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What is ‘work-to-rule’?

A man holds a strike sign. Stock photo by Getty Images

Labour disputes don’t always result in a strike or lockout. Another, more unconventional action is “work-to-rule.”

Work-to-rule isn’t a labour stoppage. It’s more of a labour reduction or a slowdown.

The term “work-to-rule” means employees do the bare minimum of work required by their contract. That would include tactics like refusing to work overtime or perform work-related travel.

It can often involve overly strict adherence to rules — safety standards, for example — in order to drastically slow productivity.

It’s common in school-board labour disputes. A teachers’ work-to-rule would still see them continue to teach and grade, but they’ll refuse to do other work such as coach after-school sports, attend field trips or enter report-card comments.

Other work-to-rule examples include a 2013 campaign by Canadian diplomats who refused to work overtime or answer phones or e-mails outside of work hours. In 2011, security guards at Toronto’s Pearson airport caused enormous backlogs as they physically searched every carry-on back and “wanded” every single passenger, drastically slowing security screening.

Canada’s Industrial Relations Board lists work-to-rule campaigns debatably as a potentially illegal job action.

Read more:

Unlawful strikes and lockouts

Work to Rule: What Does It Mean?