Essay: Why You Should Not Work by Berkan Altun

Working in the twenty-first century could be useless and unproductive for life goals unless you learn to work less and strike more. Increased overseas production – also known as globalization – is an issue that is becoming popular due to the increasing number of global emerging arrangements between countries.  Global agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are making overseas production/service cheaper and easier for companies thus, intensifying workers’ job insecurity, less promotion opportunity, and dangerous workplace environments among domestic workers.  Therefore, union membership is ideal in order to reduce the impact of globalization.

Public sector union membership reached over 2.5 million people – a gain of about 40% since 1998[1]- because unions have a better way of representing individuals than individuals alone.  What happens when these unions cannot come into an agreement with the employer? Workplaces often change for the worse when companies have greater access to cheaper overseas production, but union membership can help alleviate the impact on workers locally.  By looking at strike group size, the legal grounds to collectively strike, and steps to engaging in a lawful strike, employees can increase their wages and improve workplace safety, and work benefits.

The story of the American based company, Union Carbide, is used for illustration. The company’s plant expansion in Bhopal, India seemed as if it was a great idea because of the cheap labour and increased profits to be made for the company executives and shareholders.  After looking to decrease operational costs after the first year of operation, the company cut back on its number of employees, making the current ones work overtime in dangerous situations.  One night, when the company’s security systems failed to recognize a threat, dangerous chemicals mixed together causing a deadly gas to leak into the air exposing over 600,000 people.  The company interest to create profits not only led to the death of tens of thousands of people by failing to check security systems, but it also robbed the jobs of thousands of workers domestically.  When the big pesticide company (Union Carbide) moved its production plant overseas, economic consequences for the domestic country arose, negatively impacting its economy and increasing the number of people who were unemployed.  However, if Union Carbide members were unionized and organized strikes to improve worker conditions, the economic cutback causing dangerous work environments could have been avoided.

Changes specific to the Union Carbide incident that striking would have helped is increase the safety in the plant.  Firstly, more workers employed with the company would allow shorter work duration therefore, reducing fatigue among workers.  Secondly, safety training would allow workers to better handle crisis situations and increase workplace safety.  Sociological research regarding strikes provides useful guidance on how to most effectively strike.

Strategies of Striking

First, it will be useful to explain the two strategies to striking: proactive and reactive.  Proactive strikes aim to achieve higher wages and/or better working conditions[2].  This type includes everything from shorter working hours, safer work environment, and parental leave.  Reactive strikes seek to prevent loss of wages and/or deterioration of working conditions[3].  Naturally, people are inclined to fight material loss more passionately than they do material gain because the experience of loss is more powerful[4].  In order to improve working conditions and work benefits, (such as wage and a safer working environment) the Indian Union Carbide workers should have held a proactive strike to increase workplace safety.  We can use this situation and apply it domestically in Ontario.

Group Size

When striking, research found that larger groups were more advantageous for short duration strikes however, small groups were longer in length and more advantageous when strikers had specific goals in mind[5]. For example, large groups put more financial pressure on the employer because of the large number of employees who are not working at a time.  However, large groups also settle faster because of the diverse group and not being able to align all group members’ goals with the whole groups’.  Bigger bargaining groups have a harder time establishing solidarity among the group because of the large amount of people from different racial backgrounds and financial needs.  In contrast, small groups have longer strikes which is related to a greater commitment by employees[6].  Secondly, small groups have greater group solidarity and cohesion which allows group members to align the goals of other members and continue to strike until the desired outcome is reached.

Legal Grounds to Protest

Under the Labour Relations Act, 1995, it is legal to strike when the union agreement has expired with the employer and a new agreement has not been reached[7].  Certain service sectors have the ability to strike under the Labour Relations Act, 1995. Other sectors do not because of being governed under different laws.  More specifically, Ontario’s no-strike sectors are police, the fire, and health care[8]. For example, health care sectors have a more traditional no-strike collective agreement, with formal bargaining procedures and penalties for strikes in order to prevent such action. This is important to be aware of because if you are a part of these sectors, financial and/or physical penalties can occur.

