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Saskatoon:  Two bills hastily introduced by the Saskatchewan Party government in December constitute the most aggressive assault on labour rights this province has ever seen, according to a report released today by the Canadian Union of Public Employees.
Tilt: How the SaskParty Plans to Shift the Scales, provides a detailed analysis of Bill 5 (The Public Service Essential Services Act) and Bill 6 (An Act to Amend the Trade Union Act), which the new government introduced in the legislature less than a month after assuming office.
The 32-page report  “strongly recommends” the government not proceed with the legislation until an independent committee has reviewed the bills and held public hearings.

The CUPE report questions the need for essential services legislation in a province where over 96% of public sector settlements were reached without a work stoppage over the last two decades. When strikes have occurred, public sector unions voluntarily negotiated essential services agreements to ensure emergency services were provided.

Although the SaskParty government claims its proposed legislation will “rebalance” the labour environment in Saskatchewan, the CUPE report shows Bills 5 and 6 will tilt the scales overwhelmingly in favour of employers.

Saskatchewan’s proposed essential services legislation is the most far-reaching in the country,” the report states, covering nearly the entire public sector. “If passed, Bill 5 will take away the right to strike from thousands of public sector workers, which will seriously weaken their collective bargaining power” as employers will have little incentive to bargain wage and benefit improvements.

Bill 5 also gives employers the power to dictate the essential services agreement (ESA) if it fails to negotiate one with the union 30 days before the collective agreement expires. Under the bill, the ESA identifies the classifications of employees, the number of employees and the names of employees deemed “essential” during a strike. The union cannot appeal the designation of classifications deemed essential, only the number of employees required in each classification.

Any person who refuses to comply with the essential services designation faces fines of up to $2,000 with additional fines of $400 per day. Unions can be fined up to $ 50,000 and $10,000 a day.

The SaskParty’s sweeping amendments to the Trade Union Act also give more power to employers, the report states. The proposed changes replace automatic certification (in cases where unions demonstrate majority support) with a mandatory secret ballot vote. It also allows employers to communicate “facts and its opinions” to employees during union organizing drives. “With the possible exception of B.C., no other jurisdiction places so few restrictions on employers’ ability to communicate with employees about union affairs,” the report states.
Although the SaskParty originally promised public consultations on the proposed changes, it now is seeking just “feedback.”

CUPE Saskatchewan wants the new government to reconsider that decision.  “If the genuine objective is to establish ‘fair and balanced’ labour laws,” then the new government should establish an independent committee of review to hold public hearings,” says CUPE Saskatchewan President Tom Graham. “That’s the only way to build consensus and instill a sense of hope for working people about their future under this government.”

Copies of Tilt are available by contacting: vlewis@cupe.ca or at cupe.ca

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For more information contact Tom Graham at 229-8171