The Innovation Journal: The Public Sector Innovation Journal, 5(2), 2000, article 1e7.


Is Innovation a Question of Will or Circumstance?

An Exploration of the Innovation Process Through the Lens of the Blakeney

Government in Saskatchewan, 1971-82


Edited by Eleanor D. Glor

Previous: Chapter 6 Top: Table of Contents Next: Chapter 8

Chapter 7:

Social Justice Through Legislation: Saskatchewan Labour(1)


Gordon T. Snyder

My appointment as Minister of Labour in 1971 provided me with the opportunity to shape a department designed to enhance and protect the rights of the working people of Saskatchewan. I believe this was accomplished in a very major way. Morale among department employees was excellent. We were known to declare that we were not only the best department of Labour in Canada - but that we were the only Department of Labour.

This chapter describes the large number of changes and innovations which saw Saskatchewan lead all other provinces in measures which made life more secure, safe and rewarding for the working men and women of our province.

The Context

The preceding seven years of Liberal administration were described as the "seven long, lean, gaunt years" by Allan Blakeney. Nowhere was this more true than in the Department of Labour. The relationship between the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour and the Liberal government of Ross Thatcher got off to a combative beginning at the first Saskatchewan Federation of Labour convention following the 1964 provincial election. The newly appointed Labour Minister, Lionel Coderre, was invited to address the convention. He received a cool reception, despite what appeared to be an effort to minimize the hostility he had himself engendered by his anti-union rhetoric while a member of the opposition. In the course of his remarks, he asked the members of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour for the opportunity to demonstrate his good will and impartiality. He concluded his address with the biblical quotation: "By their fruits ye shall know them."

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour was unforgiving and as he left the podium in a chilling atmosphere of silence, a motion was proposed from the convention floor which called for the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour to "take whatever action is necessary to bring about the defeat of the new Liberal government".

In the following seven years, the distrust and concern that the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour felt for the Thatcher government seemed justified. Amendments to The Trade Union Act made it more difficult for unions to organize workers. Labour Standards, which established hours of work, minimum wages, annual vacations and statutory holidays, enjoyed virtually no improvement during the Thatcher years. Industrial relations, a vital function of the Department of Labour in the resolution of labour-management disputes, was largely non-existent in 1971, with a single officer on staff to help extinguish the labour-management brush fires over the entire province.

Only token support was offered on the question of women's issues at a time when increasing numbers of women were entering the workforce and demanding recognition. A single employee in the Women's Bureau had a mandate which did not extend far beyond public relations and speaking engagements.

The problems associated with the Workers' Compensation Board had become monumental. The Board had been directed to keep levies assessed upon employers as low as possible. Accordingly, the Board was seen as the agent for denied claims, tardy rulings and petty adjudication of injury and disability awards. Aggrieved workers who were convinced that they had been unjustly dealt with could appeal to the full Board, but invariably felt they were appealing to the same body which had already rejected their claim.

Against this backdrop, the Injured Workers' Association sprang up to represent those who felt wronged and neglected. As their members increased and became more vocal, a clear public awareness of the plight of injured workers emerged.

By 1971 the Thatcher government had given clear notice of a declaration of war on the trade union movement with the passage of The Essential Services Emergency Act, Bill #2. This Statute gave absolute authority to the provincial Cabinet to declare any work stoppage an emergency, without recall of the Legislature. The Statute also provided stringent penalties for violations of the edict. To organized labour, this was the last straw which rendered the process of collective bargaining impotent.

It had become increasingly obvious that the government of the day had scant regard for Saskatchewan's working men and women - and had relegated the Department of Labour to a lowly position as the poorest of Cabinet relatives, starved for funds and personnel to perform its role.

An Occupational Health Unit, located in the Department of Health, performed a limited function in providing for the enforcement and regulation of health matters in the workplace. It was regarded as less than enthusiastic in pursuing a health program which affected workers on the job.

It was in this atmosphere that the NDP government was ushered into power in 1971. The Department of Labour emerged with an understood mandate to preserve and enhance the circumstances under which Saskatchewan's working men and women earned their livelihood. The new government provided a reasonably free hand to the Department in formulating a strategy to overcome the damage and neglect of previous years despite the fact that only three members of the NDP Caucus had any real ties with the trade union movement.

