YWCA hosts info session on workers’ rights

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Matt Gardner
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Newcomers to Canada and Saskatchewan were the target audience for a labour standards and occupational health and safety information session on Friday.

Held at the YWCA Regional Newcomers Centre, the event featured two speakers from the Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety who addressed a small audience that included immigrants from Africa, Asia and eastern Europe.

“At the Newcomers Centre, we try to inform employers and employees about different things that are available in the community to them, for services for newcomers,” manager Amanda Parenteau said.

“So obviously our clientele are here working with work permits and they’re coming from different countries to work in Canada, and they may not be aware of their rights -- the employers’ rights and the different safety standards that are in Canada versus where they’re coming from.”

Speaking on their respective areas of expertise, senior labour standards officer Wayne Mesenchuk and occupational health officer Bo Tan discussed current Saskatchewan law -- which may soon see major changes as the government plans to introduce the Saskatchewan Employment Act.

Deputy Minister for Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Mike Carr said the timing of the session was a function of the Centre’s request for information.

“While there are definitely some changes to the employment standards, those changes would definitely be seen as being, I think, positive from the perspective of that group of workers,” Carr said.

“The dilemma that we’ve had is that as we move to proclaim the provisions of the new legislation, we needed to continue our business and so we had received, as I understand it, a call from the community agency asking us to come out and speak to this group of people, and having expressed to them concern about wanting to make sure that people had the best information.”

Early in his presentation, Mesenchuk emphasized the need for workers to know who they were working for -- a task that can be more difficult for smaller, relatively obscure businesses than for larger corporations.

He also recommended that workers hold onto their pay stubs and keep track of the hours they work in a diary or calendar.

“When you come to Labour Standards and say you have an issue, you have to prove to us that you have a claim,” Mesenchuk said. “In other words, if you come to us and say ‘Well, I worked, but I don’t have anything,’ it’s hard for us to do our job.”

When you come to Labour Standards and say you have an issue, you have to prove to us that you have a claim. Wayne Mesenchuk

Conversely, “if, at the end of the day when you no longer work for the company, you can come to us and at least provide us with some record as to what you worked … then we can put some demands on the employer to provide his or her records to determine if you got paid properly.”

Mesenchuk noted that while each province has their own jurisdiction and labour standards, not every employer in Saskatchewan falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial Labour Standards Act.

The distinction, he added, can be a fine one.

While some trucking companies fall under Saskatchewan law, others come under federal law. Chartered banks come under federal law, while provincial law applies to credit unions.

“If you work for an Indian band on a reserve, that’s federal jurisdiction,” Mesenchuk said. “But if there’s an operation off of the reserve operated by the band or a collective group -- for example, the casino, or a local trucking company that hauls only in Saskatchewan and it’s operated by the band, but off of reserve -- then it falls under provincial law.”

Unionized workplaces, he noted, also fall outside of his jurisdiction since they are governed by collective agreements -- in which case workers with complaints should contact their union representative rather than Labour Standards.

In his segment of the information session, occupational health officer Bo Tan discussed potential hazards in the workplace and the right of employees to refuse work they see as dangerous.

The definition of dangerous work, he noted, depends on the difference between one’s training and job description and the nature of the assigned task.

He used the example of an accountant being asked by his or her supervisor to stop a bank robbery.

“You’re an accountant, you don’t have the training to be involved in that, right?” he asked.

“But if you’re a policeman that went through the training … and you know how to shoot guns and all that stuff, for you to invoke that right would probably be denied.”

Additional information on Saskatchewan labour standards and occupational health and safety is available at www.lrws.gov.sk.ca.

Organizations: YWCA, Ministry of Labour Relations and Workplace Safety

Geographic location: Saskatchewan, Canada, Africa Asia Eastern Europe

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