Leader-Post financial editor, Bruce Johnstone appears to be ready to accept the arguments of the Minister of Advanced Education, Employment and Labour on the scope and ramifications of the Sask. Party's new anti-labour legislation without having had the benefit of a discussion with someone who may have a different point of view. His opinion column entitled: "Goldilocks would like new labour legislation" appears in the Saturday, Dec. 22 issue.
I quite like Mr. Johnstone, he is a very pleasant man, and I've always enjoyed our chats. I look forward to the opportunity to sit down with him soon and have a more comprehensive dialogue about these matters.
I can assure Mr. Johnstone, without fear of exaggeration, that the legislative changes (as written) proposed by the Sask. Party government will in fact transform Saskatchewan's laws respecting "union certification", "employer communication" and "essential services" into the category of the worst or tied-for-worst provisions in Canada.
I'll touch on just a couple of items in this post to clear up some of the questions or points raised by Mr. Johnstone in his article:
1. All other jurisdictions in Canada have some form of "essential services" legislation. Actually, the jury is still out on Nova Scotia - despite broad-based public opposition, the conservative government of Rodney MacDonald tabled legislation to strip away certain health-care workers right to strike (i.e. essential services). The opposition Liberals and NDP in the Nova Scotia legislature do not support the Bill, and subsequently the minority governing Conservatives have refused to put the Bill to a vote - so apparently the Bill will die on the order paper. As a result, there is no essential services legislation in Nova Scotia - see this CBC report.
As for other jurisdications - some have accompanying "anti-scab" legislation, some have other mitigating legislation. Many jurisdictions engaged in broad based, comprehensive and respectful consultations, especially with the people who will be affected. And (I believe) NONE have legislation with such wide and sweeping powers that may effectively allow a "Cabinet" to designate every worker in the province (public or private) as an essential service worker. See Section 2 (i) (xi) and Section 21 (c) of Bill 5 - what do these mean? (And that's just one question - there are others, many, many others).
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court of Canada decision respecting HEU BC, active discussion is occuring across the county regarding potential Charter challenges of other existing "essential services" legislation.
2. Saskatchewan's legislation allows a certification vote to be triggered at 25% support. This is a moot point - because the practical application of the law is that unions in Saskatchewan rarely (if ever) apply to the LRB for a certification vote with support that low. So if the Sask. Party wanted to put the "trigger percentage" in the middle of the pack - they should have done that. They haven't - they have set it at the highest level of any other jurisdiction in Canada. A mid-point trigger would be 35 or 40% not 45%. See Bill 6.
Further, there are a number of legal questions that arise with respect to what constitutes majority support (i.e. 50% plus one "of those voting", or 50% plus one of "all eligible voters"), and where and how the definition of quorum is established for the purposes of certification votes. The Premier and the Minister have actually said things about this that directly contradict each other. Which one is accurate?
And how is it, that moving from a system that allows for an "automatic certification process based on card support" (which, by the way, is in place in the majority of jurisdictions in this country - 6 out of 11) to one that doesn't (which is in place in the minority of jursidictions in this country - 5 out of 11) is being competitive and consistent with other provinces?
In closing, what other jurisdictions in Canada confer upon an employer the ability to legally interfere with an employee's constitutional protection under the Freedom of Association provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights? The Supreme Court of Canada is clear - given the acknowledged power imbalance that exists between a worker and an employer, it is no business of an employer whether or not an employee wishes to be a member of a union. The employers "opinion" in the matter is not required, justified, nor warranted.
A few years ago I signed up a worker to a union in Westlock, Alberta. During that process he said to me: "My employer is my employer, he's not my mother."
Workers have no legislated right or entitlement to interfere in an employer's decision to join a "Business Association" or a "Chamber of Commerce". Why is the reverse necessary? Democratic Workplaces, Fair and Balanced Labour Laws - Indeed!
Season's Greetings and Best Wishes for the New Year. Give me a call Bruce, and we can go for a coffee, it's on me.