Removing the right to strike will not stop strikes – new CCPA study

October 18, 2007

HALIFAX – Nova Scotia’s proposed legislation to end the right to strike in health care and community services will not likely reduce strike activity in these sectors. Moreover, the move may have unintended consequences, according to a study released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“A Tale of Two Provinces” examines the notion that outlawing strikes will eliminate strikes and decrease labour conflict. The study is the first of three reports. The second focuses on whether strikes are as harmful as the government contends and canvasses emergency services agreements. The third evaluates binding arbitration as a solution.

In making its strike-ban case the government attempts to show that strikes are numerous, disruptive, intolerable and must be stopped. But according to the report authors, Judy and Larry Haiven (Sobey School of Business, Saint Mary’s University) the government’s arguments are misleading.

Larry Haiven argues that, “the minister doesn’t provide any evidence to support his claim that a strike ban will cut labour stoppages. In fact, the evidence points the other way.” According to the authors, “Nova Scotians need to look at the experience of other provinces.”

“A Tale of Two Provinces” reviews that experience, especially in Alberta where acute care strikes were banned 24 years ago. According to Judy Haiven, “The data presents an inescapable conclusion -- strikes happen whether workers have the legislative right to strike or not. If the government’s purpose is to reduce disruption, they’re going about it the wrong way.”

Since 1983, even adjusted for population differences, time lost in Alberta acute care, where strikes are illegal, was 15 times higher than in Nova Scotia, where strikes are legal. “Not only does the removal of the right to strike not guarantee that strikes will stop,” says Judy Haiven, “It may also have an unintended consequence -- strike activity could increase.”

The report also looks at several other provinces and sectors. Ontario has had tumultuous illegal strikes in health care. Quebec nurses have struck illegally several times, including Canada’s longest nurses’ strike. In British Columbia 42,000 teachers defied no-strike legislation for sixteen days in 2005 and thousands of others walked out in sympathy.

The authors recommend that Nova Scotia treat the problem of labour relations in health care with the patience it deserves. “In a province where health care resources are stretched,” says Larry Haiven, “there is no quick fix. There is no better alternative to free collective bargaining. And in the end, it contributes to less conflict and better outcomes.”

For more information or to arrange an interview, please contact John Jacobs at 902-477-1252.

“A Tale of Two Provinces” is available at

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