Minimum wage change puts Saskatchewan in eighth place

The NDP wants a minimum wage that’s both more competitive with other provinces, and gives working people a decent wage to live on.

The government announced Thursday that the new wage will be $10.50 as of Oct. 1. That’s lower than the current minimum wages in eight other provinces and territories. The premier of Alberta has stated her government has plans to raise that province’s minimum wage to the highest in Canada, which would bump Saskatchewan down to ninth place.

“The reality is that working 40 hours per week, every week, and never calling in sick – that equals about $21,000 per year with no benefits or pension,” said NDP Labour critic David Forbes.

“The cost of living in Saskatchewan has really gone up, especially when you look at housing, our utility bills and childcare costs. The reality for many minimum-wage earners is two or even three jobs, and tough choices, like choosing between food and rent. We shouldn’t have to hear about food bank use jumping or about kids going to bed hungry in this province – but we do.”

The NDP supports indexing minimum wage to the Consumer Price Index changes, but called for an increase before indexation started to prevent indexation from holding minimum-wage earners back. Now, it would like to see a one-time adjustment to ensure minimum wage is a livable wage.

NDP questions Regina bypass company VINCI’s human rights record

CBC News, June 10th, 2015

The Saskatchewan NDP is wondering if the government asked the right questions about the human rights record of a company hired to build the new Regina bypass.

The Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure selected VINCI, a French corporation, at the end of May as the preferred proponent in a 30-year contract to construct the $1.2-billion project.

VINCI has faced allegations regarding the violation of workers’ rights in Qatar, where the company is constructing a stadium for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

In March, the human rights organization Sherpa filed a complaint against VINCI and its subsidiary in Qatar for forced labour, servitude, and concealment.

Sherpa’s release states: “Modern slavery does not consist of shackling and whipping workers. It is subtler: the penal code defines a vulnerable population, under the threat of an employer and extreme economical dependency, as having no choice but to accept the deplorable working conditions and therefore renew its contract.”

The company has refuted all of these claims and filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa.

“We have repeatedly welcomed unions, international NGOs and journalists onto our building sites,” VINCI said in a release. “They have ascertained that we do more than merely comply with local labour law and respect fundamental rights.”

The VINCI release adds that all employees are free to retrieve passports at any time and that appropriate working hours are observed.

However, Sherpa has remained steadfast in its allegations.

David Forbes, NDP critic for labour, as well as quality, diversity and human rights, addressed these controversies on Wednesday.

“If they are found guilty there, clearly we’ll have questions about that. But we want to make sure their practices here are following Saskatchewan standard,” Forbes said of the VINCI corporation.

He said people are anxious to prevent any mistreatment of workers in this province.

“We want to know that the government has asked the questions to ensure that kind of thing won’t be happening here in Saskatchewan,” Forbes said.

The government said it is already aware of the allegations against VINCI and that the contract could be terminated if any of those allegations are proven true.

Human rights abuse allegations hang over bypass builder gov’t chose

France investigating VINCI and its Qatar FIFA World Cup soccer stadium project

The France-based corporation that will build and maintain the Regina bypass on a 30-year contract has been mired in troubling allegations, and an investigation by the Government of France into its human rights practices. The NDP wants to know if the Sask. Party asked the right questions, or just looked the other way before awarding the corporation a massive contract.

VINCI is the company the government chose to build the Regina bypass. It’s also the corporation building the Qatar soccer stadium in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Paris-based human rights organization Sherpa accuses VINCI of, allegedly, withholding the passports of the migrant workers, forcing them to work long days and preventing them from moving to non-company housing. French authorities determined in April that there is enough evidence to warrant an initial investigation into those allegations.

“We want to know if the government asked the tough questions before inviting this corporation into Saskatchewan, and we want to know what the Sask. Party plans to do should any of the claims be proven in court after their massive deal is finalized,” said NDP labour critic David Forbes.

“This is a corporation we will be tied to for 30 years. Going with a corporation that is connected to alleged human rights concerns just does not match Saskatchewan values.”

In addition to awarding VINCI a contract to build Regina’s $1.2 billion bypass, the government plans to pay a VINCI subsidiary to operate and maintain the bypass for 30 years.

VINCI denies wrongdoing, and says it has filed a defamation lawsuit against Sherpa, noting on its website that: “… All QDVC employees are free to retrieve their passports at any time…”

QDVC is the partnership between VINCI and the Qatari government’s sovereign wealth fund. The partnership adopted the name Qatari Diar Vinci Construction. The Qatar sovereign wealth fund is also a shareholder in VINCI.

