Employment Law

What legal rights do striking workers have in Canada?

Under the National Labor Relations Board in the US, their website clearly states that “employees shall have the right…to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.

Under the National Labor Relations Board in the US, their website clearly states that “employees shall have the right…to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. Strikes are included among the concerted activities protected for employees.” The Right to Strike | National Labor Relations Board (nlrb.gov).  However, limitations and qualifications are placed on the exercise of that right.  Unlike our country, in the US, Canada has its own regulations that requires its citizens to pay particular attention to as collective bargaining framework. 

As a sidenote, a collective bargaining framework is a specific structure set up for a negotiation process. The specifics of a negotiation are clearly defined and all details are studied from all angles before the process commences.

A strike or lockout is a valid part of the collective bargaining process. “The Canada Labour Code recognizes that employees can lawfully engage in a strike against employers, and employers can lawfully lock out their employees in an effort to compel or persuade ‘the other side’ to agree to terms and conditions of employment, provided they do so in accordance with the provisions of the Code.” 

This is taken directly from No. 06–Unlawful Strikes and Lockouts —Information Circular – Canada Industrial Relations Board (cirb-ccri.gc.ca) – the Canada Industrial Relations Board. Strikes are defined in detail as either the ceasing, refusal to or continue to work by employees in accordance with a common understanding of slowing down, restricting or limiting work output. On the other hand, lockouts are defined as the closing of a place of employment, suspension or refusal of work by an employer to continue employing a number of employees. 

Under the Canadian Industrial Relations Board, both “a strike and lockout are unlawful at any time if there is no union, where there is a union and the requirements of the Code in acquiring the right to lockout or strike have not been met.” To further illustrate, examples of an unlawful strikes or lockouts are:

  • A strike by employees who are looking to obtain recognition of their collective bargaining rights through their employer. 
  • Either a strike or lockout arising from frustration with the efficiency of collective bargaining.
  • It may not necessarily involve employees walking off the job
  • A ban or refusal to work overtime
  • Refusal to handle hot goods while not provided for in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA)
  • Refusal to cross the line of another trade union

Are there appropriate preventative measures for a strike or lockout? If so, what are they?

While there are no set rules to prevent a strike or lockout, it is helpful to be familiar with a few aspects that can definitely assist you or any business if one is inevitable. 

Make sure you or your business are prepared financially. If you think a strike or lockout is around the corner, start budgeting accordingly and plan out your finances. Start by saving as much money as you can- avoid making any unnecessary major purchases. Reach out to creditors and advise them of the possibility of a strike or lockout. Look to renegotiate any loans over a longer period of time. This will eliminate immediate costs. 

Medical coverage is a big one. Research your medical benefits to find out if services are continued while on strike or lockout. It is extremely important that you do not wait until you are out of medicine or you are experiencing other issues before getting in touch with your contacts like doctors or a local union representative.

Consider the following from UFCW Canada Strike and Lockout Guide for Members:

  • Cut back on unnecessary purchases
  • Stock up on non-perishable food items
  • Lookout for coupons
  • Buy bulk

If you have a family, or children in child care contact them as soon as possible and inform them of a potential or impending strike or lockout. You can always check to see about reducing payments, making up payments after the strike or lockout, or even suspend the services and find an alternative

Always be upfront and communicate effectively because you help yourself benefit in the long run. Keep a clear mind and know that it will not last forever, there will still be food and a place to live for the time being. 

You will have to accept the fact that there may not be enough money to buy whatever you want before the strike or lockout. Obviously, you should use good judgment to make the call as to whether or not you involve and or explain to your children. Again, that depends greatly on their age and level of maturity. Lean on your spouse, family members, and friends to help you get through the tough times. Strikes and lockouts sometimes just happen and you can look at it as a learning lesson to prioritize other areas of your life that matter.


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