Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Court Says Essential Services Law Is Unconstitutional: Essential Services Law Unconstitutional: Court

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Saskatchewan Court Says Essential Services Law Is Unconstitutional: Essential Services Law Unconstitutional: Court

Article excerpt

REGINA - The Saskatchewan government says it will fix its essential services legislation after a court ruled the law goes too far and is unconstitutional.

Justice Dennis Ball said the law infringes on the freedom of association of employees protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"In my view the provisions of the ... act go beyond what is reasonably required to ensure the uninterrupted delivery of essential services during a strike," the Court of Queen's Bench judge said in a written decision issued Monday.

The essential services legislation, along with the Trade Union Amendment Act, was introduced in December 2007 shortly after the Saskatchewan Party won its first provincial election.

The legislation says employers and unions have to agree on which workers are so needed they cannot walk off the job. Unions were outraged when it passed because the law also states that if the two sides can't agree, employers can dictate who is essential.

Ball noted that every jurisdiction except Saskatchewan had essential services legislation. At a minimum, those jurisdictions prohibit strikes by police officers and firefighters. All except Nova Scotia also prohibit, or at least significantly curtail, the right of hospital workers to strike, he said.

The lack of a law meant unions in Saskatchewan had "unrestricted power to unilaterally decide" what services, if any, would be provided during a strike.

Ball acknowledged the government's goal to ensure service as "pressing and substantial."

But he also said "the deleterious effects of the ... act substantially outweigh the public benefit it confers."

"It is enough to say that no other essential services legislation in Canada comes close to prohibiting the right to strike as broadly, and as significantly...." wrote Ball.

"No other essential services legislation is devoid of access to independent, effective dispute resolution processes to address employer designations of essential service workers and, where those designations have the effect of prohibiting meaningful strike action, an independent, efficient, overall dispute mechanism."

Ball declared the act invalid. However, the declaration has been suspended for 12 months.

It's now up to the government to change the law.

Justice Minister and Attorney General Don Morgan, who is also minister of Labour Relations, said the judgment upholds the principle of essential services legislation.

"We strongly support that our province remains committed to it for reasons of public safety. In issues of highway travel or staff in an operating room, we think it's absolutely imperative that we have legislation that protects the public," said Morgan.

"What the judgment seems to conclude is that we need to have a better or different method of dispute resolution."

Morgan said Saskatchewan will look at what others provinces do and will also look carefully at whether it needs to appeal the decision. …

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