REGINA: The new government should heed its own advice and consult the public before introducing sweeping legislative changes, says Tom Graham, the President of CUPE Saskatchewan.
The labour movement has sharply criticized the government for hastily introducing two bills in the legislature, less than a month after assuming office. The bills – Bill 5 (The Public Service Essential Services Act) and Bill 6 (An Act to Amend the Trade Union Act) – would drastically tilt the scales in favour of employers and undermine collective bargaining for thousands of public sector workers.
“The SaskParty demanded public hearings in 2005 when the NDP government introduced changes to labour legislation. At the time, opposition leader Brad Wall described public hearings as ‘reasonable.’ He told the legislature: ‘[It] seems like eminent good sense that a government would consult ahead of introducing a Bill in this Legislative Assembly.’” 
Graham says it would help the new government’s credibility if it showed the same “good sense” and held public hearings on the controversial bills.
Graham says the SaskParty’s essential services legislation is “extreme,” covering virtually the entire public sector. “It gives employers all the power to deem which public sector employees are essential and unable to strike. It’s hard to find another jurisdiction in the country with legislation this bad,” Graham says.
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.
CUPE Local 3967 President Sinda Cathcart worries the proposed legislation will undermine health care bargaining for her 4,500 members who work in the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region.
Cathcart says the last time CUPE health workers contemplated job action, the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region produced a framework of essential services that was more than 400 pages long. “In many instances, there was little difference between the staff complement required for a normal shift and an ‘essential’ shift,” she says. “Fortunately, the employer had to negotiate that list with the union. But under this legislation, they could just impose it.”
The SaskParty’s sweeping amendments to the Trade Union Act also give far too much power to employers. 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,” Graham says.
Regina education worker Frank Mentes says the proposed changes constitute a “monumental shift” in labour legislation. “I know many people are wondering if the SaskParty’s election promise to build a partnership with labour was just a hollow sentiment. The government’s response to our request for public hearings may provide the answer,” he says.
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Contact: Tom Graham at 229-8171
For more information: www.dontgiveuphope.ca
 Saskatchewan Hansard, May 12, 2005, page 3037