SGEU fights back against draconian Sask. law | National Union of Public and General Employees

SGEU fights back against draconian Sask. law

Unfair labour practices complaint against the Brad Wall government alleges that its essential services legislation violates the Trade Union Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Bob Bymoen, president of the Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU/NUPGE)Regina (14 Sept. 2009) - The Saskatchewan Government and General Employees' Union (SGEU/NUPGE) has filed an unfair labour practices complaint against the right-wing government of Premier Brad Wall, alleging that it has violated the Trade Union Act and the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

SGEU, which represents approximately 21,000 employees, is taking the action to defend the right of members to bargain collectively in the face of sweeping restrictions contained in essential services legislation imposed by the government.

“We need to defend the hard-won gains made by union members over the years," says SGEU president Bob Bymoen. "Our rights to bargain collectively are under attack and it is our responsibility to stand up for our members’ rights when they are threatened."

A complaint filed by the union with the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board (SLRB) says the government violated the rights of SGEU members by giving itself the power to unilaterally impose its own essential services agreement, overriding any collective agreement language or arbitration processes that also deal with essential services.

Ignores prior agreement

The SGEU and the Public Service Commission recently concluded a mediation-arbitration process in which arbitrator Colin Taylor issued a decision indicating specific government services to be continued during any public service strike.

"It is a concern to us, and it should be a concern to all citizens, that the government is taking away established rights," says Bymoen. "It has simply decreed that its new law will prevail over an agreement bargained in good faith."

What SGEU finds most frustrating is that new regulations alter an agreement signed by the union and the province in February 2007 – concluded during the last round of bargaining. The agreement outlined a process for negotiating essential services.

“We agreed to negotiate essential services in order to ensure the health and safety of the Saskatchewan public. And we agreed to a process to do that, a process which we have engaged in with the employer for almost three years,” notes Bymoen. "But the government has chosen to ride roughshod over that agreement and process."

List of violations

In its submission to the SLRB, the union outlines a number of Trade Union Act provisions and regulations that violate members' rights under both the act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

  • The government failed to consult with SGEU prior to imposing the Public Services Essential Services Act (PSESA), even though it had a duty to do so, according to language within the existing collective agreement.
  • The government has unilaterally designated essential services levels and named essential services employees without bargaining in good faith with the union.
  • The PSESA does not provide any recourse to challenge the designation of essential services, levels or employees. The act only allows the SLRB to review the number of employees deemed essential, not the service itself or the names of individual employees.
  • Any designated essential employee is completely prohibited from participating in any work stoppage, even if they are off duty, on vacation, or not scheduled to work.
  • Employees designated essential are required to perform the full range of their duties during a work stoppage, even though only a portion of any employee's job might be considered essential.
  • Essential services employees are subject to criminal prosecution and substantial fines for taking part in a legal strike. SGEU and its members are further prohibited from counseling essential services employees to participate in job action.

'A strong stand'

SGEU says these provisions of the PSESA are violations of members' rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"SGEU is prepared to take a strong stand against the violation of its members' rights. We believe the PSESA is too broad and gives government sweeping powers that are simply not warranted," says Bymoen.

The PSESA (Bill 5) and the Trade Union Amendment Act (Bill 6) were among the first pieces of legislation passed by the new Wall government – in May 2008. They were widely condemned across the country for their anti-union bias. 

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE), on behalf of SGEU, filed a complaint with the International Labour Organization (ILO) in June 2008 against both acts because they violate the ILO's fundamental Convention on Freedom of Association which Canada and all provinces ratified in 1972.  

In June of this year, the ILO had to suspend its examination of the complaint for the third time in the past eight months because the Saskatchewan government had yet to provide the ILO with necessary information to "examine the case in full knowledge of the facts.”

The union is represented in the case by Rick Engel and Juliana Saxberg of the law firm of Gerrand Rath Johnson.

NUPGE

The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 340,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. NUPGE

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