A N A D I A N C E N T R E F O R P O L I C Y A L T E R N A T I V E
S - S K
Volume 2 Issue 6 — March 2003
to Make Work Work for All of Saskatchewan
by Nick Bonokoski
good way to improve the lives of the people in Saskatchewan is to
improve their working lives. This requires ensuring that good jobs
are being created in the province, that all people that work here
are treated and compensated fairly, and that the work that is done
in Saskatchewan benefits all the people of Saskatchewan. There are
no absolute standards for good jobs; different people like different
types of work. A good job is something where workers feel challenged
and excited by the work that they do. Their jobs are not a chore but
something to look forward to because they are important to them and
that so many people enjoy different types of work for different reasons,
it is difficult to come up with a way to ensure that the jobs that
are created in Saskatchewan are good jobs. This can be done by ensuring
the rights that all workers are entitled to are fair, and that workers
have the ability to take action when their rights are violated. Saskatchewan
workers’ rights are contained in numerous pieces of legislation.
The most prominent are The Trade Union Act, The Occupational Health
and Safety Act, and The Labour Standards Act.
Wrong With Workers’ Rights in Saskatchewan?
of the rights contained in these Acts are the right to refuse unsafe
work, the right to a minimum wage, and the right to join a union.
Unfortunately workers’ rights in Saskatchewan leave a lot to
be desired. For instance, under labour standards, bosses can fire
workers for any reason, or no reason at all as long as they give appropriate
notice. This is unacceptable, so obviously the act needs improvement.
can be made to The Labour Standards Act with little effort. In 1994
the Government of Saskatchewan passed a Most Available Hours bill
but they have refused to put it before the Crown for royal assent
which is required for a bill to become a law in Canada. The bill requires
that part time hours keep going to the most senior, qualified employees
until they are working forty hours a week. Employees have the option
to refuse hours if they want to keep working part time. This ensures
that employers must provide people with full time work rather than
part time employment, which forces people to work a number of jobs
people need to work forty hours, or more, because of the poverty level
minimum wage in Saskatchewan which today is $6.65 an hour. If you
work for forty hours a week, fifty two weeks a year, at $6.65 an hour,
you will make $13,382 that year. According to Statistics Canada the
low income cutoff for somebody living in Saskatchewan in 2002 ranges
from $13,334 in rural areas to $16,548 in cities over 100,000 people.2
As we can see from the numbers the only places where minimum wages
are not poverty wages are in rural areas.
response to recent increases to the minimum wage the Canadian Federation
of Independent Business (CFIB) wrote to the Minister of Labour and
suggested, "the government must examine practical policy alternatives
to increasing the minimum wage in order to provide more income to
low-income earners without jeopardizing employment and hours of work.
CFIB believes that increasing the personal and spousal exemptions
are effective means of increasing the income of low income earners".3
If the before tax income of minimum wage workers is below the poverty
line, reducing their taxes to zero is not going to raise their income
above the poverty line. Tax cuts will not help the poor; raising the
minimum wage will.
Is 2003. Do You Know What Your Government Is Investing In?
labour standards in the province are minimal one would assume that
the Government of Saskatchewan would only invest in businesses that
were covered by The Labour Standards Act. Unfortunately this is not
the case. In 2001 the Crown Investments Corporation invested $15,132,000
in Big Sky Farms Inc., an industrial hog opera-tion, and now owns
40% of the company. While these industrial hog operations do not remotely
resemble farms they were until very recently not covered by The Labour
Standards Act because farm workers are not covered by the act.
The Price We Pay for Corporate Hogs, Marlene Halverson reports that
at industrial hog operations in the U.S. "gaseous emissions from
the anaerobic decomposition of liquefied manure have led to human
and animal fatalities".5 Industrial hog operations also have
terrible environmental effects, treat pigs like machines, and divide
communities.6 This is not the type of business government should invest
could ensure workers’ rights are respected by only investing
in operations with unionized workers. Unions do a good job of protecting
workers’ rights on the job by negotiating collective agreements
with employers that improve workers’ rights, outline workers’
responsibilities, and ensure workers can respond when their rights
are violated. Considering the benefits of unions it is frustrating
to see the Government of Saskatchewan invest in anti-union projects.
There are numerous examples of this from the routine use of non-union
construction in government funded business and industry to the gigantic
investment in hog barns.
government behaving in the manner described above is no big surprise.
Over the past twenty years governments in Canada have suffered from
a bout of the "neo-conservative flu". Symptoms include cutting
spending, slashing social programs, an obsession with inflation, widening
the gap between the rich and the poor, slow economic growth, and giant
corporate profits. This "national flu" takes place in the
context of a global epidemic that has seen other national governments
develop similar policies and entrench them in international investor
rights agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement
(NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). NAFTA allows corporations
to sue governments, close factories whenever they choose, and move
factories wherever they want. In addition to this, technology and
politics have created gigantic pools of electronic money that speeds
around the globe daily through international financial transactions.
