After years of activism to end discrimination against young workers, the United Steelworkers (USW) is hailing landmark labour law reforms that will prohibit employers from imposing two-tier pension and benefit plans in Quebec workplaces.
Through strikes, lockouts and years of relentless public advocacy and lobbying, thousands of members of the USW (Syndicat des Métallos) in Quebec led the campaign to ban two-tier pensions and benefit and insurance plans in workers’ collective agreements.
“We are very proud to see that the battles led by so many Steelworkers’ members have been successful, not only in terms of their individual collective bargaining agreements, but also in playing a key role in shaping labour law in Quebec,” said Quebec Steelworkers Director Alain Croteau.
Most private-sector labour disputes in recent years have been provoked by attempts of employers to introduce two-tier pension and benefit plans, in which new workers receive substandard benefits compared to existing employees.
“In 2007, USW members at Rio Tinto Fer et Titane in Havre-Saint-Pierre led the way in resisting two-tier pension demands, going on strike for four months rather than give up their defined-benefit pension plan,” Croteau said.
“In 2016, USW members at Ciment Lafarge in Saint-Constant also rejected a two-tier pension plan. They were followed a year later by their fellow USW members at Resco and at Samuel etFils,” he added.
“In addition to these disputes, many, many other workers fought back at the bargaining table to reject employer demands for two-tier pension and benefit plans because such plans put new workers at a disadvantage.”
Croteau’s assistant, Dominic Lemieux, while previously serving as president of the Quebec Labour Federation’s youth wing, worked a decade to build support for a ban on two-tier pensions and benefits.
“This is a tremendous victory that refutes critics who like to imply that the union movement is disconnected from young people,” Lemieux said. “Today, we are seeing the results of a union-led struggle that was fought for young people, for fairness and solidarity in our workplaces.”
USW leaders said they hoped the Quebec government’s labour law reforms would have included transitional measures to resolve two-tier discrepancies that already exist in collective agreements.
“That is an issue still to be addressed,” Croteau said. “We will be asking our bargaining committees to put this issue at the top of their list of demands in future negotiations.”
The USW praised the fact that the labour law reforms also prohibit discrimination against young workers who are hired through temporary recruitment agencies and who fall under other types of employment status.
The new legislative reforms prohibiting two-tier pension and benefit plans come 17 years after the Quebec government enacted labour law amendments in 2001 that banned two-tier wage schemes in collective agreements.