Labour minister touts new replacement worker legislation during stop in Windsor

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The federal labour minister is stressing the need for getting deals done at the bargaining table as he touts the government's new replacement worker legislation.

Minister Seamus O'Regan spoke in Windsor Tuesday during a town hall meeting at the Unifor union hall on Turner Road.

O'Regan says if there is no other place to do a deal other than the negotiating table, then people will focus all their energy on the negotiating table.

"Not carting out people on TV, telling the minister that the federal government needs to do something, wink wink, nod nod. Which means back-to-work legislation. Focus on the table and get the deal done," he says.

The bill, entitled "An Act to amend the Canada Labour Code and the Canada Industrial Relations Board Regulations, 2012", proposes to ban the use of replacement workers during lockouts or strikes in federally regulated workplaces, such as airports, ports and the telecommunications sector.

The legislation will cover approximately one million employees, working for approximately 22,350 employers.

Once law, any contravention from federal employers could be punishable by a fine of up to $100,000 per day. 

The Liberals initially promised to bar employers from using such workers during lockouts, and they expanded the policy to cover strikes as part of a supply-and-confidence agreement with the NDP.

O'Regan says a mature and reasonable way is for unions and employers to demand what they need at the negotiating table and it shouldn't come with all sorts of disruptions.

"I don't think instability, I don't think lockouts, I don't think strikes, I don't think back-to-work legislation, I don't think any of that improves any stability or uncertainty in the economy," he says.

O'Regan says unions and workers in this country hold a lot of sway right now and they've had enough of replacement workers.

"We put it in as part of our platform we ran in the last election, so did the NDP. Now that we have an agreement together, we reinforced it and now we're introducing that legislation. But that came from somewhere, it came from unions right across this country and they do hold a lot of sway at the moment. Workers in this country hold a lot of sway, we're in the tightest labour market in Canadian history," he adds.

Several dozen people took part in the town hall which was also attended by Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy and Windsor-Tecumseh Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk.

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Windsor-Tecumseh Liberal MP Irek Kusmierczyk, Labour Minister Seamus O'Regan and Unifor Local 444 President Dave Cassidy speak ahead of a town hall meeting at the Unifor union hall in Windsor. Nov. 15, 2023 (Photo: Rusty Thomson)

Jason McMichael, Government Relations with the Liuna (Labourers International Union of North America), spoke at the town hall and says this is legislation they've been waiting for for a lifetime.

"Those of us in the labour movement have been looking for something like this as long as we've been representing workers and it's a great first step. A rising tide lifts all ships and this is a great first step in recognizing the collective bargaining rights of workers," he says.

McMichael calls the legislation a great first step.

There have absolutely been hundreds of examples throughout the years where replacement workers have hindered the rights, the collective bargaining rights of workers and this is a great first step in stopping that,' he says.

Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet on Tuesday challenged the federal Liberals to do away with a clause in their bill banning replacement workers that would cause the law take effect after an 18-month waiting period.

The Bloc, which has the third-highest number of seats in the minority Parliament after the official Opposition Conservatives, say the Liberals should work to pass the legislation before the holidays.

With files from the Canadian Press and CTV News