The Saskatchewan Government recently introduced a consultation paper outlining what it has termed the largest effort to review and consolidate labour legislation in the province’s history. The Saskatchewan Building Trades appreciate being consulted but have significant concerns with regard to the government’s direction.
We believe the government has chosen the wrong priority.
A prolonged debate about a Saskatchewan Employment Code will divert government from the real priority – ensuring Saskatchewan employers have workers and ensuring Saskatchewan people are trained for work.
Significant shortfalls in labour are predicted over the next decade. The Mining Association predicts 15,000 new workers will be required in the next decade. The Construction Sector Council says Saskatchewan’s economy is at risk if the province cannot meet the demand for labour.
The construction industry is a critical part of the Saskatchewan economy. In 2011 it contributed almost $3 billion to our GDP up from $1.6 billion in 2000 (measured in 2002 dollars). Approximately 40,000 workers were working in the industry in 2011, up from just under 25,000 in 2001. Workers in our industry are building, expanding and maintaining the potash and uranium mines, the power stations and the oil refineries that are making Saskatchewan a national economic leader.
The government makes the argument that modernizing labour legislation is critical to meeting the needs of the Saskatchewan’s economy. But the consultation paper does not make the case as to how the changes proposed will help to meet the needs of the economy or how these changes will improve the critical shortage of workers now being experienced.
The Building Trades are the linch pin in meeting demand for labour in the construction industry. Our hiring halls dispatch trained journeypersons and apprentices to industrial construction sites throughout the province. To meet the immediate demand for workers, we are bringing trained and skilled workers from all across Canada and increasingly from the United States. One of our affiliates recently put to work Irish workers who were laid off by their non-union contractor near Saskatoon.. Our efforts to find and supply skilled labour are keeping our affiliates working at a fever pitch. Our unions and our employers do not need to be distracted by the Saskatchewan government’s obsession with labour legislation.
Ensuring Saskatchewan people are trained and ready for our labour market is an important goal for the Building Trades Council. Together, our affiliates spend millions of dollars each year to ensure journeypersons and apprentices have the skills our employers need to thrive. We believe the government’s efforts in training are falling short. In our recent position paper on apprenticeship we recommended that government invest more money in apprenticeship training and in expanding SIAST, particularly in Saskatoon. Our affiliates have training space and are willing to work with government to assist in meeting the demand for new workers.
We believe government needs to make a greater effort in ensuring Aboriginal young people are trained for careers in construction. Immigration is important to the province but the numbers of trained journeypersons coming through the provincial program is insufficient to meet need.
Instead of fixating on labour legislation, the government would be better off to hold broad consultations on a Labour Market strategy for the province. On that subject we have important advice that will help the economy.
We asked Premier Wall in writing during the 2011 election what his plans were for labour legislation should he be re-elected. He responded to us but did not once mention any plans to overhaul Saskatchewan’s labour legislation. A democratic society relies on leaders to be forthcoming, especially during an election. And elections are when important issues like how our workplaces are regulated should be debated.
The construction industry is unique from other industries in that it is project-based and cyclical. Work can last for months or only weeks. We are not like public sector unions. We do not operate on seniority. Our members only get paid when they work. They do not get vacation leave or sick leave. They travel to where the work is. Government needs to think about the differences.
We believe government needs to take sustained action to respond to the growing construction industry and to the risk to the economy posed by labour shortages. But until a better case is made that the creation of a Saskatchewan Employment Code will address the problem, the Building Trades Council believes government is pursuing the wrong priority and distracting owners, employers and union from their real business – building Saskatchewan.
Saskatchewan Building Trades