• Quebec’s labour shortage (and why YOU should care)

Quebec is in the midst of a ‘labour shortage’. There simply aren’t enough employees in Quebec to fill all available jobs, the demand for labour is unmet. Beyond chaotic airports, (1) this labour imbalance entails both good and bad things for employees. 


The good: Many employers are upping salaries and improving benefits to attract workers as finding employees becomes more difficult. Similarly, employees now find themselves in a good position to renegotiate their work contracts as employers have fewer potential replacements. 

The bad: Certain industries are deeply affected by this dwindling workforce. The hospitality sector was hardest hit as Covid-19 shut down businesses and exacerbated the effects of this shortage. Job vacancy rate in this sector stood at a worrying 11% (2). Employees are overworked and businesses are struggling to stay afloat. Additionally, other vital sectors like Quebec’s public health system face critical risk, units are understaffed and emergency rooms are closing province-wide. (3)


The causes and remedies  

Quebec’s labour shortage is no outlier, this shortage is years in the making and does not come as a surprise to experts. Such a phenomenon is occurring in most Canadian provinces and other nations. Let’s find out what causes most labour shortages, and what steps may remedy their undesired consequences.

Labour shortages mostly stem from one issue; changing demographics. As nations become more economically developed, they witness a decline in birthrates and a lengthening of life expectancy. Their populations tend to have larger numbers of old people and fewer numbers of young people. This natural shift in a country’s demographics reduces the percentage of its population actively in the workforce. Therefore, fewer workers have to meet the workload of what was once a larger workforce. Consequently, workers are overworked, employers struggle to find employees, and jobs go unfulfilled. In this case, we have ourselves a labour shortage.

There are two straightforward solutions that tackle the source of this problem, expanding the workforce and attracting more workers. First, the government can expand the workforce in one of three ways; (1) It increases the number of young people in the workforce. This is usually done by lowering the legal minimum age to work, oddly Quebec has none (4). (2) It increases the number of old people in the workforce. Governments commonly push retirement age back a couple years, Canada is no exception. (5)  (3) It increases the number of immigrants in the workforce. By far the most simple solution as it does not force children or retirees to work, loosening immigration restrictions allows for an influx of workers that organically grow the workforce.   

The second solution that will aid this shortage relies on companies’ attractiveness. Low salaries amidst inflation, lack of work flexibility post-Covid, and overall poor working conditions all generated a growing sense of dissatisfaction in Quebec’s workplaces. (6) While demographics remains the main culprit

of this shortage, this discontent has pushed many workers out of Quebec’s workforce. Today’s blend of unmet labour demand and employee dissatisfaction created a phenomenon named ‘The Great Resignation’ (7) as many workers confidently resigned knowing employers are eager to hire. By offering better pay, benefits, and working conditions to their employees, more people are enticed to work. Hence, employers play a considerable role in this shortage as they determine Quebec’s labour market appeal. 

Unions in Quebec

While the advantages offered by today’s labour shortage seem pleasant to some, the disadvantages placed on the many quickly darken its promises of better pay and benefits. If only there were a legal and non-comprising way to negotiate better salaries with your boss… Surprise 🎉, we present to you, UNIONS! Unions offer employees the collective leverage they need to establish better pay, benefits and working conditions without causing woeful economic drawbacks as is the case with labour shortages.

Fortunately, unions are central to Quebec’s labour market! They are the second province with the most union coverage rate in Canada standing at nearly 40% of all employees being unionised. (8) But what even are unions? Why are they so present in Quebec? And what about student unions, are those the same? 


What are unions?

  • Unions are federally and provincially recognized groups that represent the general interest of employees. Through negotiations with a company’s management team known as ‘collective bargaining’, unions draft a legal contract, a ‘collective agreement’, that establishes better working conditions, benefits, and pay of employees. Such examples include the eight hour workday, maternity leave, or the minimum’s wage gradual increase. (Moreover, they immensely help marginalised groups! (9))

Why are there so many in quebec?

  • Union presence has been observed in Quebec for nearly two centuries, (10) and has historically led the way in Canada with its high union density. This density is enabled by two main factors, Canada’s large public sector, and its labour relations laws which favour union development. (11)  

What’s the difference with student unions?