A number of people have suggested that the 11 years of the Blakeney administration produced the best and the most progressive labour legislation on record in Canada. Other provincial jurisdictions followed the lead of labour initiatives introduced by the Government of Saskatchewan from 1971 to 1982.

The Essential Services Emergency Act and Hours of Work

The first Session of the 17th Legislative Assembly passed two major changes which were promised by the New Democratic Party during the 1971 provincial campaign. The Essential Services Emergency Act was repealed. Since its inception, it had hung like a dark shadow over the process of collective bargaining. The repeal of this legislation was expected and applauded by the trade union movement. The NDP had not been naive enough to suggest that compulsory arbitration was never to be an option if the health or safety of the public was seen to be endangered. However, in the event of such an emergency arising out of a labour dispute, it was understood that the Legislature would have to be called into Session and any "back-to-work" legislation would die with the settlement of that particular dispute, a "one-shot affair". The second major initiative was legislation to reduce employee hours of work and eliminate the urban-rural disparity.

Trade Union Act

The Saskatchewan Trade Union Act is the principal Statute which spells out the conditions under which unorganized workers may choose to accept a trade union as their sole agent to bargain collectively with the employer with respect to working conditions and remuneration. The Trade Union Act provides for the procedures to be used in determining if the union represents the majority of workers in a particular establishment or enterprise. The Act defines unfair labour practices which may be laid against the employer or the trade union. The body which is charged with the responsibility of adjudicating such charges of "unfair labour practices" is a quasi-judicial body known as the "Labour Relations Board", which is comprised of equal numbers of labour and management members with a chairman who presides over Labour Relations Board meetings.

The legislation governing these activities is the most important, complex and most widely misunderstood of any of the Statutes related to the interaction between labour and management. Accordingly, this exercise will not involve great detail, but instead, attempt to provide a brief summary of the legislative changes (1971-82) and the rationale for their introduction.

It should be understood that the right of workers to join together and bargain collectively with their employer with regard to wages and conditions of employment is a fundamental right when agreed to by the majority.

Some features of The Trade Union Act which might appear self-evident are anything but that. A classic example is found in the definition section. When workers are deciding the question of joining a union or remaining unorganized, the matter of which workers will be covered by the collective agreement and which will be excluded, becomes a cogent issue. It is generally accepted that bona fide managers, as part of the corporate management structure, are excluded from any collective agreement entered into between the company and the union.

An employer who was opposed to having a union in his establishment was inclined to designate manager status to large numbers of employees. Cases were seen where employees were deemed to be managers even though they exercised no management functions and had no managerial authority. They did not exercise the right to hire, fire-they did not work in a confidential capacity - nor did they regularly perform defined management functions or receive remuneration which could be considered a management salary.

For these reasons, a clear definition of the term employee was necessary in the 1972 Trade Union Act revision. The result was that when a vote was conducted by the Labour Relations Board, only those who were genuine managerial employees were excluded in determining what the Act describes as an appropriate unit.

The 1972 amendments also provided for the appointment of an executive officer to the Labour Relations Board who would be empowered to discharge the duties of the Board in order to expedite its work and reduce the time lag in dealing with cases before the Board. The amendments also provided for an appeal of the executive officer's decisions to the full Board by either party.

Prior to the 1972 amendments, the Labour Relations Board could dismiss an application for certification of a union simply because the employer maintained that the workforce was not yet up to maximum strength. This provision was shown to be abused by employers in an effort to discourage the formation of a union in the workplace. If such a buildup of employees were to actually take place at a later time the workers would still maintain the option of making an application to decertify the union if the majority of the workers were so inclined. For these reasons, the amendments made it clear that an application could not be rejected by the Labour Relations Board simply because the employer claimed that his work force was not "up to strength".

Other inequities required attention in the 1972 amendments. The Act had previously required that the union must show support of 60% or more of the employees before a certification order was issued. Less than 60% required a vote to be taken which was clearly a waste of time for the Labour Relations Board and, more significantly, provided time and opportunity for the employer to influence employees. The amendments made it clear that a vote would not be required if the Labour Relations Board was shown that the union had the support of the majority of employees.

