What were the Wartime Labour Relations Regulations (1944)?

Introduction

The Wartime Labour Relations Regulations, adopted by Order in Council P.C. 1003 on 17 February 1944, was a wartime measure introduced during World War II in Canada by the Liberal government of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King.

Background

It was the first in Canada to legally recognise the existence of unions and to force employers to negotiate with organised workers. It was drafted loosely on the American Wagner Act and is considered the framework for union rights in Canada. It was adopted under the War Measures Act, and was extended to cover all workers in Canada through adoption by Acts of all the provincial legislatures. This continued to be in effect until 1948, where the provinces all passed similar legislation within their respective jurisdictions.

The regulations posed both positive and negative consequences for workers and unions alike. Some of the former included:

  • Unions had guaranteed access to financial resources and support through the Rand formula, which required all workers under a union to pay union dues in exchange for a collective bargaining unit.
  • Union density increased dramatically following the end of World War II.
  • Unions were now legally recognized by federal law as a legal means of negotiating work terms and conditions with employers.
  • Workers won the right to share in gains of increased productivity via higher wages and benefits.
  • Promoted a virtuous cycle of production and consumption to produce economic growth based on Keynesian policies.
  • Created a grievance procedure that placed strict limits on management’s ability to treat a worker in an arbitrary manner.

Among adverse consequences there were the following:

  • Grievance procedures shifted power away from unions and collective workers to lawyers and arbitrators.
  • Unions became extremely bureaucratic and less radical.
  • Workers agreed to Fordist/Taylorist working conditions and were expected to participate in increasing productivity.
  • Unions shifted focus away from mobilising and educating their workforce about political affairs and began focusing on policing the workers and acting as a middle-man between workers and employers.
  • Union members became highly separated from the union representatives.
  • Attempts to create and maintain a distinctive working class culture were largely abandoned.
  • Wildcat and sympathy strikes were made illegal, and unionised workers had to follow an orderly fashion to engage in striking which meant no striking during periods of collective bargaining.
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