Mar 092013
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Workers' rights threatened as massive sweeping revisions underway.

by Dave Coles

Bill 85 (Saskatchewan Employment Act) distills 900 pages of legislation into fewer than 200 pages and replaces 12 specific statutes with a single “Labour Code”. The existing legislation represents more than a half century of accumulated labour law.  No government can presume to properly review, consult and modify so much legislation in a few months.

In its haste for reform, the government has failed to identify the issues it is so hurriedly trying to resolve. And in its consultation process, the government has ignored Queen's Bench judge Dennis Ball’s warning (when he dismissed the government’s essential services reform) to engage in “consultations” that aren’t predetermined. 

Suffice it to say that unions, employers and even the government don't grasp the full implications of Bill 85. There is simply too much that’s been changed, in too short a time frame.

Many of the proposals in Bill 85 represent a step backwards for workers’ rights, from hours of work to protecting the weekend.

Nonetheless, it’s clear that many of the proposals in Bill 85 represent a step backwards for workers' rights, from hours of work to protecting the weekend.

One proposal is to allow employers to switch to a ten-hour, four-day, workweek,  without acquiring a permit. This change could eliminate the 8-hour workday for many workers. In addition, Bill 85 weakens employees’ right to refuse overtime in excess of 44 hours per week. 

Lengthening the workday and workweek is a major step backwards. These changes will make overtime pay and the weekend fond memories for many workers in Saskatchewan.

People’s quality of life is affected if they feel they need to work longer.  Overtime work is linked with increased depression and a series of other illnesses. Workplace safety can also be compromised by longer hours and the fatigue that accompanies it. And Bill 85’s effective elimination of unpaid lunch breaks will further contribute to a dangerous workplace.

Average productivity has increased multifold in recent decades — so if anything the work day should be shortened, not lengthened.

Bill 85 would exclude employees with some supervisory duties from being part of the same bargaining unit — for no good reason. Broadening the “managerial” exemption to include anyone who coordinates others in the workplace or is asked to comment on a co-worker’s performance could deny thousands of their constitutional right to bargain collectively.
Removing supervisors from long-established bargaining units would be unprecedented in Canada. No other jurisdiction has so aggressively dictated how employees are represented in their workplaces.

One possible effect of this change would be to create multiple bargaining units in one workplace. Having to negotiate with a greater number of units could significantly increase labour relations costs for employers.

Another threat is the proposed 14 day cooling-off period before workers can strike, unjustly restricts workers right to withdraw their labour. The ILO Committee on Freedom of Association and the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations have repeatedly stated that striking is a fundamental right of workers and their organizations. The 1957 “Resolution concerning the Abolition of Anti-Trade Union Legislation in the States Members of the International Labour Organisation” called for “laws … ensuring the effective and unrestricted exercise of trade union rights, including the right to strike, by the workers.”

The proposal to allow for decertification of a union at any time should be scrapped. The current 30-60 day annual window works fine. This change will simply make unions’ operations more precarious.

Requiring unions to provide audited financial statements will greatly burden small union locals. The government is not proposing that companies that bargain with trade unions be required to publicly disclose their expenditures nor are other professional associations that collect fees or dues from their members being targeted.

Among the most democratic institutions in society, unions are already accountable to their members. In almost every case, union financial statements are open to members in their local union chapters.

The proposal to give an employer or minority faction of workers the power to force a “last offer” vote gravely threatens the collective bargaining process. Apparently, this can be forced at any point after notice to bargain has been delivered, which means that even before any bargaining has occurred. 

Finally, the move to eliminate successor rights for cafeteria, janitorial and security employees in government-owned buildings is a particularly mean-spirited attack against some of the most vulnerable workers. By removing these rights only for cafeteria, security and janitorial staff the Saskatchewan Party is telling workers in these fields that they don't even deserve the 12 or 13 bucks they currently make.

Successor rights allow employees to keep their jobs as well as their union, collective agreement, wages, seniority and benefits when a new contractor takes over their work.

Other jurisdictions have come to realize that eliminating public sector successorship rights is both unfair and bad policy. In January 2007 Ontario re-established successor rights for Crown employees,  a decade after Premier Mike Harris stripped public workers of these rights.

Labour Minister Don Morgan has said the government is open to amending the new Employment Act. If the Minister plans to stay true to his word, the CEP would kindly suggest that he spends the time necessary to properly examine the wide-ranging implications of what’s been proposed. At minimum, he should withdraw the proposed reforms that (as we have shown) weaken workers’ rights.

About Dave Coles

Dave Coles is President of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada.

© Copyright 2013 Dave Coles, All rights Reserved. Written For:

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