A number of amendments provided protection from employer interference, the elimination of the 30 day strike vote provision and removal of the hot cargo clause-all of which represented sources of friction in the workplace. The 30 day strike vote provision allowed for a vote to be taken after a strike had been in progress for 30 days. The vote was to be taken on the basis of the employer's last offer, and was obviously designed to take advantage of the union's weakened position after a lengthy dispute, but more importantly, the provision almost ensured that most strikes would last at least 30 days. The hot cargo clause prohibited workers from refusing to handle goods emanating from a struck plant.

During a period of growth and technological change, an amendment was also considered necessary to protect workers' rights when a significant number were affected by such changes in the workplace. The amendment did not prohibit such changes from taking place, but required that 90 days' notice must be given - and that the terms and conditions of such changes must be the subject of negotiation prior to being put into effect.

Regulations were enacted which specified the number of employees affected in order to be considered a significant number, as described in the Act.

Total employees Significant number
2-9 employees 2 employees
10-19 employees 3 employees
20-29 employees 4 employees
30 or more employees 20% of the total

This legislation provided the mechanism for negotiated adjustment to take place when workers' jobs were lost or altered as a result of a new technology being introduced into the workplace. Saskatchewan led all other provinces with this necessary change.

Another amendment shortened the maximum length of a collective agreement to two years from three. The reason for this change centred on the practice of "front end loading" which provided for a large pay raise in the first year and a much lower increase in the second and third year. This type of contract promoted inflation in the first year and resulted in industrial unrest in the second and third year.

The Trade Union Act was again amended in 1981 in order to clarify Section 11.2(d) which had been called into question by a judicial ruling which placed an interpretation on the section which was never intended.

The ruling held that a majority of the entire membership must vote in favour of a strike before a work stoppage can be authorized by the union. Prior to that ruling, it was understood that a majority meant a majority of those who participated and actually cast a ballot. It was realistic to assume that those who did not vote could not be considered as a yes or no vote. For this reason the amendment provided clarification and returned this section of the Act to its original intent, that being that a majority of those members actually voting would make the decision.

In practical terms, the matter was not a major issue, as the leadership of the trade union movement agreed that a strike would be totally impractical unless the union was assured of overwhelming support of its members.

This brief outline does not include all of the measures introduced during the 1971-82 period. It represents an overview of major changes which were designed to repair the damage done in previous years in order to provide a climate in which collective bargaining could function in a fair and harmonious fashion.

Labour Standards

The Labour Standards Act is the basic legislation which spells out a full range of provisions affecting the working conditions of practically every wage earner in the province. In 1971 when the Blakeney government was elected, the labour standards provisions had slipped close to the bottom of the scale compared to the other provincial jurisdictions, as a result of neglect during the seven years of the Thatcher administration.

In an attempt to stop the erosion, in August 1971 an amendment was passed establishing a universal 40 hour week, with time and one-half for overtime, the first province in Canada to do so. The amendment provided for a reduction from 44 hours per week to 40 hours in urban areas and from 48 hours a week to 40 hours in the rural areas, thus eliminating the urban-rural disparity. Saskatchewan was the first province in Canada to introduce the universal 40 hour week.

In May of 1972, the right of an employee to obtain a leave of absence to run as a candidate and serve a term in any public office was enshrined in law. This was a first in Canada.

In 1973 equal pay for similar work provisions were adopted to protect the rights of working women.

The Statute was also amended to provide four weeks' annual vacation after 20 years of service and three weeks' annual vacation after one year of service. This was, again, a first in Canada.

In 1974 legislation was provided to protect employees from loss of wages where an employer fails financially. In 1975 Saskatchewan Day became the 9th Statutory Holiday, to be celebrated on the first Monday in August. Only the Federal Government, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon had nine designated statutory holidays. In addition, 18 weeks' unpaid maternity leave was provided, and somewhat later six weeks' paternity and adoption leave was provided for in The Labour Standards Act to allow an opportunity for adjustment following the arrival of a new child in a worker's home. Saskatchewan was the first jurisdiction in Canada to provide for paternity leave. Saskatchewan also became the first province to legislate bereavement leave.

In 1980 an amendment was enacted which provided for a period of notice of termination or layoff of an employee which lengthens with length of service, with regular pay in lieu of notice. The notice period extended progressively from one week for employees with more than three months but less than one year of service, up to eight weeks after more than 10 years of service.