Meanwhile, various organizations, media reports and foreign governments allege that hundreds of workers are dying on that Qatar project – perhaps at a rate equal to one every two days.

In Saskatchewan, the VINCI-led bid group calls itself SaskLink Global Transportation Partners.

The NDP is a strong supporter of building a bypass around Regina. It has raised concerns about the route the Sask. Party government chose, which is too close to the city and will be in the midst of future city expansion. It has also raised concerns about the use of a P3 financing and maintenance scheme for the project. P3s tend to cost more. For example, in Ontario, the Auditor General found that 75 P3 projects cost $8 billion extra, compared to straightforward builds.

NDP concerned with lack of specifics on inspection changes

Terrence Mceachern, Regina Leader-Post, March 6, 2015

NDP MLA David Forbes continued to question the government Thursday on its record of unannounced and random occupational and health safety inspections, and raised concerns about the lack of specifics on a plan moving forward.

In particular, Forbes raised concerns about the inspection record at the Agrium Vanscoy potash mine.

During Question Period, Forbes said inspections at the mine showed a disturbing pattern. Of note, he said there hasn’t been an unannounced inspection at the mine since April 2012, nor has there been a scheduled inspection since August 2013. The five visits to the mine were in response to a specific complaint, he said.

According to an NDP Freedom of Information request, between Jan. 5, 2011 and April 27, 2012, there were four unannounced inspections at the mine compared with 12 announced inspections between Feb. 1, 2011, and Aug. 6, 2013.

Since Aug. 6, 2013, there have been four inspections after a complaint was received, the most recent on Jan. 16.

After Question Period, Minister of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Don Morgan said the ministry has been given a directive to return to unannounced and random inspections by a “significant number.” In terms of specific details, he said the deputy minister will be coming back with a business plan on how to “target resources most effectively.”

But Morgan disagreed with the NDP argument regarding the record of scheduled or unscheduled inspections at the mine, arguing there have been five in the past few months.

“When we became aware that the number of unannounced inspections had dropped right off we gave (the ministry) a direction that is not acceptable, they have to bring it back up.”

Morgan said that it is good for inspectors to be unannounced at construction sites so employees and employers are aware they are being watched for workplace safety. He noted that, although the numbers are improving, Saskatchewan still has the second-highest injury rate in Canada.

“I don’t think we’re doing nearly as well as I’d like to see us doing,” he said.

Forbes was asked about the Morgan’s lack of specifics in a plan moving forward. He said that, despite the directive, it sounds like the government is continuing with the status quo and “going to continue the downward trend of not doing random inspections or unannounced inspections.”

Plowing ahead based on ideology is a bad idea

Supreme Court of Canada rules the government’s Essential Services Act unconstitutional

NDP Labour critic David Forbes said Friday’s Supreme Court of Canada ruling against the Government of Saskatchewan’s labour laws is historic – and should send a loud message to Brad Wall that recklessly plowing ahead with plans based on ideology, instead of fairness and common sense, is a bad idea.

The Supreme Court of Canada affirmed that the right to strike is protected by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and, as a result, declared Saskatchewan’s essential services labour law passed in 2008 to be unconstitutional

The country’s top court ordered the provincial government to pay the unions’ considerable legal fees for the Charter challenge, adding to the significant amount of money the government has already spent trying to save a law which the court says it never should have introduced in the first place.

“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision, but it never should have had to come to this,” said Forbes. “A good government works in the interest of all people and brings forward balanced legislation that takes everyone’s rights into consideration. But Mr. Wall just plowed ahead based on ideology, rather than in the interests of fairness and common sense, and he recklessly ignored the fundamental rights of working people.

“The result has cost Saskatchewan a whole lot of money, and a whole lot of time.”

Forbes said the NDP Opposition wants the government to move swiftly to fix this flawed legislation.

“We expect a fair and balanced law, that fully respects people’s constitutionally protected rights, and is written with meaningful consultation with all stakeholders,” said Forbes. “The Supreme Court is clear: that law cannot designate large swaths of workers for no reason. It must include a good appeals process. And, it must provide another fair method – like third-party binding arbitration – in the rare cases when a worker is considered too essential to strike.”

Labour peace should always be the goal, and that is best brought about by good faith bargaining, according to the NDP.

