Submissions show Saskatchewan unions, business groups at odds over labour changes
Published Tuesday, September 11, 2012 3:12PM CST
Last Updated Tuesday, September 11, 2012 4:18PM CST
Unions and business groups appear to be at odds over changes to Saskatchewan labour laws and Labour Minister Don Morgan says the two sides will never totally agree.
More than 3,800 submissions that were made as part of the province's extensive overhaul of its labour laws were posted online Tuesday.
The Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce said in its recommendations that unions should disclose how they're spending dues, "since many of their members may not be entirely supportive of what their contributions are currently being spent on."
The chamber also suggested people should be allowed to opt out of paying dues.
"Many unionized employees do not approve of their union dues being directed toward funding attack ads in provincial election campaigns, yet they are not able to choose what activities their contributions are going towards," reads the chamber submission.
The Saskatchewan Union of Nurses disagreed.
It pointed out the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the right of unions to collect dues and people can only opt out on religious grounds.
"There's no reason for the issue to be revisited," the union said in its submission.
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 began its overhaul in May, saying most of the acts had not been comprehensively reviewed in at least 20 years.
Morgan said the government will review the suggestions and try to find a balance.
"We know that based on the divergence of opinion and comments that were made, we will not have agreement or consensus on them," Morgan said.
"But we think, based on some of the comments that were made at the advisory committee meeting, that we will probably have more common ground than people might anticipate."
Morgan said the goal is to have contracts settled sooner and to have essential services in place. No decisions on the changes have been made at this point, he said.
However, he also said the government doesn't want to make changes that could land it back in court.
"We have a great deal of respect for the decisions that have (been) made by the courts and we do not intend to get ourselves into a position where there would be a successful court challenge," he said at the legislature.
"We know that the essential services one led to a successful court challenge. It was done early in our mandate without as much due diligence as should take place and it is not something that we are going to repeat."
The Saskatchewan Party introduced essential services legislation in December 2007 shortly after winning its first provincial election. 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 is essential.
A Court of Queen's Bench judge ruled in February that the law is unconstitutional.
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.
Morgan has said the court's decision breaks new ground when it states that there is charter protection for the right to strike.
The province is appealing the ruling.