During the latter years of the 1970s, increasing demands by retail workers and their respective unions in particular centred on the question of two consecutive days off. In many cases, a worker would have a work arrangement with Sunday and another day of the week off, other than Saturday or Monday. Accordingly, The Labour Standards Act was amended to ensure two consecutive days off, subject to a more mutually acceptable arrangement to be agreed to by the employee and employer. This, again, was a first in the country.

Instead of emerging as a conquering hero for retail workers, numerous workers in the retail industry descended on me with the wrath of God. They invited me to stay out of their life. A number of them maintained that they were older employees who needed to split the week with their usual Wednesday off. Others told me in plain language that Wednesday was the day they played bridge with the girls, that they had done so for years, and would I kindly mind my own business.

This was the only labour measure which was less of a success than had been forecast by those who promoted it, and hounded me until I succumbed. The legislation remained in place, but employees were given an exemption on request. Accordingly, I do not look back on this particular legislative amendment as my greatest accomplishment.

Still another amendment provided that an employee could not be discharged solely because he or she had been served with a garnishee proceeding.

Finally, one of the fundamental cornerstones of labour standards, the minimum wage provisions, received continuing attention during that period. It is important to remember that the lowest paid workers, almost always unorganized and without union protection or significant voice, are solely dependent upon the actions of government to provide a degree of financial protection for them.

The Minimum Wage Board was reactivated in 1971 and progressive adjustments made in order to reflect rising costs as they affected those lowly-paid workers. When the NDP was elected in 1971, the minimum wage was raised to $2.00 per hour, with regular adjustments to the level of $4.25 on January 1, 1982, which was the highest rate in Canada at that time. Provision was made for an increase to $4.50 to be effective January 1, 1983, an adjustment which did not take place when the Progressive Conservative government was elected in April 1982.

This does not represent a complete summary of all the labour standards changes during the 1971-1982 period. It does, however, outline the major revisions during that 11 year period.

Occupational Health and Safety

My own determination to make occupational health and safety a personal crusade had its roots in work experiences of the 1940s and 1950s. My experiences as a railroader carried anger and vivid memories of hazardous, unhealthy and unsanitary conditions which employees were expected to tolerate as a normal working environment.

In the era of the steam engine, coal docks and water tanks were unlighted in most instances. In winter, ice and steam represented a risk to life and limb when engine crews were required to fuel and water these giant steam locomotives. The list of casualties was impressive-but management was unmindful of their responsibilities if safety measures were to involve any significant cost.

In the late 1950s a new phenomenon occurred. The diesel locomotive appeared on the scene, bringing with it a number of advantages, and as well new hazards. This change in motive power introduced noxious fumes and carbon monoxide gasses into the workplace. Some diesel locomotives in particular filled the engine cab with smoke which sent the Engineer home after an eight hour shift suffering from violent headaches and nausea.

On a personal note, I was castigated and threatened by management personnel on numerous occasions for refusing to operate an engine which, because of incomplete combustion, filled the cab with fumes and, with the wrong wind direction, rendered employees at ground level invisible. From this derived my personal preoccupation with occupational health and safety and the measures introduced in Saskatchewan to provide a safer and healthier environment for those workers within our jurisdiction.

The Saskatchewan approach to occupational health and safety represented one of the major initiatives by the Department of Labour following the 1971 general provincial election. At that time, the functions of the Occupational Health Branch resided in the Department of Health which relegated that agency to a rather minor role in the total scheme of its mandate.

In the process of departmental reorganization, it was decided that Occupational Health, Safety Services (electrical and gas inspection, the fire commissioner's office, etc.) should be located under one umbrella organization. Dr. Robert Sass, who subsequently became the Director of the new Occupational Health and Safety Division, provided exemplary leadership to the program.

The 1972 legislation was developed with a recognition of the health and safety concerns which were causing increasing anxiety in the Saskatchewan workforce. These worries were not limited to the workers. Many employers were uneasy about the effects of technological change and the introduction of new and dangerous chemicals into the workplace. Cases cited included the rising incidence of chronic bronchitis, occupational dermatitis, allergies and a host of complex medical problems. A new set of ailments were manifesting themselves, including neuro-muscular weakness caused by vibration, deafness produced by the noise of machines, beryllium poisoning, etc. The government believed it had a clear-cut obligation to take steps designed to safeguard the welfare of employees on the job in an attempt to eliminate dangerous and unhealthy working conditions.

