Accueil » 60-4 ( 2005) » Droits de la personne, relations du travail et défis pour les syndicats contemporains

Droits de la personne, relations du travail et défis pour les syndicats contemporains

Marie-Josée Legault


Les chartes des droits de la personne, les lois protégeant ces mêmes droits et la jurisprudence qu’elles engendrent provoquent des bouleversements dans les milieux de travail régis par le droit des rapports collectifs de travail et dans les règles de fonctionnement syndical. Les cas des femmes intégrant des secteurs d’emploi non traditionnellement féminins par le truchement des programmes d’accès à l’égalité et des associations regroupant les syndiqués contestant les effets des clauses de disparité de traitement sont ici utilisés pour illustrer la profondeur du choc entre les nouvelles règles fondées sur l’équité qu’introduisent les droits de la personne et les règles de l’égalité formelle entre syndiqués qui ont traditionnellement régi le fonctionnement syndical.


Human Rights, Labour Relations and Challenges for Today’s Unions

Since the 1980s, and especially since the 1990s, European and North American researchers have been examining what is referred to as a “crisis” in the labour movement. This “crisis” contrasts with the unity and representative power that seemed to characterize organized labour up until the late 1970s. Local trade unions and union confederations seem to be having more and more difficulty recognizing and aggregating common interests.

This situation is closely linked to the emergence of new factors contributing to the segmentation of labour, which in turn may have the effect of segmenting unionized workers. Some of the sources of segmentation stem from human resource management decisions: promoting flexibility, increasing the number of atypical workers, introducing variable forms of compensation, and the consequent disparities in status and pay. Other sources of segmentation originate in the workers themselves or are appropriated and promoted by them.

Under human rights charters and the case law that results from them, some categories of workers or target groups demonstrate specific interests that are distinct from those of the larger group of unionized workers to which they belong, sometimes to the point of contesting what are regarded as important gains for the union or certain union choices based on majority votes. Two relevant target groups are women hired through affirmative action programs and employees paid according to two-tier wage systems, known as “orphan clauses” in Québec.

This article attempts to show how the demands made by these two target groups are sometimes so distinct from those of the majority in the local union that they affect solidarity and lead to conflicts. These cases raise important questions because they challenge a major political assumption in a unionized setting: that of the formal equality of all union members and the corollary duty of treating them all in the same way and, specifically, of giving them the same weight in collective decision making. Indeed, the demands made by these target groups call into question the whole concept of union democracy, based as it is on the primacy of a majority vote in union meetings.

The charters, on the other hand, incorporate a line of reasoning and promote an approach based on equity with respect to targeted or designated groups. According to this approach, it is sometimes necessary to consider inequality at the point of departure and to treat individuals from different groups differently in order to give them an equal chance to arrive at the finish line, at least until a situation of equality of results has been established.

The primary objective of the trade union movement, historically, has been to fight against competition between individual workers in order to build common cause for dealing with employers who act according to a uniform logic. Unions have therefore tended to downplay socio-professional differences, to deny the existence of generational, sexual and ethnic cultural gaps.

Some researchers have recently highlighted the contrast between organized labour and the new social movements. These new social movements are generally better suited to support the claims of new groups of recruits who have an important identity component: groups of women, young people (the group Force jeunesse in Quebec, for instance, which is known for its opposition to two-tiered wage scales) and people from ethnic communities. The presence of these new groups fosters the development of centrifugal forces within unions that makes it more difficult for them to maintain unity—even though this unity is crucial for achieving union objectives.

The two cases considered in this article share several points in the way they challenge union executive committees: they divide the wage-earning group, increase the number of intra-union conflicts, sometimes lead to a movement to disaffiliate from the union and have recourse to human rights provisions. They also express, and I am only slightly exaggerating here, a new claim for “union citizenship” of marginal workers: women in traditionally male job categories and young people or other victims of two-tiered wage scales in the two cases under investigation. By extension, the same argument could apply to immigrants, persons with disabilities, etc.

As a result, where the strength of organized labour has traditionally been based on the solidarity of the group, it is now seeing its legitimacy challenged by these new categories of workers and is faced with demands for transformative change. Admittedly, the two examples discussed here are taking place in a general context of cost reduction and the negotiation of concessions, which provides an important backdrop to the conflicts under consideration. Nonetheless, deciding who is entitled to a job or where concessions are to be made will necessarily involve tackling the question of equality.


Los derechos de la persona, las relaciones de trabajo y los retos de los sindicatos contemporaneos

Las cartas de derechos de la persona, las leyes que protegen esos mismos derechos y la jurisprudencia que se deriva, están provocando conmociones en los medios de trabajo regidos por el derecho colectivo de trabajo y afectan también las reglas de funcionamiento sindical. El caso de las mujeres que se han integrado a los sectores de empleo tradicionalmente no femeninos con la ayuda de los programas de acceso a la igualdad y el caso de las asociaciones de trabajadores sindicalizados que contestan los efectos de las clausulas « huérfanas », son los dos casos utilizados aquí para ilustrar la intensidad del choque entre las nuevas reglas fundadas sobre la equidad que introducen los derechos de la persona y las reglas de la igualdad formal entre sindicalizados que rigen tradicionalmente el funcionamiento sindical.