Fraser Forum

‘Scab’ ban proposal makes some workers more equal than others

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Proponents of the Anti-Scab Bill (C-234), recently introduced in Parliament by Quebec MP Karine Trudel, NDP deputy labour critic, would have you believe that to "protect workers" we need to ban replacement workers. In other words, some workers matter and others do not.

The tribalism inherent in this ban, pending for federally regulated industries, is made clear by its popularized name. "Scab," the union-speak pejorative for new and temporary hires, is bandied about to demonize outsiders—those who dare to compete against insiders in the labour market.

Trudel, her party, and the Canadian Union of Public Employees attempt to justify this policy on two grounds: (1) to level the playing field with employers and (2) to incentivize "fewer and shorter strikes and lockouts."

The first is patently false, and the second has proved incorrect at the provincial level.

If workers can cease their activities and use the force of government to prohibit replacements, they can violate freedom of association and property rights, and have tilted the playing field. They can close down an operation, particularly a small one without the resources to reallocate, and displace the owners and managers, who have one hand tied behind their back.

Such a lopsided situation with the allure of unnatural bargaining power is precisely why this law would encourage more and longer strikes. Quebec has had a ban on replacements since 1978, and the proof is in the pudding. As reported by the Montreal Economic Institute, comparing across U.S. and Canadian data, localities with the prohibition have seen strikes of 59 per cent longer duration with 12 percentage-points higher frequency.

Unions become more powerful from a ban on replacements, and insiders may indeed see higher wages—hence their lobbying for the bill. However, the long-run effect is a loss for workers, firms, and economic development across the board. That is because such laws do nothing to raise productivity, so the higher labour costs and more frequent disputes frighten away prospective investment and hiring and contribute to a rising price level.

Under the light of day, that is the proposal on the table: a special privilege for unions and union members at the expense of everyone else, particularly job-seekers. To rub salt into the wound, proponents tout how the privilege will lead to less violence against replacements. They seem to believe that their tactics of physical intimidation merit concessions, rather than condemnation and legitimate security intervention from the state.


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