The original Bill provided for the transfer of the responsibility for occupational health from the Department of Health to the Department of Labour and permitted the setting up of an Occupational Health Council of between 9 and 12 persons representing management, labour and agriculture who had expertise in the field of health and safety. Additionally, the Minister was given the authority, where there was seen to be a dangerous work environment, to require arrangements to be made for medical supervision of the workers in that environment. Additionally, doctors and hospitals were required to provide, without charge to the Chief Occupational Medical Officer of the Department, reports concerning people who became ill or injured while engaged in an occupation.

An important part of the legislation required that Occupational Health and Safety Committees must be established in all places of employment with 10 or more employees. This Occupational Health and Safety Committee, with representatives of management and labour, could convene a meeting to deal with matters of concern. The intention was to resolve occupational health and safety problems at the local level. Failing a resolution of the problem, Occupational Health and Safety Officers were available to intervene. In the vast majority of cases, committees solved their problems without intervention.

In the early stages, some employers resisted the committee concept, believing it to be an intrusion upon their rights to manage without interference. Most employers complied willingly however, believing that a mutual benefit was to be expected. Nevertheless, it was considered prudent to provide that a worker could not be discharged for activities or involvement as a member of an Occupational Health and Safety Committee, another first in Canada.

The requirement in The Occupational Health and Safety Act to provide for worker involvement in the occupational health and safety committees in places of employment with 10 or more employees, as outlined in the legislation, was a slow and halting step in the direction of industrial democracy as it is widely known in the Scandinavian countries in what was formerly West Germany and in other European countries. It was a concept endorsed by the International Labour Organization and was given credit for a cooperative arrangement between labour and management that had reduced conflict in labour-management relations to an impressive degree.

The Saskatchewan Department of Labour in the period 1971-82 had explored the policy with a view to a modified form of worker participation on management boards. It was greeted with scepticism by organized labour. In some quarters, it was feared that in sharing management responsibilities workers might be co-opted and begin to see management's point of view with greater clarity than the unions'. An effort was made to interest the Energy and Chemical Workers at the Crown-owned Sodium Sulphate Plant at Chaplin (100 miles west of Regina), in a pilot project. Workers were ambivalent and the union unenthusiastic. The program did not get off the ground.

Another attempt at worker participation was somewhat more successful. The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour nominated a trade unionist to serve on the board of a number of Crown Corporations (e.g. a member of the Communication Workers would serve on the Board of the Saskatchewan Power Corporation). It was felt that the worker should not be from the union that bargained for that particular Crown Corporation. A conflict of interest was seen with a union member on the board which was negotiating a contract with his or her union. The concept of worker participation or industrial democracy had not advanced beyond that stage in 1982.

Legislation also provided that a worker could refuse to perform what that worker believed to be unusually dangerous work until it was determined that the workplace was safe. If the problem was not resolved, an Occupational Health Officer of the department was to be called in order to make that determination. Workers were protected from disciplinary action in the exercise of this right, and while some employers feared that this right might be used irresponsibly, this fear was unfounded as workers acknowledged the value of the right to refuse clause and chose not to abuse it and run the risk of losing that basic protection. The right to refuse was not available in any other jurisdiction in Canada at that time.

The occupational health and safety legislation also provided for stringent fines for violations of the Act and an educational program was devised to assist employers and employees to provide information in order that the rights and obligations of both parties were understood. In select cases, employees were provided with monitoring equipment to measure levels of carbon monoxide and other toxic substances in the workplace.

The plan was successful and received widespread attention from other jurisdictions. While some employers resisted the provisions of The Occupational Health and Safety Act in the early stages, I think it can be said that the program enjoyed widespread support when the reduction of accidents and injuries in the workplace had the effect of lowering the assessments paid by employers to the Workers' Compensation Board in a number of occupational classifications. In the main, it could be said that employers generally acknowledged that a safe, secure and healthy working environment provided for a more happy and productive workforce.

Workers' Compensation

In 1971 there was general agreement that the operation of the Workers' Compensation Board was due for a major overhaul. Complaints were monumental and, upon examination, the grievances seemed wholly justified. Legitimate claims were stalled and settlements offered which did not properly reflect the severity of the disability, whether an accident or industrial sickness claim.

