HRSDC data


Prepared by Linda Briskin with contributions from Kristine Klement


The Workplace Information Directorate of Human Resources and Skills Development Canada (HRSDC) has been collecting data on every work stoppage in Canada since 1946. Data on work stoppages cover strikes and lockouts which are a minimum of half a day in length and involve ten or more person-days lost [PDL]. Person-days (previously “mandays” and sometimes referred to as “time lost”) are understood as the duration in working days multiplied by the number of workers involved. The data in person-days are used to provide a common denominator to facilitate comparisons across jurisdiction, industry, sector, and even across countries. The record for each stoppage contains a wealth of additional information. In addition to person-days, length of stoppage and number of workers involved, the HRSDC data also include the following dimensions: contract status, result, company name, year, union, sector, province, metro/city, issues, NAICS (North American Industrial Classification System) code, and information on lockouts and rotating strikes.
Workers have gone on strike to improve the conditions of and remuneration for their work, and to defend their rights to union protection. They have used the strike weapon to resist not only employer aggression but also government policy. Undoubtedly Canadian workers have been militant. HRSDC records 24,764 work stoppages between 1960 and 2009.[i]
Generally, industrial relations specialists identify the following trends in Canadian strike activity: moderate until the mid-1960s, extremely high levels from 1970 to 1981, moderate and declining levels throughout the 1980s, and a sharp drop in the 1990s and into the 2000s (Gunderson et al. 2005: 348).[ii] Table 1: Strikes and Lockouts in Canada, 1960-2009 demonstrates this decline in the number of strikes, strikers,[iii] and working days lost. It shows the high point for strike frequency was between 1974 and 1981.
To a great extent, industrial relations scholars and state agencies have been concerned with “the relative degree of overall strike activity in the economy” (Gunderson et al. 2005: 348). “Time lost to strikes and lock­outs has always attracted widespread attention be­cause of the economic and social upheavals that often accompany industrial disputes. Given increas­ing economic globalization and trade liberalization, the interest appears to be gaining strength since international differences can influ­ence corporate decisions on plant or office location” (Akyeampong 2006: 5).
Canada’s “poor strike record” by international standards is often highlighted in the mainstream industrial relations literature “as a possible contributor to its poor productivity performance and as a possible concern to foreign investors and importers” (Gunderson et al. 2005: 365). Further, as Gunderson et al. (2005: 353) acknowledge, “the macroeconomic measurement of strikes as lost work time necessitates a view of strikes from an employer perspective.”
Yet Peirce (2003) points out that strikes have “never cost the country as much as one percent of total working time, even in tumultuous years like 1919 (marked by the Winnipeg General Strike) and 1976 (marked by a nation-wide Day of Protest against federal wage controls)” (338).[iv] Godard also recognizes the significance of worker resistance:

while it may be argued that Canada’s level of strike activity is too high and that there are ways to reduce it without violating workers’ rights, Canada’s higher level of strike activity may not only be expected, it may also not be entirely unhealthy. Indeed, if one believes that underlying conflicts are fundamental to labour-management relations, then a substantial decline in strike activity might even be considered a worrying development (2005: 337).

In order to measure time lost, averages and aggregates are used, such as the average number of workers involved per strike, the average days lost per worker on strike, and aggregate data such as the person-days lost, particularly as a percentage of working time. For example, the HRSDC data presented in key Canadian industrial relations textbooks includes tables on various measures of strike activity presented in averages and aggregates (Gunderson et al. 2005; Peirce and Bentham 2007). It is the case that data on person-days can be used to provide a common denominator to facilitate comparisons across jurisdiction, industry, sector, and even across countries. However, Peirce and Bentham (2007: 306) note some difficulties with aggregate data, especially comparing strike rates over time. Since some of the shifts are a result of increase in the size of the labour force, in union density, and the extension of the right to strike to public sector workers, it is difficult, even using person-days lost and the percentage of estimated working time, to accurately assess the data in aggregate terms.
It is also the case that removing a key strike from the aggregate data can significantly change the overall patterns. For example, in 1976, a National Day of Protest against the introduction of wage and price controls lasted only one day but involved 830,000 workers, 56.3% of all workers involved in stoppages in that year. Similarly, removing a single strike involving the most person-days lost from the aggregate data impacts the stoppages profile for that year. In 1980, almost 10 million person-days were lost in Canada. Quebec teachers went on strike for twenty working days. In this single strike of 75,500 teachers, only one of the 952 strikes that year, 1,064,500 person-days were lost, 10.8% of total person-days lost in that year.
Aggregate data, then, can be problematic. Briskin (2007) suggests that moving away from these average and aggregate figures increases the visibility of workers’ strike experiences. For example, since 1999, only about 1% of employees have been on strike, and in some years considerably less. However, as Akyeampong (2006) notes, 2004 sees a moderate increase to 1.8% which might seem insignificant, but actually amounts to more than 250,000 additional workers on strike.[v] And even between decade 2000-2009, the decadeg with the fewest strikes (only 2196), 1,224,408 workers were on strike. The shift from person-days lost as a percentage of working time to the numbers of employed workers on strike helps to embody the strike experience.[vi] See Table 2: Strikes, Workers and Workdays in Canada, by Decade, 1960-2009.
Reports on current work stoppages are published, twice monthly, in the Workplace Bulletin available on the HRSDC website. The Bulletin provides wage and other information relating to collective bargaining in Canada and offers updates on industrial relations issues. It includes recent collective bargaining settlements, current and upcoming key negotiations and information about major work stoppages.
The Labour Program of HRSDC also has an interactive database that provides the number of strikes and lockouts which have occurred in Canada since 1976. A weekly report and a year-to-date listing containing all major strikes and lockouts involving 500 or more employees are also available. By and large, the focus is on aggregate and average data in order to measure overall strike activity and its impact on the economy.
Also available is Negotech, a database with access to the full text of collective agreements.
For more information on the HRSDC data on work stoppages, see: Linda Briskin. (2005). “The Work Stoppage Data from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada: A Research Note.” Just Labour, 5, 80-89.