This huge pool of floating capital gives investors near veto power
over government policy due to the ease of pulling money out of an
economy in an instant.7 The national neoconservative policies and
the international investor rights agreements work well together. As
the Canadian head of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and
Development (OECD) said, "these free trade agreements are designed
to force adjustment to our societies", and that governments should
speed the change by "reducing the social benefits that encourage
the unemployed to turn down low-paying jobs". 8
Should Be Done?
the powers that invest are doing all they can to reduce social benefits
it is time for people to start fighting back. In Saskatchewan this
means that people need to start pushing government to implement progressive
policies. There are many options: the four day work week; increased
money towards education and training; enforcement of a progressive
labour standards act; anti-scab legislation; and aminimum wage that
helps people improve their lives rather than trapping them in poverty.
The list of possible progressive policies is endless.
have the power to implement a wide array of progressive policies.
This means they need to play a role in changing today’s international
economy. Corporations and investors hold a lot of power but it is
power that has been granted to them by governments, and it is power
that can be taken away by governments. To do this governments need
to stop signing investor rights agreements, start ripping up the ones
that have been signed, and place controls on international financial
transactions. The reality of capital flight requires that governments
invest money in things like crown corporations or local cooperatives.
Businesses that are tied to communities do not pose a capital flight
risk, and they benefit the places in which they operate.
governments invest in good, union jobs that pay high wages and are
community development focused, rather than profit focused, these jobs
will grow local economies and sustain innovative communities. Innovation
is going to be a necessity in the coming years due to environmental
degradation. Crown corporations are an effective means of ensuring
that innovation that takes place in Saskatchewan will benefit the
people of Saskatchewan. And if that innovation helps the fight against
environmental degradation it will benefit both Saskatchewan and the
rest of the planet.
by investing through its crowns in public ventures the government
cannot guarantee that all jobs in Saskatchewan are good jobs. It can
ensure that good jobs are the only type of jobs that it invests in.
People want to live in a province that is characterized by a fair
economy, with a fair distribution of wealth, which contributes to
local and global prosperity. The Government of Saskatchewan can ensure
that Saskatchewan is this kind of province by creating good jobs,
protecting workers’ rights by enforcing The Trade Union Act,
The Occupational Health and Safety Act, and The Labour Standards Act,
and by ensuring that workers’ rights legislation covers all
workers with minimum standards that ensure workers are safe, respected,
and prosperous. This is a recipe for good jobs, and a healthy, vibrant,
and innovative economy.
1. Information in this paragraph obtained in an interview with Paul
Guillet, Retail Wholesale and Department Store Union Representative,
Jan. 21, 2003.
Bernard Paquet, "Low Income Cutoffs from 1992 to 2001 and Low
Income Measures from 1991 to 2002", (Ottawa: Statistics Canada,
2002), p. 37. The 2001 figures have been adjusted for inflation in
order to arrive at the figures for 2002.
Marilyn Braun-Poullon, Director, Provincial Affairs, Saskatchewan,
of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, letter to Labour
Minister Deb Higgins, dated Oct. 3, 2002, available at http://22.214.171.124/media/webpub/field/Saskatchewan/100302(7)_e.pdf.
http://gtds.gov.sk.ca. Search for Conservation Officer and Labour
Marlene Halverson, The Price We Pay for Corporate Hogs, (Minneapolis:
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, 2000), p. 7.
W-Five, "Raising a Stink: The Controversy over Pig Farms,"
aired Nov. 15, 2002. Transcript available at http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1037381239499_32790439//.
There is tons of reading material on what is covered with unfortunate
brevity in this paragraph. See, Naomi Klein, No Logo, Toronto: Knopf
Press, 1999. Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power, New York: The New
Press, 2002. www.zmag.net, search the site for "globalization."
www.policyalternatives.ca. www.canadians.org, click on "trade
Cited in David Crane, Toronto Star, May 3, 1997, p. c3. Quoted in
Bruce Campbell, "CUFTA/NAFTA and North American Labour Markets:
A Comparative Inquiry" in Pulling Apart: The Deterioration of
Employment and Income in North America Under Free Trade, (Ottawa:
Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives, 1999), p. 7.
Nick Bonokoski is a political activist, a recent graduate from the
University of Regina with an honors degree in Political Science, and
a Research Associate for the Saskatchewan Office of the Canadian Centre
for Policy Alternatives.
Saskatchewan Notes: Volume 2, Issue 6 — March 2003
Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives—Saskatchewan (CCPA-SK)
is an independent, nonpartisan research organization. Studies undertaken
by CCPA-SK will arise from a community, collective, and social concern.
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