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Quebec Unions Establish Investment Fund

July 1, 1983 -

The Quebec Federation of Labour (QFL), led by the fiery Louis Laberge, has the Quebec government considering legislation that would break new ground in the relationship between Quebec's unions and companies. The QFL is asking for a government loan of $15 million to establish an investment fund, which will be supported by voluntary deductions from the paycheques of QFL members. Laberge predicts that the fund, managed by the QFL, will grow to $200 million over three years. The money will be used to provide risk capital to Quebec companies, and Laberge foresees the creation of 45,000 new jobs through this investment.

This plan has been compared with the share transfer scheme proposed in Sweden, in which a part of the company's pre-tax profits plus a percentage of employees' wages are used to buy company shares. This plan has the potential of drastically altering the make-up of corporations over time. It seems likely that contributors to the fund would eventually seek some representation on the boards of companies in which the fund invests.

Quebec Strike Law Antagonizes Business

October 1, 1983 -

The Quebec National Assembly recently passed a far-reaching piece of legislation, Bill 17, that prohibits strike-bound companies from using non-union or management personnel to carry on its operations. The Globe & Mail of September 5, 1983 spelled out the ramifications: "Bill 17, in fact, would hand unions absolute control. If they were prepared to stay off the job, and the law forbade their replacement, they could break any company."

Despite strong warnings from Quebec's major business lobby, the Conseil du Patronat, that it will drive business from the province, Bill 17 became effective on September 1. Already Menasco Canada Ltd. of Montreal, an aerospace company on a tight delivery schedule whose operations have been carried out by nonunion and management personnel since its 365 workers were locked out in July 1982, has made arrangements to move to Hawkesbury, Ontario. A CP luxury hotel at Mirabel airport, where the same situation has prevailed since its 130 employees went on strike on 3anuary 1, discontinued its operations on September 1.

Although the Quebec government is anxious to avoid losing business, it appears to be more concerned with placating the province's militant unions. At the same time, the government of British Columbia is attempting to create a healthy climate for business by antagonizing labour. A plague on both their houses.

QWL Update

January 1, 1986 -

"The process of moving from an adversarial relationship toward a co-operative one is neither easy nor painless," writes Wilfrid List in a recent report on the implementation of quality of working life (QWL) programs in Canadian workplaces (Report on Business Magazine, October 1985, pp. 60-67). But numerous companies have discovered that the effort has been worthwhile.

The goal of any QWL program is to increase job satisfaction for workers and increase profits for the employer. "The general strategy for achieving the goal is to give workers more of a say in decisions affecting their work," List explains. Employers are realizing that they need a committed workforce in order to meet sharpened competition from abroad, while workers are attracted to the increased freedom, responsibility and dignity QWL programs bring to their daily lives. Although QWL theories have been around for over a decade, only a small percentage of firms have really tried to put them into practice. Of those who have, the majority claim impressive results.

List describes the remarkable turnaround that occurred after a QWL program was implemented at the Ford casting plant in Windsor: quality climbed by 40%, the absentee rate dropped to the lowest in this kind of plant in Canada, grievances all but disappeared, plant and cafeteria facilities improved, and the plant went from a $5-million loss in 1981 to a $55-million profit in 1984.

A philosophy of work that increases the worker's dignity and improves quality and productivity is clearly worth investigating for any company. However, it is not a quick fix, and each QWL project must be tailored to fit the history and environment of the individual company. "Building a new model of participatory-style management requires time, effort and money to train workers and supervisors in new work systems, and work schedules have to be reorganized so employees can attend team meetings," List observes. Not only do employers and workers have to make significant adjustments, but foremen, the people in the middle, often feel threatened by moves to give their subordinates greater power in determining how work is to be performed. Furthermore, while some union leaders support QWL programs as a way to improve the lives of workers, many more are suspicious or hostile. They not only fear change, but also worry about being seen as "soft on management," and that QWL will undermine workers' loyalty to the union. This is an irresponsible attitude, according to William Westley, whose firm has aided in the introduction of QWL systems. "A unionized plant is one of the best environments for QWL because it combines the strength and assurance of the protection a union brings with the dignity QWL gives workers."

The Windsor Ford plant got its advice at the QWL Centre in Toronto, which is financed by the Ontario Government to promote QWL programs in unionized companies. Other provinces have parallel bodies. You may wish to contact them to see what they have to offer the company you work for or own.