Labour review raises more questions and concerns

May 7, 2012 - 7:11am Updated: May 7, 2012 - 10:32am
File photo of Minister Don Morgan  at the Legislature on May 2 2012. Patrick Book/CJME.
File photo of Minister Don Morgan at the Legislature on May 2 2012. Patrick Book/CJME.

Don Morgan, minister of justice, announced last week the government would conduct a sweeping review of the province's labour laws.

Morgan said some of the current legislation is out dated and doesn't reflect today's work environment. The goal of the review would be to unite 15 pieces of legislation into one Saskatchewan Employment Code. That would make Saskatchewan the only province with one piece of legislation over multiple aspects of labor relations and workplace safety.

"I think what's somewhat unusual about this particular initiative is the suggestion that they might be thinking of amalgamating pieces of legislation which have existed separately into a single piece of legislation. That certainly is a new departure I think," said Beth Bilson, professor with University of Saskatchewan College of Law

She said there are a few potential changes sparking concern and questions around the province including an idea of allowing adjustments the 40 hour work week.

The proposal would allow employers and employees to mutually agree to adjust the 40 hour work week without requiring a government permit.

Bilson said she would have major concern that employees may be put under pressure from employers in the interest of paying less overtime.

She said there is some advantage to employees who are often willing to work more intensely in order to have days off "But if you have a situation where there's a supposedly voluntary agreement and employees are put under pressure to accept longer working weeks without overtime of the kind that's now prescribed in the labour standards act, I think that would be a cause for concern," said Bilson.

Another area of the review getting flak from various groups in the province is he idea to expand conditions under which people can opt out of unions.

But the idea may not be as forgone as people think it is.

"If you look at collective bargaining legislation across the country there are exemptions made in some pieces of legislation, including the one in Saskatchewan, for people who apply to be excluded on religious grounds," said Bilson.

"The argument of Unions of course is because the provisions of collective agreement have universal application, that is you don't find people arguing to be exempted from wage increases when they're given, that it's hard for the union to operate if the grounds on which people are allowed to exclude themselves from unions are broadened," said Bilson.

The government has set a date for the end of July for the public to provide written feedback. No date has yet been set for formal discussion on a review.