  • To many’s surprise, there is little difference between student unions and labour unions. Quebec’s student unions are powerful and represent hundreds of thousands of students province-wide. Their duties closely resemble labour unions as they aim to best represent the interests of students by improving working conditions, fighting tuition hikes and bettering student experience. 
    • History: The prevalent influence of student unions in Quebec is largely traced to one document, the ‘Charte de Grenoble’. This charter, drafted by French students in 1946 establishes university attendees as ‘intellectual workers’. Therefore, students are entitled to rights such as proper working conditions and rights to research. Students are also responsible, as intellectual workers, for propagating the truth and defending freedom. This charter greatly inspired universities in Quebec in the 60’s and paved the way for today’s ‘act respecting the accreditation and financing of student’s associations’ passed in 1983 (12). Whilst other provinces have passed similar acts, Quebec remains Canada’s student union stronghold (13) as students benefit from the most legal protection and organise the largest student strikes. (14)


Why unionise YOUR workplace

  • Beneficial to employees
    • The very essence of a union is to represent and better the conditions of employees. Unionising a workplace could be one, if not the biggest step anyone can take to improve their work experience. 
  • Marker of a successful economy
    • Contrary to popular belief, unions actually benefit businesses and economies. Employees are more satisfied in their work environment causing less turnovers, improved service, better job training, and even greater productivity. (15) Not convinced by these studies? The ‘happiest’ and most developed nations on earth, the nordic countries, all praised for their democratic, social, and economic excellence, record the highest rates of union density in the world. (16)
      • Attention: Successful economies are not defined by GDP growth, while that indicator remains important, other metrics must be analysed. For example, the United States is now starting to witness decreased life expectancy, democratic weakening, failing welfare programs, collapse of biodiversity, unprecedented wealth inequality, all while their GDP continues to grow at economically desirable rates… 
  • Today’s climate
    • Unionisation rates have been decreasing for decades in OECD countries due to aggressive union busting tactics, anti-union policies, and the shrinking of the public sector. However, there has been a resurgence of unionising efforts in North America as employees in massive corporations like Amazon won the vote to unionise in Staten Island, NY. Surfing on this recent momentum could revive high unionisation rates and grant employees the representation they deserve in the workplace! 

How to unionise your workplace

  • The four steps (17) (18)
    • Contact a union organisation
    • Meet with a union organiser to hand out membership cards. Each member who signs must pay the organiser 2 dollars.
    • If more than 50% of workers sign membership cards, the union is certified by Quebec’s labour relation commission
      • If between 35% and 50% of members sign a membership card, then union organisers may petition Quebec’s labour relation commission to hold a secret ballot vote. If workers vote yes in majority then the union is certified(no one would know how you voted). 
    • Once the union is certified, it will represent workers and start bargaining with the employer


Union structure(19)

  • Local represents workers in their own workplace or town (e.g., Quebec Crane Operator, Local 791G)
  • Parent union decides on union policy for all locals across the province, country or world (e.g., CSN, FTQ)
  • National unions represent union members across the country (e.g. PSA, Unifor).
  • International unions represent union members in more than one country (e.g. UAW, Teamsters).

Central labour organizations do not negotiate union contracts but lobby government to pass laws favourable to unions (e.g. Canadian Labour Congress).

(1) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/air-canada-post-pandemic-flight-delays-1.6507890
(2) https://www.immigration.ca/quebec-desperately-seeking-workers-as-labour-shortage-drags-on
(3) https://montreal.ctvnews.ca/6-quebec-ers-to-be-partially-closed-obstetric-and-neonatal-care-scaled-back-this-summer-1.5958129
(4) https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/quebec-young-workers-safety-labour-law-review-1.6490172
(5) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ywNkE3JeG8V2G6VDamtHzXeRjQwM_dAA/view?usp=sharing
(6) https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2022/05/18/2445753/0/en/Workplace-Study-Canadian-workers-more-dissatisfied-than-ever.html
(7) https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/aim-to-retain-nearly-a-quarter-of-canadians-changed-jobs-recently-how-can-employers-ensure-they-stay–821959996.html
(8) https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/t1/tbl1/en/tv.action?pid=1410012901
(9) https://www.epi.org/publication/why-unions-are-good-for-workers-especially-in-a-crisis-like-covid-19-12-policies-that-would-boost-worker-rights-safety-and-wages/#:~:text=Research%20shows%20the%20advantages%20workers,this%20dynamic%20been%20more%20clear.
(10) https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/union-centrals-quebec
(11) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1i8TmKsDW_6OR15NtlOTiYS3gLrMiPEGC/view?usp=sharing
(12) https://libcom.org/article/history-quebec-student-movement-and-combative-unionism
(13) https://activisthistory.com/2019/08/26/students-as-workers-and-the-2019-quebec-student-strike/
(14) https://montrealgazette.com/opinion/columnists/hanes-quebec-students-should-not-be-underestimated
(15) https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nqsF7UIq8ZAPp77lCO6qnsdBpMNIPf8p/view?usp=sharing
(16) https://nordics.info/show/artikel/trade-unions-in-the-nordic-region#:~:text=The%20Nordic%20countries%20continue%20to,%2C%20and%2067%25%20in%20Denmark.
(17) https://www.ufcw.ca/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=25&Itemid=170&lang=en
(18) https://cupe.ca/quebec-5-steps-local-certification
(19) https://opentextbooks.concordia.ca/hrmcanadian/chapter/12-1-the-nature-of-unions/