Proposed New Employment Legislation: Hot Debate in Saskatchewan

March 25, 2013

The new Saskatchewan Employment Act promises to be a “game changer” in Saskatchewan labour and employment law. The SEA, which was introduced to the legislature in December, 2012, is a consolidation of twelve provincial labour and employment statutes into a single statute. In total, it serves to repeal or amend 33 separate pieces of legislation.

The changes that will be effected with the enacting of the proposed SEA touch on a wide range of areas, including employment standards, occupational health and safety, appeals, and labour relations. Highlights of the new legislation include (from the provincial government’s news release):

  • The Minimum Wage Board will be dissolved, and minimum wage will now be indexed to inflation;
  • Unions will be required to provide audited financial statements and the results of votes to their members;
  • While maintaining the 40 hour work week, two work arrangements will be permitted in the legislation – eight hours per day for five days per week or 10 hours per day for four days per week. This is consistent with other jurisdictions in Western Canada;
  • Introduction of two new leave provisions – for organ donation and attendance at citizenship ceremonies;
  • Clarification of the definition of employee for labour relations purposes to exclude those employees whose duties are confidential or managerial;
  • A definition of supervisory employee that would restrict a supervisor from belonging to the same bargaining unit as those they supervise;
  • The ability of employers or employees to decertify a union that has been inactive for three or more years;
  • Following an unsuccessful application to decertify a union, employees can apply to decertify the union again after waiting 12 months;
  • Limitation of the ability of a union to fine a member for crossing a picket line, to be consistent with other Canadian jurisdictions;
  • Reduction of the qualification period for maternity, parental and adoption leave from 20 weeks to 13 weeks of service;
  • Recognition that no individual or group may be compensated differently on the grounds of any prohibition identified within The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code;
  • Establishment of a single avenue for appealing a decision on an occupational health and safety or employment standards matter; and
  • Appeals of adjudicator decisions to the Labour Relations Board with a final appeal to the Court of Appeal.

Predictably, reaction to the new legislation has been mixed. The government has stated that it “creates a fair, balanced, competitive and growth-oriented employment environment that reflects current and best practices”, while union leaders have said that “many of the proposals…represent a step backwards for workers’ rights” and “there is simply too much that’s been changed far too quickly”.

The SEA will undoubtedly be the subject of hot debate in the current session of the Legislature.

Special thanks to Kit McGuinness, articling student in the Saskatoon office, for his contribution to this article.

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