On October 15, 2015, amendments to The Saskatchewan Employment Act on essential services were introduced. The amendments are the result of a public consultation process as well as the efforts of a working group comprised of public sector employers, the unions that represent their workers and government representatives, working cooperatively. Consultations played an integral role in the development of the new essential services legislation by involving public sector employers, unions as well as emergency services organizations. These consultations were held from May 2015 to September 30, 2015.
The legislation fosters the development of on-going productive and effective relationships between the workforce and employers, and between individual working people and the unions that may represent them. The key changes are:
- Removing the definition of "essential services". The parties will determine what services are essential for their respective organizations.
- Establishing an Essential Services Tribunal, which is an independent third party dispute resolution body that will render decisions on what essential services as well as whether an essential services agreement substantially interferes with the exercise of a strike or lockout. The Tribunal will be compromised of the Chair or Vice-Chair of the Labour Relations Board and a representative appointed by each of the parties to the dispute.
- Provide for binding mediation-arbitration by a three-person panel when an essential services agreement is found to substantially interfere with the exercise of a strike or lockout.
- Require the parties to include in the Notice of Impasse whether there are essential services to be maintained in the event of a strike or lockout.
- Change the cooling off period from 14 days to 7 days in cases where essential services are identified.
- Establish a maximum time period of 60 days for binding mandatory mediation/conciliation under the Labour Relations part of the Act, except where the parties mutually agree to a longer time period.
The intent of the legislation is for the parties to successfully negotiate an essential services agreement; however, where the parties are unable to successfully negotiate one, an application can be made to the Labour Relations Board.
These amendments, when passed, will allow Saskatchewan's essential services legislation to address the concerns raised by the Supreme Court of Canada in its January 30, 2015 decision. The Supreme Court did recognize in that ruling that essential services must be maintained while respecting workers' rights to take job action.
Why the Changes
In 2014, the Government amended The Public Service Essential Services Act, after extensive consultations with stakeholders. On January 30, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada found The Public Service Essential Services Act unconstitutional. It noted that while it is reasonable to maintain essential services, the right to strike is constitutionally protected because of its crucial role in a meaningful process of collective bargaining. In rendering its decision, the Supreme Court suspended the application of this decision for one year.
The Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety has consulted on possible changes to comply with the Court’s decision. These consultations have resulted in the development of amendments to the essential services legislation. The proposed amendments can be viewed in the Essential Services Amendment Backgrounder.