Sask. government passes 2nd controversial labour bill

The Saskatchewan Party government has now passed the second of two bills that have outraged labour groups.

The Saskatchewan Party government has now passed the second of two bills that have outraged labour groups.

On Wednesday, the legislature passed Bill 5, the Public Services Essential Services Act, which sets out rules that could in future prevent some unionized workers from going on strike.

The government says it's similar to legislation in other provinces and will let the public know that its health and safety won't be jeopardized in the event of a strike.

The law applies in cases where a public sector strike could be considered a danger to life, health or safety; could cause destruction of equipment or premises; could cause serious environmental damage; or could cause disruption of the courts.

Labour Minister Rob Norris said that requiring unions and employers to come up with a list of employees who must work during a labour dispute is good for the public.

"I think for the people of Saskatchewan, there's a great sense of reassurance," he said. "The people of Saskatchewan are going to have a greater level of public safety as a result of essential services."

The NDP Opposition voted against the bill, saying it tilts the law too far in favour of employers.

Opposition Leader Lorne Calvert said the government's own example of snowplow operators striking during a winter storm just proves the NDP's point. He referred to what happened in early 2007 during the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees Union strike.

"When the snowstorm came, we didn't have to go back to the cabinet table," Calvert said. "The workers at SGEU themselves came forward and made sure the highways were open. That has been for years the practice.

Various unions and the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour also opposed Bill 5, saying it robs unionized workers of the fundamental right to withdraw their services in a labour dispute.

The labour federation and the NDP also opposed Bill 6, the Trade Union Amendment Act, which the legislature passed on May 8. Norris said the bill would bring more "balance" to legislation dealing with union certification.

He also said it would make the workplace more democratic, by requiring secret ballot votes when workers consider unionizing.

Another change would allow managers to talk to employees who are considering unionizing, something that under the old law could be considered an unfair labour practice.

Labour groups said Bill 6 is designed to make it tougher to unionize. For instance, they said, it ends automatic union certification when more than 50 per cent of workers sign union cards.

The new law also requires a higher percentage of workers to sign cards — 45 per cent compared to 25 per cent — before a vote on union certification is triggered.

Earlier this month, the government pointed to a newspaper poll that indicted there was public support for both labour bills.