“The Supreme Court said the right to strike is there because it’s necessary to achieve a balanced bargaining table,” said Forbes. “We couldn’t agree more. We believe that labour laws should aim to create an environment that delivers labour peace through fairness. The fact is that the vast, vast majority of public sector contracts in Saskatchewan have been settled without job action. That’s in the best interests of Saskatchewan families, and unfair labour laws only serve to disrupt that.”

Provincial Labour law changes take effect

By Joe Couture and Andrea Hill, The Starphoenix, Canadian Press Files
April 30, 2014

Allowing for modified work schedules, indexing the minimum wage and recognizing the rights of interns are among broadbased changes to labour laws now in effect in Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan Employment Act, heralded at its introduction as an historically significant consolidation of the province’s existing labour laws, was proclaimed and went into effect Tuesday.

Some groups, including the provincial Opposition, said they still have concerns. Labour critic David Forbes said the modified work arrangements allowed under the act are particularly troubling.

“The issue really becomes the fact that workers will be in a vulnerable situation. They won’t know what their rights are,” Forbes said. “I think there’s a lot of confusion about what’s happening with the employment act.”

The regulations related to the act, revealed Tuesday, allow employers and employees to agree to average hours over a period ranging from one to four weeks, with a daily maximum of 12 hours. They also allow two specific work arrange-ments of 40 hours per week – five eight-hour shifts, or four 10-hour shifts. Previously, permits were required for modified schedules.

Labour Minister Don Morgan said workers wanted the flexibility.

“There was all kinds of desire to have those, and it wasn’t a matter of the employer saying, ‘We want this to happen.’ It was a matter of the employee saying, ‘I want to spend a greater amount of time with my family.'”

The regulations also make clear that interns must be paid.

“The people that were called interns were often entry-level workers and employers were sometimes taking advantage of those people, saying, ‘Well, you’re an intern. Therefore you will not be paid for this, or we’re going to pay you whatever lesser amount of pay than what the act would require.’ So we’ve said, ‘Interns, you’re going to get paid,’ ” Morgan said.

The regulations create a separate class for student learners who have to do work placements for educational programs and might be unpaid.

Mandating wages for interns “has pretty solid benefits,” said Sean Geobey of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

“What this does is it opens up a lot of industries, a lot of work opportunities to people who might not come from a lot of means,” Geobey said. “What this means is we’re doing a better job of getting return on investment from money that’s put into public education, post-secondary education.”

Another highlight in the new regulations is the annual indexation of the minimum wage to a formula that considers average weekly earnings and inflation, with cabinet having the final decision on increases.

Other provisions clarify rules around time banks, days of rest, prime contractors and occupational health committee meeting minutes.

Penalties for violations are also increasing.

The controversial essential services piece is not included, as the government is waiting for input from the country’s Supreme Court, which is looking at an earlier version of the province’s essential services legislation.

Instead, there is a placeholder section for essential services.

Is a minimum wage hike good for Saskatchewan?

The Starphoenix, April 1, 2014

Lynda Brazeau knows the impact a few cents an hour can make.

As the executive director of the Friendship Inn, she meets many of Saskatoon’s working poor, who frequent the soup kitchen while making minimum wage when they can find work.

The provincial government’s decision to increase the minimum wage — and its plans to index the minimum wage to the consumer price index — can only mean good things for her clients, Brazeau said Monday.

“I don’t think it’s going to change the world for them, but I’m happy to hear that there’s an increase of any kind.”

Saskatchewan’s minimum wage will be increased from $10 to $10.20 in October. That means the average full-time employee making minimum wage will earn an extra $416 a year before taxes, bringing their average pre-tax annual income to about $21,000.

The minimum wage will likely increase year after year, as the government works to put in place a plan for an annual indexing of the minimum wage.

“We looked at what was taking place in other provinces. This moves us well up,” said Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan.

Past increases to the low-income cut-off for paying income taxes also factored into setting the $10.20 figure, Morgan said.

Not everyone thinks the few extra dollars in the pockets of low-income workers is a good deal.

“Certainly, retail and hospitality sectors will be hardest hit by an annual increase,” said Marilyn Braun-Pollon of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). “Business owners will have to consider increasing prices or cutting hours.”

Braun-Pollon said the CFIB’s data shows most business owners already pay more than minimum wage and that an increase is going to have a damaging “ripple effect” on the small business economy.

