Protecting your workplace rights
SGEU has been working hard since 2007 to protect your basic right to bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions, and our efforts are starting to pay off, according to SGEU President Bob Bymoen.
“After years of campaigning, lobbying and legal action, we are starting to see a few positive developments in the struggle for fair labour laws,” he says.
The rights and protections working families rely on have been under attack since the newly-elected Sask. Party government introduced heavy-handed essential services legislation (Bill 5), and made it more difficult for workers to join unions through amendments to The Trade Union Act (Bill 6).
In 2013, government passed a new employment act that re-wrote all of the province’s labour laws and stripped union and non-union workers of many long-established and hard-won rights and benefits
Working to restore what has been lost
“We are working to restore what we have lost. While the new laws still shift the balance of power in favour of employers and undermine collective bargaining rights, we have been able to mitigate some of the damage,” says Bymoen.
The legal challenge to the government’s essential services law will soon be heard by the country’s highest court. On May 16, 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear argument to decide whether your right to strike is protected under the freedom of association and freedom of expression provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
This will be a landmark decision that will affect not only SGEU members and other public workers in Saskatchewan, but other union members across Canada as well.
Positive changes result
The pressure SGEU and other unions put on government, through legal action and member-driven public campaigns, has led to government tabling new essential services legislation. The proposed amendments still erode some long-established rights and protections for Saskatchewan workers. But we have gained some ground in the struggle for our rights.
SGEU has been able to convince the government to change its position on some of the issues that were particularly harmful to our members.
One major improvement is scrapping the requirement to negotiate an essential services agreement before bargaining starts. “That was a costly and unnecessary waste of time and money – for union members and employers,” Bymoen notes. He estimates that it cost SGEU over half a million dollars in the bargaining years of 2008 – 2009 to negotiate essential services agreements that were never needed.
Disputes could be settled by arbitrator
Another new provision in the proposed essential services legislation will make it easier to settle disputes when a significant number of union members in a workplace have lost the right to strike. There will now be an opportunity to have an arbitrator resolve a bargaining impasse in workplaces where so many employees are declared essential that it is impossible to conduct an effective strike.
As a member of the Minister’s Advisory Committee that makes recommendations to government on labour law changes, Bymoen has been working to restore the balance in our province’s labour laws. He is hopeful that more can be done to protect and defend our basic rights as workers.
Legal challenge paved the way
The legal challenge to Bill 5, the initial essential services law, which resulted in the legislation being declared unconstitutional, helped pave the way for the gains we have made. SGEU has played a major role in the SFL-led court challenge of the legislation.
Bill 5 was struck down by Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Dennis Ball in 2012. The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal allowed the government’s appeal, but the Supreme Court granted leave to appeal in order to make a final determination on whether workers have the right to withdraw their labour as part of the collective bargaining process.
A victory for working families
“We have shown that Bill 5 went too far and that it undermined our ability to bargain a fair collective agreement for our members. The government is revisiting that legislation, and that is a victory for working families in our province,” Bymoen says.
The new Saskatchewan Employment Act was passed last year, but at the time of writing, had still not been proclaimed into law.
“There is still much more to be done,” adds Bymoen. “We are committed to continuing to work for fairness and justice for our members and all Saskatchewan working families for as long as it takes to bring fairness and balance back into our labour laws.”