Essential service legislation challenged in Saskatchewan court

Unions claim legislation infringes rights, government says it ensures public safety

Saskatchewan labour legislation preventing certain public sector employees from going on strike if they’re deemed essential is being challenged in constitutional court.

Amendments to the Trade Union Act are also being challenged. The changes ended automatic union certification in cases where a majority of employees sign union cards.

Both pieces of legislation were passed by the Saskatchewan Party government in 2008. The government argues the pieces of legislation protect public safety by ensuring essential services are in place in the event of a strike.

But Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL) president Larry Hubich says the legislation is an infringement on workers’ rights.

“The ability of people to organize themselves into unions is a matter of human rights, and it is an important part of living in a free and democratic society,” Hubich says. “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the highest law in Canada, and it is extremely important that we continue to take our case against the provincial government forward and to defend the Charter right of working people in our province.”

The SFL is one of three unions and 25 additional plaintiffs challenging Bill 5 and Bill 6. Prior to this week’s case, both bills were found to be in violation of the rights of working people in a ruling by the United Nations International Labour Organization.

The two parties will make their arguments over the next two weeks.

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