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“It’s the most unworkable essential services legislation in the country.”

That’s how CUPE National President Paul Moist described Saskatchewan’s labour legislation, as health care delegates at CUPE Saskatchewan’s annual convention lined-up at the microphones to describe the harmful effect the essential services legislation is having on contract negotiations.

Health employers in the province have deemed about 75% of CUPE’s 12,600 health care providers as essential and unable to participate in job action. Their lists of essential service employees include painters and decorators, porters, carpenters, floor layers, seamstresses and office admin assistants.

“There’s no question these jobs are important, but no reasonable person could conclude they are ‘essential’ under the act,” said CUPE staff representative Mike Keith.

He called the employers’ second attempt at developing essential services plans “an utter failure.”

CUPE Local 3967 President Sinda Cathcart, told convention delegates her employer’s essential services list also names more than 100 members in her local who are currently off work on maternity leave, WCB and disability. “These members could face potential fines under the act for not coming to work in the case of job action. It’s lunacy,” she stated.

Although the employers were told “to be reasonable” following the release of their first essential services plans last November - which deemed virtually everyone as essential - the revised plans also fail the “reasonable” test, according to CUPE Health Care Council President Gordon Campbell. For example, some health regions have deemed so many people essential there will be more CUPE health care providers working during a strike than during a regular work day, he said. William Booth Special Care Home in Regina, for example, has designated 135 CUPE members as essential, but he said only 118 CUPE members work at the facility.

“In my health region, 94% of our members have been deemed essential,” special care aide Sharon Del Frari told delegates. “That means of our 1,670 members in the Prairie North Health Region, only 101 would be able to walk the picket line. There is no pressure on our employer to negotiate - and no pressure means no progress at the bargainng table,” she stated.

Lori Martin, who works in the sterile processing unit at the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert, said the last time health workers walked a picket line, no one in her department was considered essential. But with the new legislation, everyone has been deemed essential. She urged the employer to “stop this garbage” and get on with bargaining.

Keith said the government’s essential services legislation continues to negatively impact health care negotiations, which began last September. “The legislation is a license for bad behavior at our bargaining table,” he stated.

CUPE delegates endorsed an emergency resolution calling on the government to scrap the legislation and restore collective bargaining rights for working people in the province.

The CUPE Saskatchewan convention concludes tomorrow in Regina.