Friday, September 2, 2011

Sask. labour movement in good shape: Larry Hubich

By Will Chabun
September 2, 2011

Despite “relentless attacks” from the business-friendly provincial government and opponents “who think unions shouldn’t exist”, Saskatchewan’s labour movement is in good shape, its leader reports as Labour Day approaches.

Larry Hubich, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, said it’s notable that a number of Saskatchewan unions recently concluded new contracts.

“Perhaps not the kind of settlements they should have achieved — but they achieved them against the backdrop of the most draconian anti-union legislation that we’ve seen for decades.”

Hubich was referring to Saskatchewan Party legislation to designate large numbers of civil servants as essential workers to prevent them from striking and other changes that make it harder for unions to organize, or certify, in workplaces.

He said this legislation is so extreme that it’s drawn criticism from the International Labour Organization as violating Saskatchewan workers’ constitutional and human rights.

So robust is the union movement, though, that its share of the provincial workforce is down only about one per cent because these laws prevent it from growing within a growing labour force.

Compared to places like Wisconsin, where a Republican governor and legislature launched a full-scale public assault on the rights of unionized public employees, opponents are “more sophisticated” in Saskatchewan.

Here, there is a premier “who portrays himself as a friend of workers, but in fact he’s engaging in this mass assault on our ranks,” Hubich said in an interview this week.

Hubich said one of the most convincing arguments for unions is in recently released data on pensions. Eighty-six per cent of public-sector workers have pensions, compared with only 25 per cent of people working in the private sector.

“What that tells me is that the 75 per cent of people in the private sector without unions are retiring in poverty,” he said, adding this reinforces unions’ belief the Canada Pension Plan should be improved “so fewer people retire in poverty because they can’t rely on corporations to do what they should do, which is to provide adequate pensions to those who worked for those companies.”

Saskatchewan’s labour minister, Don Morgan, avoided these issues in his Labour Day message and instead offered “sincere thanks to all the hard-working men and women of Saskatchewan, as well as the employers, who have helped build this province.”

He noted “exceptional growth” in the Saskatchewan economy, but added this “must be tied closely to safety to ensure the health and well-being of Saskatchewan workers”.

Morgan asked Saskatchewanians to “make safety a priority” at work, at home and elsewhere, saying the government is “strongly committed” to reduce workplace injuries.

Canada’s version of Labour Day traces its roots to 1872 and a parade in Toronto to support workers striking against a newspaper.

In Regina, labour groups are sponsoring the annual “Day in the Park” on the lawn west of the Queen Elizabeth II Gardens in front of the Legislative Building. This will have childrens’ rides and “bouncing rooms”, plus other events, from noon-4 p.m. Monday.

Said Hubich: “It’s going to be a great day for working men and women.”

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