She said the increase is “a blunt tool” that won’t actually help low-income earners. She said the province should instead provide complete tax exemptions for low income earners.

Saskatchewan’s low-income tax credit currently provides a full-time minimum wage employee with about $240 a year, but the employee pays $418 in provincial taxes.

The indexation formula will be in effect for next year and will be based equally on percentage changes in the consumer price index and the average hourly wage for the previous year, Morgan said.

“We think low-income workers should participate in the growth of the economy as well. Strictly on the basis of inflation, we felt, doesn’t reflect what should happen.”

Changes to the minimum wage under the indexation formula will be announced each year by June 30 and implemented Oct. 1. Calculations will be based on the preceding year’s numbers.

Morgan had previously suggested there could be a base increase to the minimum wage in 2014 along with an indexed increase, but said Monday that $10.20 will be the rate from Oct. 1 until the same date in 2015.

Opposition labour critic David Forbes said he’s happy with the timeline, but disappointed with the $10.20 number.

“We thought we should be, as a province, higher than that,” Forbes said. “I’m concerned this is going to keep us in the back of the pack.”

The critic said he wanted to see the wage in the range of $10.40 to $11, noting some provinces have higher rates.

The government first said it would index the minimum wage as part of its provincial labour legislation overhaul. The exact indexing scheme will be released in three months, Morgan said.


At $10.20 an hour:

A year: $21,216

A month: $1,768

A week: $408

Compared to $10 an hour:

An extra: $416 a year

An extra: $35 a month

An extra: $8 a week

Minimum wage in all provinces and territories:

Alberta: $9.95

New Brunswick: $10.00

Newfoundland: $10.00

Northwest Territories: $10.00

Prince Edward Island: $10.00

Quebec: $10.15

Saskatchewan: $10.20

Ontario: $10.25

British Columbia: $10.25

Nova Scotia: $10.30

Manitoba: $10.45

Yukon: $10.54

Nunavut: $11.00

Minimum-wage hike coming soon

Joe Couture, The StarPhoenix, March 24, 2014

Labour Minister Don Morgan says the minimum wage in Saskatchewan will increase this year.

The hike will bring the wage, currently $10 per hour, up to par with other provinces’ rates, on top of the introduction of the government’s new indexation system, Morgan said on Monday.

“I’m expecting we’ll be able to make an announcement within the next week or 10 days,” he told reporters in Regina after the Opposition raised the issue during Question Period.

“Our intention is that we would develop a base at that point in time, and then announce it for a number of months out, so people would have a chance to adapt to it.”

The government’s new system to index the minimum wage, announced as part of its recent major overhaul of the province’s labour legislation, would see annual increases based on a formula that balances the consumer price index (CPI) and the province’s average annual wage in what it takes into account.

Morgan acknowledged there have been delays in introducing the indexation system since it was first announced, pointing to unexpected complexity. While it was originally expected that annual increases under indexation would be announced in April and come into effect in November, that might change to May and December, Morgan said.

He also noted this year might be an anomaly to that schedule due to the delays in getting the new indexation system implemented.

Opposition labour critic David Forbes blasted the government for taking so long to get the regulations in place to support minimum wage indexation — especially considering the speed with which the labour legislation was passed.

“There’s been way too much delay. We call on the government to raise it as quickly as they can. This government should be ready to implement this,” he said.

Forbes pointed to rising expenses for residents in Saskatchewan and said Morgan needs to do a better job as labour minister to support the province’s workers.

“The people of Saskatchewan, particularly those who are earning minimum wage, are facing and feeling the costs of living here in Saskatchewan for the last two years and have been promised time and time again that the minimum wage would be increasing,” Forbes said.

NDP Says Regulations Overdue – Leader Post

Bruce Johnstone, Leader Post, July 12, 2013

The Opposition NDP is calling on the Saskatchewan Party government to make good on its promise to index increases in the minimum wage to inflation, which was made during the spring session and is now two months overdue.

“This was the big issue towards the dying days of the session in spring,” NDP labour critic David Forbes said Thursday. “They seemed really gung-ho on passing the bill when we knew there were huge holes in it, basically the regulations.”

During the spring session, the NDP criticized the amount of labour law left out of the Saskatchewan Employment Act, including the minimum wage indexation formula. The Sask. Party government promised in the spring to index the minimum wage to inflation, but said the measure would be contained in the regulations, not the legislation itself.

