Weakened economy leads to labour peace in 2009, says Conference Board

Labour peace will reign in the overwhelming majority of negotiations in Canada this year, given the weakness characterizing both labour and management in bargaining, according to the Conference Board of Canada’s Industrial Relations Outlook 2009: Managing Expectations in Uncertain Times.   

The report is based on an industrial relations roundtable discussion that preceded the two recent high-profile strikes at OC Transpo in Ottawa and York University in Toronto-both of which seriously affected their respective communities.

“These two lengthy work stoppages raise concerns about the relevance and effectiveness of the industrial relations system today and its ability to fully take account of all stakeholders’ concerns,” says Prem Benimadhu, vice-president, governance and human resource management. “While most negotiations this year will likely be concluded without work stoppages, the existing adversarial industrial relations system does not meet multiple stakeholders’ concerns.”

For the first time in several decades, both labour and management are entering the bargaining period in a weakened state. Neither side will have an upper hand. Corporations are feeling the adverse effects of the financial crisis and labour has little bargaining clout in such an environment. Unions, therefore, are focusing on sustaining membership.

A new Conference Board survey indicates that increases in the public sector are now projected to be 2.6 per cent, down from the previous forecast of 3.5 per cent. In the private sector, settlements are expected to hover around 2.9 per cent – which is also down from previous forecasts – as management focuses on controlling labour costs. Wage concessions on the part of unions may be part of negotiations this year in some sectors. With large numbers of workers nearing retirement age, pensions are also a key issue for both unions and management.

To read the full version of Industrial Relations Outlook 2009, visit www.conferenceboard.ca.