In a headline-making decision released in January, 2015, the Supreme Court of Canada found that the Saskatchewan government’s changes to essential services legislation violated the constitutionally recognized rights of workers to take job action under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After consulting with various stakeholders, the Saskatchewan government released its proposed amendments to essential services legislation on October 15, 2015 as Bill 183 – The Saskatchewan Employment Amendment (Essential Services) Act, 2015.

Highlights of these changes include:

  • “Essential services” is no longer a defined term under the legislation, and it will be up to the parties involved to determine which services are essential for operating their respective organizations.
  • New provisions for the required contents of an essential services agreement.
  • New procedures for dealing with situations where no essential services agreement exists between a public employer and a union and collective bargaining to reach a new agreement has failed.
  • The creation of a new tribunal, the Essential Services Tribunal, to resolve disputes pertaining to: impasses in collective bargaining; what constitutes an essential service; and whether an essential services agreement substantially interferes with the exercise of a strike or lockout. If it is found that an essential services agreement substantially interferes with the exercise of a strike or lockout, the new legislation provides for binding mediation-arbitration by a three-person panel.
  • New provisions codifying the following as unfair labour practices:
    • The failure of a public employer to not consider qualified persons who are both employees and who are not members of the affected bargaining unit when determining the number of positions in a classification who must work during the work stoppage to maintain essential services;
    •  The failure of a union to identify qualified employees when identifying the employees who must work during the work stoppage to maintain essential services.
    • Failure by either the public employer or a union to fail or refuse to engage in collective bargaining with a view to concluding an essential services agreement.