August 6, 2012
Proposed labour reform garners jeers and cheers
The open shop contractors association in Saskatchewan is backing an initiative to restructure provincial labour legislation, but a trade union representative says the government doesn't have a mandate to implement the plan.
“This province has a proud history of defending workers’ rights,” said Karen Low, executive director Merit Contractors Association of Saskatchewan.
“While, in the past, this defense was driven largely with unions in mind, open shop contractors are looking for similar types of legislative support for their chosen employment method.”
The Saskatchewan Party government led by Premier Brad Wall released a 33-page consultation paper in May, which marks the beginning of the most comprehensive review of employment and labour relations legislation in the province’s history.
The 90-day consultation period for trade organizations to review and make suggestions about this proposal to overhaul Saskatchewan’s labour legislation ended on July 31.
Merit supports the government initiative to change the current legislative regime, which includes a recommendation to combine the Labour Standards Act, the Trade Union Act and the Construction Industry Labour Relations Act.
Another provision allows for the cancellation of a union certificate if a business closes or moves out of province and does not operate for three years or more in Saskatchewan
In contrast, the Saskatchewan Building Trades responded to the government’s proposal with a position paper entitled A Saskatchewan Employment Code: For What Purpose?
The paper argues a prolonged debate about the employment code will divert the government from its main priority, which is to ensure employers have an adequate supply of trained workers in a period of strong economic growth.
The Building Trades also state that the consolidation of legislation into one employment code for its own sake is not good enough reason to undertake a major review of legislation.
In addition, it argues that the Construction Industry Labour Relations Act was reviewed three years ago through Bill 80, which means further changes aren’t necessary.
As a result, the Building Trades are concerned consolidation is being presented by the government as an opportunity to fundamentally rethink the nature of unions and their role in Saskatchewan workplaces.
If there are inconsistencies between the various acts, the Building Trades believe the government should amend the individual acts as required.
The proposals dealing with certification and decertification will weaken the position of construction unions and the labour relations framework in the province.
According to Terry Parker, business manager of the Saskatchewan Provincial Building and Trades Construction Council, the premier refused to discuss any plans for legislative changes to the labour relations system in the run up to the November 2011 election.
He believes this means the provincial government doesn’t have a mandate to make these changes.
“During the 2011 election we explicitly asked Premier Wall if he was going to change labour legislation if he got elected,” Parker said.
“In response, the premier did not indicate any intention to review or change legislation. We’re calling on the premier to stick to his word and concentrate on solving labour shortages, including investments in our training institutions, instead of pursuing his obsession with labour legislation.”
Amendments to the Saskatchewan Construction Industry Labour Relations Act take effect in July 2010.
The controversial Bill 80 eliminated the government mandated monopoly that required unionized construction workers to belong to a government-designated union for their trade or craft.
The amendments allow a trade union to organize a company on a multi-trade, or “all employee” basis, as well as on a craft, or single trade basis.
It also allows any trade union to certify an employer.
Under the Construction Industry Labour Relations Act from 1992 companies were required to belong to a representative employers’ organization (REO), which bargained on their behalf.
The legislation ensured all bargaining took place between REOs and unions designated by the government.
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