When Bill 85 – the Saskatchewan Employment Act (SEA) – was introduced in the Saskatchewan Legislature in December of 2012, those familiar with industrial relations insisted the Act was unnecessary and would create labour instability. The Saskatchewan Party Government ignored the experts, listened only to their corporate friends, and passed Bill 85 on May 13, 2013. When Bill 85 was passed in the Legislature, Labour Relations Minister Don Morgan said, “we now have an even better Act that is fair to employees, employers and unions.” Then, despite incomplete regulations and a flawed Act, the Saskatchewan Party Government proclaimed the new law on April 29, 2014.

It did not take long to see the inevitable results of the Saskatchewan Employment Act across the province.

The mayor and councillors in Saskatoon played politics with people’s livelihoods by forcing a shutdown of transit services, and locking-out transit employees. The employees, represented by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 615, found themselves without a paycheque all because they wanted a fair deal.

“Because there was a matter before the Labour Relations Board (LRB), the lock-out was illegal – it was a wildcat lock-out,” said SFL President Larry Hubich, “the City and LRB stalled and delayed, whereas we know if this was a wildcat strike the premier would have been in front of the cameras saying he will recall the Legislature to pass back-to-work legislation,” he added.

Saskatchewan Employment Act made it possible for the City of Saskatoon to implement a wildcat lock-out, unilaterally change the employees’ pension plan, and stall at the LRB because the Act hands all the power to employers.

Transit workers are not the only workers shutout by their employer, as Martensville’s Richardson Milling employees were locked-out in September of 2014. Even though Richardson Milling and its employees are covered under federal legislation, it points to a growing attitude of indifference towards workers by employers.

Richardson Milling employees are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 1400, and the union is looking for the implementation of a wage grid system – as opposed to an aggregate increase system – as well as a guarantee that the employer will not reduce benefits during the life of the collective agreement, and access to the facility for union representatives.

“On October 14, 2014, the Employer issued a document to employees advising employees if they returned to work they would not pay union dues, would have their benefits and pension contributions reinstated and would be able to receive the economic terms as outlined in their offer of September 16, 2014,” said UFCW 1400 Secretary-Treasurer Darren Kurmey, “despite this, the Employer has maintained the Employees are locked out,” he added.

In Regina, Unifor Local 911 employees – who work for ISM Canada – have felt the full force of the Saskatchewan Employment Act. “My understanding of the situation is we have an employer who refuses to participate in mandatory mediation,” said Hubich, “and this is just one example of what this employer is up to – they appear to be trying to bust the union,” he added.

It is clear the Saskatchewan Employment Act has created an environment where employers not only have much more power, but also seem to be confident that the provincial government will not enforce the Act when they violate it. The SFL has called on the provincial government to rebalance labour legislation to allow workers to have more influence in matters of their work.

Saskatchewan's Labour Movement: the folks who brought you the constitutional right to strike!