On May 2, Labour Minister Don Morgan told a committee of the legislature that employers should get six month’s notice of any change in the minimum wage rate or formula. Last October, the government announced that the minimum wage would increase to $10 an hour on Dec. 1, 2012.

Forbes said it’s well past time for the regulations to be announced. “They were very confident they could meet the timelines,” Forbes said. “Now … we’ve got big questions: Have they forgotten about it? What’s happening here? We don’t think this is right.” Employers and employees need to know how much minimum wage will be on Jan. 1, Forbes added.

While Morgan acknowledged employers may not get six month’s notice of the changes, he said the regulations, including indexing formula, should be announced this fall. “We gave two month’s notice last time. I would prefer not give two month’s (notice), but we can do it on short notice,” Morgan said, adding that it was a “transition period.”

“What we indicated in May was that it may well be well into the fall before this (change in regulation) is ready and that we would have a look at what was taking place with minimum wage across Canada. If we want to make an earlier change, we may well want to consider that.” Morgan said other provinces are raising their minimum wage and Saskatchewan will want to keep pace with the rest of the country. Before the minimum wage was increased last year, Saskatchewan’s minimum wage of $9.50 an hour was the lowest among the 10 provinces. Regarding the indexing formula, Morgan reiterated his earlier statement that it would a 50-50 combination of average industrial wage and consumer price index or inflation. “That position remains unchanged.” There are approximately 22,000 minimum wage earners in Saskatchewan, representing approximately five per cent of the paid workforce in Saskatchewan.


Bill 85 passes – still too many concerns

The NDP MLAs have raised concerns about the Sask. Party government’s proposed overhaul of Saskatchewan’s 15 pieces of workplace and employment laws since its introduction last year. The government refused to hold public consultations on the legislation, so I, as NDP labour critic, launched a province-wide consultation tour last fall to hear questions, concerns and suggestions from Saskatchewan people. I worked closely with many Saskatchewan labour leaders to help ensure any changes to the existing legislation were necessary and fair.

It became obvious that the government was intent on proceeding with new legislation, so our caucus tried to work cooperatively and in good faith with the government to arrive at a compromise on Bill 85, and to maintain the good-faith relationship needed between employers and employees to create fair and safe workplaces. Despite these efforts, the Sask. Party government passed the Saskatchewan Employment Act (SEA) at the end of the spring legislative session. We do not know how or when Bill 85 will come into force as there are many unknowns, including regulations, to be dealt with.

Some major concerns with the omnibus SEA were caused by omission, and were dealt with by amendments rather than having been done right in the first place. For example, as originally written, the Sask. Party government proposed that part-time workers could have worked days in excess of eight hours without overtime pay. The NDP flagged this issue and it has since been corrected.  However, many of the issues raised by the NDP and others were ignored by the government in its haste to pass the legislation before the spring legislative session was over. The SEA boils down 12 former acts into one, and we are concerned about what else might be missing, and what loopholes or unintended consequences might now be law in Saskatchewan.

Bill 85 leaves out items that were written into previous legislation. It shifts many important provisions into regulations – meaning they will not be entrenched in law. This includes the indexation of minimum wage, and also means employers may have the ability to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage. The Sask. Party has passed the SEA, but the important regulations have not even been drafted yet, leaving many to worry about the details still to come.

A fair essential services provision is one of the important issues not included in the SEA.  The Saskatchewan NDP have a long-standing policy that essential services legislation – which outlines which government employees and health care workers would be allowed to withdraw their services in the event of a strike – should be repealed and replaced. Efforts to work together on a common-sense, balanced essential services section for Bill 85 have not been well-received by the government. Instead, the Sask. Party pushed ahead without finding any real solutions to a law they have admitted is flawed. The existing essential services legislation, passed by the government in 2008, has now faced two court rulings, and it may be headed to the Supreme Court of Canada for a further legal ruling. Rather than wait for this matter to be sorted out by the courts, the Sask. Party government proceeded by passing the SEA with a blank placeholder for the important essential services part.

The Saskatchewan NDP have called on the Sask. Party government to deal with these issues within Bill 85 before moving ahead with the legislation. We feel that any legislation that affects every worker and every workplace in Saskatchewan is worth doing carefully and worth doing right the first time. Saskatchewan’s labour laws were refined over 100 years – they shouldn’t be re-written in just a few weeks. Ultimately, Saskatchewan’s workplaces are generally working well, and taking a risk that upsets the balance is just not a common sense step for Saskatchewan.