Legislative Report (10 January 2007)

NDP Fumble the Ball in SGEU Strike

In most places in the world, governments and unions are able to manage disruptions in a way that doesn’t threaten public safety. That only happens on a limited basis here in Saskatchewan.

One model that is sometimes used in health care and safety sensitive areas is that prior to the expiration of a contract, employees reach an essential services agreement with their employer that sets the level of service and details the number of employees who will stay behind on the job, while their colleagues are walking the picket line. This approach allows the union to still take job action; meanwhile, the employer can ensure public safety.

Protection of public safety should always be the paramount concern for any government, which is what makes the NDP’s handling of the current dispute involving the SGEU so unacceptable. In Saskatchewan in the winter, clearing the highways is an essential public service. When the NDP fails to have an adequate contingency plan in place, it has failed the public.

Not only was there the immediate failure to make sure an adequate contingency plan was in place, the NDP has also made repeated failures over the past few years that have made this threat to public safety in the event of a strike almost inevitable.

The NDP has allowed the number of out-of-scope workers in the public service—generally managers who stay on the job during a strike—to deteriorate over the last few years. In that time, many managers have been moved in-scope or unionized. At a recent news conference, the Deputy Minister of Highways and Transportation said with roughly 100 staff on the front line, his department could only operate at between 20 and 25 per cent of normal capacity.

The NDP has also failed to look at final offer arbitration. Under this model, if the two sides can’t resolve an issue under the normal negotiating process under a set time limit, an independent third party is brought in to resolve the dispute. Each side is invited to put forward their best proposal that is either accepted or rejected in total by an independent third party. This causes both sides to put forward reasonable packages, hoping that it is their agreement that is selected by the third party. This is also an incentive for both sides to settle their differences on their own.

Finally, the NDP has failed to consider essential services legislation, similar to what is currently in effect in other provinces. One model to consider is for all services deemed essential, unions and the government must begin negotiations with a view to concluding an essential services deal 90 days before the expiry of the collective agreement to determine the level of service if job action is taken.

Collective bargaining has served the interests of working people well in Saskatchewan; however, those rights must be balanced with the competing need for responsible governments to protect public safety. What is obvious from recent events is that the NDP has failed to meet this obligation. Saskatchewan families deserve better.

If you have a question about this report or any other matter, just Contact Lyle.

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