Employers Rights

When planning to strike, it is as important to be aware of the employer’s rights as much as it is important to be aware of your own.  Imagine a peaceful strike occurring, then all of a sudden, the strikers become aggravated because they witness new employees entering the building.  If you were engaging in a strike and thought that new employees were there to take your job, you would probably get angry.  Some people may even get violent and cause the police to be called.  This could have all been avoided if the strikers knew the rights of the employees.

To explain, in Ontario, employers have the right to hire temporary workers to fulfill some or all of the functions of workers who are engaged in a legal strike or have been locked-out by the employer[9].  This is important because it is the employer’s right to have replacement workers to temporarily fulfill the role of the employees locked-out.  The most significant word is “temporarily” because it is unlawful for the employer to discriminate against the employee for exercising any rights under the LRA.  This means that the employer cannot discriminate against the striker for engaging in lawful protest and is required to allow the worker back to work when an agreement is reached or six months after the start of the strike[10].  With this in mind, a peaceful strike can occur and unlawful assembly can be avoided.

Steps to Engaging in Lawful Protest

During the strike however, no actions of unlawful assembly can occur.  Unlawful assembly is defined by the Canadian Criminal Code, 1985 as an assembly of three or more persons with desire to carry out any common purpose in a manner as to cause persons in the neighbourhood to fear that they will disturb the peace[11].  Secondly, the Criminal Code states that everyone who is a member of an unlawful assembly is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction[12].  This means that individuals who intend to carry out any common purpose assemble in a way that they portray themselves as possibly causing fear, disturbing the peace, and provoking others to disturb the peace, will be considered unlawful assembly.  This is important because individuals who are aware of the laws around assembly will be safe when striking and avoid fines or jail time.

There is no doubt that public sector unions are increasing in size[13]. Between 1998 and 2013, the rise in membership was 67% for the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), 8% for the National Union of Public and General Employees and 32% for the Public Service Alliance of Canada[14]. The increased membership leads to increased power among unions to be able to organize strikes and get their members better outcomes.  Globalization is a phenomenon that has been increasing the strain on employees causing less promotion opportunities, job insecurity, and less wage increases. Strikes and union membership is encouraged because the increase in growth of public sector unions promotes better representation of their members and better strategies to target the impact of globalization.



Brym, Robert, Louise Birdsell Bauer, and Mitch McIvor. 2013. “Is Industrial Unrest Reviving in Canada? Strike Duration in the Early Twenty-First Century.” Canadian Review of Sociology50(2):227-238.

Campolieti, Michele, Robert Hebdon and Douglas Hyatt. 2005. "Strike Incidence and Strike Duration: Some New Evidence from Ontario." Industrial & Labor Relations Review 58(4):610-630.

Criminal Code. 2017. Unlawful Assemblies and Riots. Government of Canada. December.

Hebdon, Robert P. and Robert N. Stern. 1998. “Tradeoffs Among Expressions of Industrial Conflict: Public Sector Strike Bans and Grievance Arbitrations.” Industrial and Labour Relations Review51(2):204-221.

Labour Relations Act. 2011. Strike and Lock-out. Ontario Ministry of Labour. November.

Rose, Joseph B. 2016. “Constraints on Public Sector Bargaining in Canada”. Journal of Industrial Relations 58(1):93-110.




[1]Rose (2016)

[2]Brym, Birdsell Bauer, and McIvor (2013)

[3]Brym, Birdsell Bauer, and McIvor (2013)

[4]Brym, Birdsell Bauer, and McIvor (2013)

[5]Campolieti, Hebdon, and Hyatt (2005)

[6]Campolieti, Hebdon, and Hyatt (2005)

[7] Labour Relations Act (2011)

[8]Hebdon and Stern (1998)

[9]Bargaining Process (2016)

[10]Bargaining Process (2016)

[11]Criminal Code (2017)

[12]Criminal Code (2017)

[13]Rose (2016)

[14]Rose (2016)

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