POLITICS

Saskatchewan labour leaders want province to slow down on labour law changes

02/20/2013 12:11 EST | Updated 04/22/2013 05:12 EDT
REGINA - The Saskatchewan government is being urged by members of its own advisory committee to more carefully consider proposed new labour laws.

Nine union leaders who were on the committee are asking the province to slow down passage of the proposed Saskatchewan Employment Act, which melds 12 workplace-related pieces of legislation into one omnibus bill.

The leaders say the act would "re-set" employment in ways the committee would not have predicted.

"When we do finally have a law, we want a law that works for everybody," said committee member Hugh Wagner, who is also general secretary of the Grain and General Services Union.

"And it doesn't serve business, it doesn't serve unions, it doesn't serve working people, it doesn't serve government if we then spend the next five years in litigation trying to sort out what the law means."

Wagner said the bill "goes far beyond and to more places" than the committee considered.

He gave as an example the definition of who is an employee. That would dramatically change and thousands of workers could lose their union representation and collective bargaining rights. There are also three different definitions of an employee in the bill.

The proposed act was introduced last December. It could become law as soon as this spring if it is passed in the legislature.

The proposed legislation says people with disabilities can't be paid a lower minimum wage. The legislation allows for people to work either five eight-hour days a week or four 10-hour days a week. The qualifying period for maternity, parental and adoption leave would lower to 13 weeks from 20 weeks.

On the labour relations front, the legislation would enshrine a 14-day cooling-off period before a strike or lockout could happen in the event a contract couldn't be reached.

Unions could still fine members who crossed picket lines, but they'd have to get a court order to collect.

Labour Minister Don Morgan said in December that he didn't expect to make business groups or unions completely happy.

The labour leaders say there should be a fuller review on the intent of the changes and whether there could be unintended consequences.

The committee needs more time to do a page-by-page review of the act, Wagner said. He also said there should be public consultations. He did not say how long that could take.

"The time you need is the time to get it right and if that is months, so be it. If it's another 12 months or a year, so be it," he said.

"I don't think we can put a stopwatch in motion on this and say we've got to be done by such and such a date. There is no crisis with regard to labour legislation in the province."