward in relation with collective bargaining, this new legislation on labour relations in the construction industry leaves an opened door to increase state regulation of working conditions according to the provisions of Bill 201 of December 1974 which have been incorporated in the Act of June 27, 1975 (15).

3 — THE PUBLIC SECTOR

In the public sector on the other hand, the Québec legislator had shown a certain sense of innovation in 1964 and 1965 when he recognised to the public employees the same rights of association, collective bargaining and strike the workers of the private sector had already obtained.

In this respect, the regime of labour relations between the State and his employees was becoming the more liberal in Canada.

Experience has showed that despite the generous intentions of the legislator at this time it was a mistake to believe that a framework which had been conceived and built for the private sector could as easily be transposed to the public sector.

Just remember these numerous and long strikes Québec had to cope with, the events of 1972 which led some union leaders to a one year emprisonment and, more recently, civil desobedience.

Let's mention that since 1965, not less than thirteen back to work laws were adopted, eleven of them with respect to public services, the other two in the construction industry (16).

Recent events show evidence that the parties, the State as an employer and the unions, do not accept anymore, have they ever, the set of rules defining the collective bargaining System in that sector.

This is a topic of great concern on which we will come back later on.

4 — THE FORGOTTEN AREAS

I would like to draw your attention on two fields from which legislative action has been dramatically absent for many years: the minimum working conditions and the juridicial extension of collective agreements.

Indeed, while other provinces and other countries were enlarging the concept of minimum wage to cover other conditions of employment such as maternity leave, advance notice, severance pay and some others (17), the Québec law (18) sticks to the basic concept of minimum wage with its usual complement (days of work and paid holidays) without forgetting the very efficient clout $10.00 fines may insure.

As far as the European inspired juridicial extension of collective agreements is concerned, in force in Québec since 1934 (19), two years before France, this juridicial technique had given rise to interest in many unions and employers associations during three full decades. It permitted also a lot of workers who could not have achieved it otherwise to profit from the collective bargaining System.

But instead of giving a new look at this mecanism which has proven useful in many countries and which has been for a long time an original feature of the Québec System in North America, it seems that it has fallen into obsolescence in such way that the number of extended agreements has decreased by half from 106 that it was in 1964 and most of the workers concerned falling under minimum wage ordinances.

CONCLUSION

But from this rapid guided tour, it comes out that since the adoption of the Labour Code in 1964, the interventions of the Québec legislator, as numerous as they are, have been more often than otherwise piecework legislation, aiming at coping with situations considered as urgent, except perhaps in the construction industry. But even there, isn't after a year inquiry by a Commission that the government decided to proceed.

Shall we consider as normal this new way of managing industrial conflict with piecework legislation?

Despite the evolution of the Québec labor movement in the recent years, we do not find on the government side the expression of a coherent and articulated policy in the field of industrial relations. Furthermore, there is no unity in the legislative action, each Department taking in turn the initiative of introducing its own labour bills depending on the needs of the moment.

Even if the situation is far from being as bad in the private sector as it is in the public sector, their is evidence that the legal framework badly needs to be reviewed.

But I do not believe, at this time, that a unilateral action from the part of the State has great chance to be successful.

Considering the evolution of the labor movement as well at the ideological level as at the level of a more radical action, we must note that the ideological consensus which Dunlop (20) was refering to and which has a binding effect on the industrial relations System is becoming something of the past.

It is more reasonable to believe that the labor movement will emphasize its political action, will try by all means to challenge the economic and social order andwill continue to propose some models of social organization which coincide better with the interests and aspirations of the working class.

And the future of collective bargaining ?

Although we must take into account some differences between the private and the public sector, collective bargaining will continue to function as far as the social partners will be able to achieve a minimum of concensus over the new rules of the game.

In this respect, one should not be surprised to see the Québec industrial relations Systems tend towards some European types of models not only as far as the political action of unions is concerned but also at the level of labour relations.

1See footnotes in French version.