The Labour Program of HRSDC tracks information on labour organizations in Canada. Its website provides links to a range of union-related resources, such as a database of collective bargaining results, strike and lockout data, and a calendar of negotiations. Its Directory of Labour Organizations allows users to access and search data on union membership and affiliations in Canada.
Until 1995 when the Act was repealed, data on union membership in Canada, including the gender breakdown of membership and leadership were collected under the auspices of the Corporations and Labour Unions Returns Act (CALURA). Since 1997, the Labour Force Survey [LFS] has been collecting data. HRSDC also requests membership information from the unions, including gender breakdown of membership. However, unlike requests under CALURA which had the force of law, the unions co-operate with HRSDC voluntarily. Given the amount of work for unions to collect accurate information, the HRSDC data might not be entirely reliable. Gender data, then, are not readily available for research purposes. Information on other equity demographics is largely unavailable.
In 2001, the parallel UK organization to the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Trades Union Congress (TUC), passed a historic motion to change its constitution: a commitment to equality is now a condition of TUC affiliation and each affiliate commits itself to eliminating discrimination within its own structures and through all its activities, including its own employment practices. This constitutional change was accompanied by a comprehensive TUC equality auditing process on a bi-annual basis to “help maximize the dissemination and adoption of best practice throughout the trade union movement” (Labour Research Department 2002: 10). As the 2004 South East Region Trades Union Congress (SERTUC) report notes, “monitoring… is central to an equal opportunities policy” (iii). The second audit released in 2005 includes aggregate accountings based on affiliate data on gender demographic profiles of membership and leadership, and a range of equity initiatives. The data include breakdowns by gender of membership, local and central membership, trade union staff, workplace stewards, delegates to conventions, and committee membership. Audits have also been released in 2007 focusing on a statistical report on trade union action on equality, in  2009 highlighting progress on bargaining for equality at work, and in 2011, exploring unions’ internal activities – how unions are taking equality into consideration in their rules and structures, organising activities, membership services and employment practices.
Users can access the 2009 Equality Audit and the 2011 Equality Audit online.
In 2009, the AFL-CIO passed a historic motion on building a diverse and democratic labor movement including a requirement for documentation. “Annual reports should be made to the AFL-CIO regarding the ethnicity/race, age and gender demographics of officers, staff and executive boards and on the affiliation of constituency groups.”
Following the lead of the UK, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) released its first equity survey in 2011: Advancing Equity by the Numbers.

[i] For information on Canadian strikes prior to this time, see Huberman and Young (2002).

[ii] One factor which helps explain the decrease in strikes is the increase in long term collective agreements. Lacroix et al. (1999) report that, in 1999, the number of long term agreements had increased to 22% from only 1% to 2% in the early 1990s. Gunderson et al. (2005: 353) also note the impact of the average length of contracts on strike frequency: ‘The frequency of strikes also increased because the average length of contracts shortened during the inflationary cycle of the 1970s. This meant that more contracts were being negotiated each year and hence the potential for strikes rose.’

[iii] Workers indirectly affected, such as those laid off as a result of a work stoppage, are not included in the data, thus limiting the picture of the strike impact.

[iv] Peirce (2003) also puts forward a persuasive argument that the higher strike rate is completely understandable given the practices, policies and legislation around labour disputes. In contrast to Canada, the highly centralized bargaining system in Germany means fewer sets of negotiations; more experienced negotiators; collective agreements which cover fewer issues; and union access to financial information about company performance. In addition, the broad range of avenues to deal with workers’ grievances includes works councils, Labour courts (in contrast to the single mechanism of the formal grievance in the Canadian context) (361-2). He concludes: ‘Arguably, Canadian grievance arrangements have helped make strikes longer and more bitter, a conclusion that receives at least modest support from the long aver­age duration (by international standards) of Canadian strikes in most years’ (363). Godard (2005: 336) also points out that lower strike rates are expected in countries which ‘allow for works councils which enable worker representation to have more influence in employer decision processes, so that the outcomes of these processes are […] less likely to engender conflict’.

[v]Akyeampong (2006: 20) also notes the increase in person-days lost from 1.7 million in 2003 to 4.1 million in 2005.

[vi] These data and analysis are from Briskin (2007). Briskin negotiated full access to the records of each Canadian stoppage from 1946 to 2009 and wishes to thank the Workplace Information Directorate of Human Resources and Skilled Development Canada for providing the microdata. All HRSDC data quoted here are from the work stoppage data unless otherwise specified.