10/23/2012 01:35 EDT | Updated 12/23/2012 05:12 EST

NDP urges 'common- sense solution' in Saskatchewan labour law changes

REGINA - Opposition NDP Leader John Nilson says he hopes the government will use "Saskatchewan common sense" when it brings forward labour law changes this fall.

Nilson spoke with reporters Tuesday in preparation for the start of the fall sitting of the legislature Thursday.

He said he hopes the government backs off from some ideas that have been floated in recent months, such as allowing people to opt out of paying union dues.

"One of the challenges for Saskatchewan people is that our economy has been moving along quite well with relative labour peace for many, many years and so we don't understand why the government would be trying to disrupt that," said Nilson.

"What we're hoping is that there will be a common-sense solution and that whatever kinds of labour changes they bring forward will reflect where people are at, which is 'don't rock the boat here.'"

"I'm not sure that that's what they're going to do, but that could be a surprise."

Workplace and employment relationships are currently governed by 15 separate acts such as the Trade Union Act, the Public Services Essential Services Act, the Labour Standards Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. The government has said most of those acts have not been comprehensively reviewed in at least 20 years and it's time for an update.

The province is overhauling the 15 separate pieces of legislation into one labour law.

Labour Minister Don Morgan said last week that the new legislation is to be tabled in the legislature this fall. Morgan did not specifically address the opting out issue, but said the province's intention is to have something that "will comply with the laws of Canada."

The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the right of unions to collect dues and said people can only opt out on religious grounds.

Other labour law changes must be done.

The province was told to fix its essential services legislation after a court ruled in February that the law is unconstitutional.

The legislation stated employers and unions had to agree on which workers were so needed they couldn't walk off the job. Unions were outraged because the law also stated that if the two sides couldn't agree, employers could dictate who was essential.

But Justice Dennis Ball said "no other essential services legislation in Canada comes close to prohibiting the right to strike as broadly, and as significantly."

However, Ball upheld the principle of essential services and gave the government 12 months to fix the law.