We Are The Champions! (Except for Iceland)

Having just finished arguing that inequality is an inevitable result of personal marriage decisions, William Watson has declared Canadians the “strike champs” of the OECD in today’s Financial Post. A new British study suggests that labour disputes cost about 200 days per 1,000 workers per year in Canada, which is apparently far more than in most OECD countries.

Four thoughts spring to my mind. First, we do not know whether these “labour disputes” are strikes or lock-outs, or which side caused them. A higher level of labour disputes could reflect more intransigent employers rather than more militant unions.

Second, if an “average” employee works 200 days per year, then 1,000 would work 200,000 days per year. Therefore, a loss of 200 days per 1,000 workers to labour disputes amounts to only around 0.1% of all workdays.

Third, HRSDC/Statistics Canada figures seem broadly consistent with the study’s numbers for years covered by the study. However, for 2006 and the first quarter of 2007, the HRSDC/Statistics Canada figures show only about 50 “person-days not worked in Canada as a result of work stoppages” per 1,000 employees, a figure in line with the study’s findings for other OECD countries.

Fourth, it is far from clear that these numbers are comparable between countries. The study itself cautions, “Because of the differences in coverage and definitions, international comparisons of labour dispute statistics need to be made with care.”

The study’s Technical Note reveals that, while Canadian figures are from Canada Manpower Centres and provincial governments, many other countries’ figures are from “questionnaires,” “voluntary reports,” and/or “press reports”. The Canadian numbers may be higher partly because the Canadian records are more complete.

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