Saskatchewan labour minister’s remarks on new union rules disappoint group

REGINA – Unions in Saskatchewan say they deserve better treatment than to learn about new labour rules in “dribs and drabs” from a minister’s speech to a business crowd.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich said he was disappointed that Labour Minister Don Morgan announced plans to change specific labour laws while speaking at the North Saskatoon Business Association luncheon on Friday.

“I think it’s inappropriate that the minister releases information around legislation that sets up terms and conditions of workers in a predominantly pro-business crowd, arguably anti-union,” Hubich said Monday at the legislature.

“It just seems that it would have been more appropriate to have that discussion in a group of individuals that the legislation is actually going to affect and that being workers.”

In the speech, Morgan talked about new laws for unions, such as taking away the ability to fine members who violate codes of conduct by taking money off their paycheque. He also talked about relaxing the rules to allow for 10-hour work days instead of eight-hour days, while maintaining a 40-hour work week.

Morgan spent Monday afternoon defending the decision to release details to the business crowd.

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“I thought this was an appropriate place to do it,” Morgan said. “We’ve talked about things as we’ve gone along at a number of times and places,” he added.

He said, for example, that people who work in northern Saskatchewan may want to work four longer days and get an extra day off to spend with their families.

But New Democrat David Forbes said the speech and speculation just raise more questions about the changes.

“This is just not the way to do it,” said Forbes. “We should be tabling the legislation in the house so we can see the whole package. Details matter and we’re not getting those details.”

The government announced plans in May to overhaul 15 separate pieces of workplace-related legislation into one omnibus labour law. It has said most of those acts have not been comprehensively reviewed in at least 20 years and it’s time for an update.

Some 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 is expected to be introduced this fall and be passed in the spring.

Hubich said the process has been “inadequate.”

“We haven’t had enough time to even deal with one piece of legislation let alone 15, and so to now be confronted with dribs and drabs of legislation and some suggestion that we’re going to see something that we really haven’t had a meaningful dialogue on is creating some challenges for us.”