May Day protest rally to be held in Regina

Labour organizations criticize proposed changes to trade union laws

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour (SFL), along with the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU), is holding a protest rally at the Saskatchewan legislature on May 1. Representatives of the two labour organizations, as well as other unions in the province, are concerned that two labour-oriented Bills amending the Trade Union Act could drastically erode workers’ rights. The Bills received second reading on April 15 and deal with essential services and the certification process. The unions charge they were rushed through without sufficient consultation. The government emphasizes its intention is to “establish a fair and balanced labour environment and to ensure democratic workplaces.”

Bill 5 would establish essential public services in virtually all areas of government, including Crown corporations, agencies, boards and authorities, healthcare, education and community service agencies. Within 90 days of the expiration of a public service agreement, the parties would be required to work out an essential services agreement. The unions charges that Bill 5 would give employers unlimited rights to declare workers essential, when no agreement was worked out voluntarily with employee representatives.

Bill 6 would amend the existing certification process as laid out in the Trade Union Act. Card signup certification would be replaced with a certification vote in all instances. For a union to be certified, a majority of the those eligible to vote must turn out to vote and a majority of those who have turned out must vote in favour of certification (a so-called “double quorum”). In a news release, the SFL blasted this section of the proposed law by saying, “Ballot certification that counts employees who don’t vote as a ‘no’ vote, flies in the face of democracy.”

In addition, unions would have 90 days in which to sign up potential union members, down from six months. As well, the number needed to trigger a vote rises from 25 per cent to 45 per cent, a level which, outside of British Columbia, is the highest signup requirement in the western provinces. There is no limit on how long the Labour Board can take to call the vote, a situation one government critic noted would benefit employers with a high turnover of staff.

Another section of Bill 6 deals with employer communication especially during organizing drives, but not limited to them, and allows employers more latitude in trying to persuade workers not to join a union. The Trade Union Act would be amended to say “Nothing in this Act precludes an employer from communicating facts and its opinions to its employees.” Employment and Labour minister Rob Norris says the change would “uphold the right of employees to be full informed or workplace issues during union organization drives.” In a brief to the minister, the SFL counters with the argument that the door would be wide open for employer coercion and intimidation.

Further, under sections 8 and 9, Cabinet would be allowed to regulate the content of union sign-up cards. Finally, in what is a first for Saskatchewan, the three-year time limit on collective agreements would be history.

The SFL has over 95,000 members and the SGEU, about 20,000 public service employees across the province. How many union activists show up for the May 1 protest remain to be seen.

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