The flawed Saskatchewan Employment Act should not be rushed

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By Hugh Wagner

With the passage of The Saskatchewan Employment Act last spring, the Saskatchewan government raised a lot of questions to be answered with regard to accompanying regulations that will be drafted this fall.

The amendments made last May are just a beginning, and leave many questions unanswered, and many impacts unknown or unclear.

On Sept. 27, at the meeting of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, the Government will once again be asked to slow down and to make certain that new Saskatchewan Employment Act doesn’t remove, restrict or otherwise impair the rights of working people.

With a booming economy and challenges in attracting labour, Saskatchewan needs to be sure this new law achieves the objectives set out for it. Frankly, I don’t think it does.

As it stands, there is a long way to go to ensure that The Saskatchewan Employment Act — also known as Bill 85 — will actually serve our people well by replacing nearly 70 years of balanced labour legislation and repealing or amending 33 separate laws.

It is in everyone’s interest to ensure the Saskatchewan Employment Act does not signify the end of our stable, harmonious labour relations and the beginning of workplace strife that will prove detrimental to productivity and investment.

The Saskatchewan Employment Act must maintain workers’ unfettered right to join a union and access balanced and effective collective bargaining. The Act should provide for safe, dignified work in a stable, productive labour relations environment. Saskatchewan’s workplaces should be moving forward with a view to benefitting the whole of society and not just empowering employers at the expense of employees.

Nationally recognized and respected labour relations scholar and lawyer, Professor David Doorey of York University, observes in his review of the legislation, “Bill 85 in its final version remains a one-sided package of reforms. The Bill’s Labour Relations provisions in particular are designed to impose new obligations, new restrictions, new costs, and new challenges on unions.”

If this is not the intent of the Saskatchewan Employment Act, I ask again that the Government consult fully and openly with all stakeholders, to ensure the Act is further amended and/or the impending Regulations address the following issues:

• Obstacles to workers’ ability to organize and secure collective bargaining rights should be removed.

• Concerns that Saskatchewan families may no longer be able to spend weekends together and employees may be denied lunch breaks if the employer decides its necessary should be explicitly dealt with. These seemingly small changes reflect a legislative thrust that expands employer control over working conditions. The Regulations must address the lack of checks and balances over how employers exercise this discretion.

• The regulations must detail what happens to supervisory employees severed from their current union as a result of this legislation and identify what protections are provided for the affected employees. As it stands, the Saskatchewan Employment Act provides no protections for supervisory employees who are removed from their current bargaining units by the legislation.

While employment standards respecting overtime pay and the definition of the work week have been rewritten, they are fraught with complexity and a lack of clarity. The regulations must ensure that the impact in the workplace is not a further watering down of employees’ rights to reasonable hours of work and payment for overtime work. This should also include the protection of a three-hour-minimum shift or call-in pay.

If modernization is the goal of this reform, let’s make sure that is what the Saskatchewan Employment Act actually accomplishes. As it stands, I have grave reservations.

Why the rush?

There is nothing to lose by taking the time to do this right and everything to gain by ensuring the protections are there for our working families. Let’s make history by taking the Saskatchewan Employment Act back to the drawing board to ensure balance, fairness, and clarity in labour standards and labour relations laws.

Hugh Wagner is General Secretary of Grain and General Services Union (ILWU Canada) and a Member of the Minister’s Advisory Committee on Labour Relations and Workplace Safety.

Organizations: Grain and General Services Union

Geographic location: Saskatchewan

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