Saskatchewan's open shop contractors association and several general contractors are asking for significant reforms in labour relations during a government review of existing legislation, but the building trades say the policy changes will weaken unions and harm workers
“We have laid out very practical concerns with many of the laws, rules and regulations as they exist today,” said Karen Low, executive director of Merit Contractors Association of Saskatchewan.
“For whatever reason, those rules may have made sense at one time and they may have been well intended, but in many cases we believe they do not fit the Saskatchewan of today.”
Merit recently submitted a list of recommendations to Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Don Morgan, in response to a provincial government request for consultation on the renewal of labour legislation. The submission outlines the position of open shop construction companies, who want to update and streamline labour legislation to provide business with the flexibility to react to changing economic conditions.
For Merit, the most important concerns for the construction industry are associated with the hours of work and overtime provisions of the Labour Standards Act.
The current legislation requires any work day schedule that varies from a regular eight hour shift to have an “Averaging of Hours permit” in place.
Merit would like the legislation to be amended to exclude the need for a permit in the construction industry, if the employer and the employee enter into an arrangement which involves no more than 80 hours of work in a two week period without the payment of overtime.
Merit argues the construction industry is unique and should be exempt, because time deadlines, unpredictability of the weather and sub-contractor schedules create an environment that requires a great deal of flexibility.
The process of applying for the permit is also viewed as cumbersome.
This policy change is also supported by submissions to Morgan from Graham Construction, Ledcor and the Saskatchewan Heavy Construction Association.
In response, the Saskatchewan Building Trades released a report last week that concludes these suggestions and others, if implemented, will form a low road to growth, based on reduction of wages, benefits and workers’ rights.
“Premier Wall’s government should concentrate on solving labour shortages and provide training opportunities for Saskatchewan’s people instead of pursuing an obsession with labour legislation,” said Terry Parker, business manager of the Saskatchewan Provincial Building and Construction Trades Council.
“We believe that employers are really asking the government to lower wages and reduce protections for workers through legislative changes. The fact is that high wages are driven by demand for skilled workers. Labour legislation won’t change that.”
The Building Trades said the changes to the regular eight hour work day will allow employers to legally schedule a worker for 60 hours in one week and 20 hours the following week to avoid paying overtime.
In fact, Graham is asking for the construction industry to be exempt from paying overtime to workers, who have annual wages at least twice that of the provincial industrial average.
The Saskatchewan Building Trades are also concerned that Merit is proposing to allow individuals the right to work in a unionized workplace, without joining or belonging to a union.
“One of the basic tenants of our association is freedom of choice,” said Merit in their submission.
“Therefore, we would support any government action that relates to progressive laws on protecting the rights of all employees to make choices, the right to decide if they want to belong to an organization, and the conditions and amounts of dues to be paid to that organization.”
Ledcor also supports the fundamental principles that make up right to work legislation.
Construction employers are also advocating for change to the rules regarding the payment of union dues, which is another feature of the right to work legislation.
Graham’s position is that union dues should be voluntary and legislation should allow individual employees to opt out of union dues for reasons of financial hardship, student status or due to being a minor.
In addition, Ledcor argues unions should be prohibited from using dues for any action unrelated to collective bargaining.
The submissions by Merit and Graham that deal with the rules relating to abandoning a union registration certificate are another concern of the Building Trades.
Merit would like these rules to be changed to ensure that a non-union general contractor can’t be considered a common employer because they subcontract work to a unionized business on a project.
Graham is suggesting that legislative changes be made to allow for the cancellation of a registration certificate for businesses that don’t have any employees for three years.