Changes are Coming in Canada

October 1 st 1985

Despite the adherence of many Canadian companies and unions to the adversary system in labour relations, a growing number of Canadian employers are trying to involve their employees more directly in the affairs of their companies.

One way to stimulate employee involvement is to give workers a financial stake in the enterprise through bonus, profit-sharlng, stock option or employee stock ownership plans. Until recently stock option plans were largely restricted to key management personnel.

Some companies combine profit sharing with employee stock ownership plans. For example, Rumble Equipment, a Toronto-based distributor of automated welders and other industrial equipment (1984 sales of $14 million) has been owned by its employees since 1962. The company distributes part of its pretax profits (20% this year) to all its employees, and beginning this year, one quarter of the profit payout will be in the form of stock. Rumble's president believes this compensation method builds the team spirit needed for the company's success. "Often we sell a product before we make it. To achieve that, everyone—from the woman who answers the phone, to the people in the shop, who are on their best appearances when we show a customer through, to the president, who stickhandles the project to completion—contributes to success."

Last year Canadian Astronautics, an Ottawa-based aerospace firm, added to its cash bonus plan a stock purchase plan that's open to all employees of at least one year's standing. According to personnel director Brenda Wallace, who is among the 40% of Astronautics' 235 employees participating in the stock plan, "People are happy to have the opportunity to share in this company. There definitely is a positive effect. I'm showing confidence in the company I work for, and I have the chance to make money on it in the future."

Broad-based stock plans (as opposed to plans restricted to top management) are much less common in Canada than in the United States. Herbert Brown of the Profit Sharing Council of Canada estimates that no more than 1,000 Canadian firms, public and private, have broad-based employee stock plans. This compares to an estimated 75,000 such American firms. Americans enjoy more favourable tax legislation and ESOPs—employee stock ownership plans—which allow workers to borrow collectively from a bank in order to acquire shares in their company.

Many unions oppose profit sharing and stock ownership because they fear that these schemes will undermine their position. Basil Hargrove, administrative assistant to the Canadian UAW director, says that the union is in favour of such programs provided they come on top of wages and benefits. "But all the plans proposed to us have been instead of proper wages."

Employers who use profit-sharing and stock option plans to justify inferior wages (unless as a temporary emergency measure) will have tough sledding. However, when such plans are accompanied by improved communication and more flexible arrangements in the workplace, they provide a real alternative to the Us-versus-Them mentality permeating Canadian labour relations.

Promising Innovations

In his Globe and Mail column of October 7, 1985, Andrew Campbell describes how the Firestone plant in Hamilton, the McDonnell Douglas plant in Toronto and the Copper Cliff, Ont. division of Inco have tried a variety of management innovations with resounding success. He lists the following specifics:

  • Job Design: Job enrichment—introducing variety into the job—has given employees greater freedom and additional responsibility in the performance of their own jobs. For example, in co-operation with its employees, Inco consolidated the tasks of its work crews so that instead of a crew of 26 people each doing a specialized job, work teams consisted of six people each doing several jobs. The results were evident in remarkably improved morale and a productivity increase of 55%.

  • Training: The companies are paying increased attention to training their employees. McDonnell Douglas started a training program for all 3,000 employees, requiring about 100 hours per year per employee, addressing issues like statistical process control, quality circle teams and employee participation in the company. Productivity improvements have been so dramatic that the training program is "a worldwide success."

  • Asset Handling: By pooling the knowledge and expertise of its employees, Firestone managed to halve its inventory of raw materials to a six-day supply, providing savings in costs and space. In another project, a new "rapid change" team has drastically reduced time lost in retooling machinery.

All of these companies discovered that implementing new techniques in job design, training and asset management first of all required the development of a solid base of trust among management and employees, and thus an investment of time, money and perseverance. This investment has certainly paid handsome dividends, judging by the increased profitability and productivity of these companies. Campbell concludes: "Managers in these companies have realized that some of their productivity initiatives and innovations may result in a loss of certain types of jobs in the short run. However, it is also their belief that, in the long run, these actions will create jobs, secure the company's future and benefit the majority of the employees."

 

Harry Antonides came to Canada in 1948, initially working as a farm hand and railway labourer. After over a decade working in a chemical plant in Sarnia, Ontario, Harry joined the newly forming Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC) in 1962 as a field representative. By 1970 Harry became director of research and education. In 1974, he was a founding member of the Work Research Foundation (now Cardus) and publisher of their sole publication, Comment magazine. A prolific writer and dynamic speaker, Harry delivered lectures all over North America and published numerous articles, reviews, and essays. He is author of several books on Christianity, labour, and economics, including Multinationals and the Peacable Kingdom (1978) and Stones for Bread: The Social Gospel and its Contemporary Legacy (1985). Harry is retired and lives with his wife Janet in Willowdale, Ontario.

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