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.