Sask. labour law proposals break international law: Union

Amendments attack ‘basic workers’ and union rights,’ the CEP says

Proposed changes to Saskatchewan labour laws contravene International Labour Organization (ILO) statutes, according to the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers (CEP) union.

The accusation is made in a CEP document submitted to the province as part of the consultation process it started in May to gauge reaction to the proposed changes. The province plans to amalgamate its labour laws into one comprehensive overarching labour code.

The CEP is launching a campaign against what it calls an attack against “basic workers’ and union rights.”

“By delivering our submission to the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, we are telling Premier Brad Wall that if his proposals become a reality, this is where we’ll be in a few months,” CEP president Dave Coles said on the court’s steps. “We decided to save the government the trip”.

For the consultation, the province asked respondents whether there should be time limitations on the workweek. Lengthening the hours of work would contravene a 1957 ILO convention that limits the regular workweek to 40 hours, the union said.

“Rather than extending work hours, Saskatchewan should follow France’s lead and reduce the workweek to 35 hours by cutting one hour from the work schedule every year,” the CEP suggests.

The province is also exploring the idea of changing certification rules, including allowing "an employer to voluntarily recognize an existing union without conducting a vote."

This is a violation of ILO Convention 87, according to the CEP, which indicates workers have the right to join trade unions of their choice.

“Currently, the (labour relations board) says a ‘trade union must be independent of the employer in order to qualify for a certification order under the Trade Union Act’,” the CEP says in its paper. “And for good reason. There’s a long and ugly history of employers trying to bypass workers’ legitimate representatives and establish more compliant ‘unions’ to negotiate with.”

One of the biggest concerns to unions is whether there will be changes to how union dues are collected. The government is asking whether union members should be able to opt out of paying dues in certain circumstances.

The Supreme Court of Canada has already upheld the right of unions to collect dues from their members, except when the collection infringes on religious rights. In those cases, the employee must donate an equivalent amount of money to charity.

Saskatchewan is whether there should be other grounds for opting out of dues payments, such as being a student or if the individual is facing financial hardship.

“If everyone in a workplace benefits from a union contract, everyone should pay dues,” the CEP argues. “People pay municipal, provincial and federal taxes whether or not they voted for the person or political party in office.”

The province also wants to look at who should be collecting the dues. Currently, most unionized workplaces deduct dues through payroll and transfer the funds to the union.

This is an unnecessary change, according to the CEP.

“Technological advancement has made it easier than ever for employers to collect and transfer members’ dues to the union,” the CEP says. “Changing the current system would add to unions’ administrative costs and could cause financial instability.”

The Saskatchewan government will continue to receive written input on its consultation paper until the end of July. Any amendments to its labour legislation wouldn’t be introduced until the fall and wouldn’t have the possibility of passing until spring 2013.

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