MRO Magazine

2005 strikes and lockouts highest in 15 years (September 20, 2006)

Ottawa, ON -- Canadian businesses and governments in 2005 lost the highest number of workdays to strikes and lockou...


Human Resources

September 20, 2006
By MRO Magazine
MRO Magazine

Ottawa, ON — Canadian businesses and governments in 2005 lost the highest number of workdays to strikes and lockouts in 15 years, according to a new study of trends in work stoppages.

The study, published in the August online edition of Perspectives on Labour and Income, found that labour relations deteriorated at several large employers, resulting in large increases in time lost to work stoppages.

Using data from the Labour Force Survey and information compiled by Human Resources and Social Development Canada, the study examines trends in work stoppages over the past 25 years.

The number of labour disputes that began last year was unchanged from 2004, and only slightly higher than the number in 2002 and 2003. However, the number of workers involved in the disputes, total workdays lost and time-loss ratios all recorded large increases.

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In 2005, an estimated 4.1 million workdays were lost to industrial disputes, nearly 2.5 times the level in 2003 and the highest since 1990 when almost 5.1 million workdays were lost.

An estimated 429,000 workers were involved in 261 work stoppages that began last year, a five-fold jump from only 81,000 in 2003, and the highest level since 1989.

The time-loss ratio (the number of workdays lost per 1,000 employees) enables more meaningful comparisons of annual work-stoppage statistics. In 2005, Canadian firms lost 301 workdays for every 1,000 employees, more than twice the level in 2003 and the highest since 1997.

Even so, the ratio, which controls for the rise in employee numbers, reveals an overall declining trend: from an annual average of 541 workdays lost per 1,000 employees in the 1980s, to 233 in the 1990s, and to 203 in the 2000s.

Some of the increase in workdays lost in the past two years can be attributed to a rise in the number of workers involved (that is, relatively large unions were involved in the recent disputes), and also partly to the long duration of some stoppages. One example would be last year’s prolonged work stoppages involving a few large unions.

Between 2003 and 2005, unions initiated about 84% of the 743 work stoppages, and 87% of the 9.1 million resulting lost workdays; the rest were initiated by employers.

Quebec, the province with the highest union density, posted the largest share of strikes and lockouts (336 or 45%), followed by Ontario (230 or 31%).

Nearly 3 in 10 (29%) of the strikes and lockouts occurred in manufacturing, followed by education, health and social services (21%).

Only 2% occurred in information and cultural industries, but these accounted for almost one-quarter of all workdays lost. A long strike involving a few large unions contributed to the large number of workdays lost in this industry.

Also registering relatively large shares of workdays lost were manufacturing (17%); education, health and social services (16%); and public administration (17%).

Wage disputes were the main reason for about one-half of work stoppages between 2003 and 2005. A lack of faith in the bargaining sincerity of the adversary accounted for about one-third.

Three-quarters of the stoppages ended through agreements reached between the adversaries, with or without third-party assistance. Only a handful ended through a forced court order or legislation, or plant closure.