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Saskatchewan labour legislation stokes fears over worker rights

By in News

KRISTEN McEWEN
The Carillon (University of Regina)

The Saskatchewan legislature.

REGINA (CUP) — Workers will have their sights set on the Saskatchewan fall legislature during the next few months as 15 pieces of labour legislation will become one law.

In May, the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety released the Consultation Paper on the Renewal of Labour Legislation asking the public for feedback about how current labour laws needed to be fixed.

Many people became concerned about the possible changes to the laws, as the consultation paper questioned everything from including farmers in the Labour Standards Act to putting limitations on the number of hours someone can work.

The public was given until July 31, 2012, to respond to the paper.

Labour unions such as the Canadian Union of Public Employees submitted 232 pages addressing their concerns about the proposed changes.

“Whether or not you’re in a union, we’ll all be impacted by changes to labour laws and so we deserve much more input,” said Nathan Markwart, CUPE executive assistant. “What we [did was] not only identify the shortcomings of the consultation process that the government was providing, but we also responded to each question thoroughly and made some recommendations [on] increasing standards and increasing rights.”

Markwart said the timing of the consultation paper meant certain groups did not have adequate time to prepare responses.

“That put a lot of pressure on groups of workers that would be affected and don’t have the ability to make submissions,” he said. “It’s complex to say ‘we’re going to go through every piece of legislation — there’s 15 of them that will affect work one way or another — you need to have a written response to us in 90 days.’ Not everyone’s going to be able to respond.”

According to Richelle Bourgoin, a spokesperson for Labour Relations and Workplace Safety, “the Ministry received more than 3,800 submissions from organizations and individuals across the province, which indicates the consultation period was appropriate and sufficient.”

A Facebook group and website, The Saskatchewan Way, was created by the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU) to raise awareness and concerns about what changes might happen to workers’ and union rights.

One ad on the Facebook page asks, “Are you counting on a 40-hour work week? Would you expect pay for overtime? Do vacation days matter to you? What if you are sick or injured at work? Do you deserve protection?… Do nothing and you may find yourself with less time off work, less pay and benefits, and fewer workplace protections than your grandparents.”

While the consultation paper raises such questions, there is yet to be indication that any changes will take place.

In addition to these questions, the paper also questions working hours, employee time off and union dues. A look at the consultation shows questions such as “What limitations should there be on hours of work, if any? Are the overtime provisions appropriate, adequate and clearly set out to ensure compliance?” and “Are there situations where employees should be able to opt out of the union for reasons other than religious grounds?” among others.

The paper has brought up many concerns about the future of labour legislation in the province, but it is still unclear what changes and suggestions will be imposed in the new legislation.

Despite this, some people found the questions asked in the consultation paper to be troubling, especially with regards to unions.

“They question everything from the ways that dues are collected to who’s included… in a union,” Markwart said. “Too many big changes in the way unions operate and the way unions represent their members. With those changes a big concern for us would be union rights. Just implementing changes, quite frankly, in a quick manner without really consulting.”

Bourgoin affirmed that the legislation will be introduced this fall.

“Stakeholders are encouraged to share feedback with the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety before the legislation is passed in the spring session.”


Photo: scazon/Flickr

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