Analysis: Canadian labor under fire as costs weigh

Tue Jan 10, 2012 7:08am EST
 
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By Allison Martell and Nicole Mordant

TORONTO/VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian labor relations are getting ugly as companies look to cut costs inflated by a strong Canadian dollar and workers seek to reap rewards from a relatively strong domestic economy.

The battle is in focus thanks to two high-profile lockouts by companies seeking concessions, including pay cuts, from unionized workers. It will broaden once talks start later this year in the auto sector as it extends its recovery from the 2009 bankruptcies of two of the U.S. Big Three automakers, with the potential for more disputes.

"I think it's noteworthy the two high-profile cases we've got are both lockouts," said labor relations consultant David Shepherdson, author of a November Conference Board of Canada report on labor disputes.

Describing lockouts as a "relatively rare event" and an indication of how serious management is about controlling costs, he added: "It is a signal I believe of what we may see more of, and if in fact that plays out, it is a significant change."

Canada's Conservative government, for its part, has gone to unusual lengths to stop or prevent strikes at Canada Post and Air Canada, a pattern that could further embolden employers.

A ROCKY START

The lockouts that started the year are in Canada's manufacturing heartland of Ontario and in typically union-friendly Quebec.

Caterpillar Inc's Electro-Motive subsidiary locked out some 450 locomotive manufacturing workers in London, Ontario, on January 1 after the Canadian Auto Workers rejected a contract proposal that included pay and benefit cuts that the unions pegs at C$65,000 ($63,300) in concessions per member.   Continued...

 
<p>Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) members stand in front of a Canada Post sorting facility in Toronto, June 15, 2011. REUTERS/Mark Blinch</p>