The three member Board was replaced (chairman, employer representative and union representative). The appointment of a new chairman, the former Chief Claims Officer, Dick Fowler, turned out to be a wise choice.

During the Thatcher years the Board had been ordered to keep the assessment levied on employers to a minimum. It must be remembered that the cost of operating and awarding settlements is funded entirely by employer contributions, based on X number of dollars and cents per $100 of payroll. The more hazardous the industry, the higher the cost to employers in that classification.

Workers' compensation was founded on a mutual agreement that employers would bear the entire cost and, in turn, employees would sacrifice their legal right to sue the employer in the event of an injury or sickness caused by the work environment. This arrangement was intended to free both parties from costly legal entanglements and freed the employer from the spectre of a ruinous suit where employer negligence was established in the operation of the business, resulting in an occupational injury.

When Dick Fowler, the new Chairman, assumed his duties he did so having won the respect of staff, workers and employers alike. As Chief Claims Officer he had performed well, given the financial constraints placed on the system. His immediate task was to clean up a mountain of disputed claims and re-establish the credibility of the Workers' Compensation Board. In a few short months, long-standing complaints had been settled and a new atmosphere was ushered into Saskatchewan's compensation system.

At this juncture, one fact was clear. It would be necessary to increase assessments on employers or pile up a large, unfunded liability. The Workers' Compensation Board consulted each employer group and explained in precise detail why major increases were necessary. Because of their efforts, increased costs were accepted, sometimes grudgingly, but understood.

With the multitude of old claims largely dealt with, attention was turned to an update of the legislation relative to a host of problems that had been left unattended.

During the 1974 Legislative Session, a Worker's Advocate was appointed to assist workers in the presentation of their claim before the Workers' Compensation Board. The Advocate was an employee of the Department of Labour and, as such, could not be seen as an agent of the Board. The sole responsibility of the Advocate was to assist the injured worker and assure just treatment. Shortly the volume of work required the appointment of a second Advocate.

In the fall of 1971 a task force was established to thoroughly review workers' compensation in Saskatchewan. The task force submitted a comprehensive report in the following spring, containing some 73 recommendations. Legislative changes were required, to reflect the realities of the 1970s.

Changes in legislation provided that, effective January 1, 1974, all survivor benefits would be increased substantially. Dependent children's allowances, widows' and orphans' allowances, were also adjusted upward.

The minimum pension payable to totally disabled workers was also raised and all existing disability pensions were increased by 2% for every year the pension had been in existence.

The total cost to the Board was to be $16 million. The Board was unable to fund more than $9 million without another major increase in assessment on employers. Accordingly, the government agreed to a one-time payment to the Board in the amount of $6.5 million. Additionally, the maximum income allowable for calculating compensation was raised and a mechanism was built in for automatic increases in $1,000 increments when 10% or more of the workers injured in any given year had incomes exceeding the current ceiling. Over the years significant upward adjustments were made to prevent the need for the extraordinary catch-up measures which had previously been made necessary by years of neglect.

Embodied in the workers' compensation legislation is a requirement for a review committee to be activated every four years which must report and recommend legislative changes to the government. Judge Alistair Muir of Moose Jaw, who had chaired the review committee on previous occasions since 1971, was chosen to again head the 1978 review. The review committee was composed of a chairman, a workers' representative named by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, and an employer representative appointed by various employer groups.

The report of the 1978 Review Committee, endorsed by both employer and employee representatives, recommended a significant change in direction in the administration of workers' compensation. The report noted that there was a genuine unfairness in the system at that time. Two workers might suffer identical injuries with an identical degree of impairment. However, because of the nature of the work each performed, one could return to work at his or her former occupation and, in effect, be better off financially because of the lifetime workers' compensation disability pension. On the other hand, the worker, unable to return to the same job because of the disability, could be forced to take a lower-paying position and suffer a major financial loss.

From this emerged the concept of an income replacement system, which was translated into the 1979 legislation. It involved an entirely new two part concept, which would protect an injured worker against income loss as a result of the injury and also provide a recognition of permanent impairment caused by the injury.

Provision was made for maintenance of income to 75% of a worker's wages at the time of the injury, even if the worker had to accept a lower-paying job. As the second component, the worker was provided with a lump sum payment which recognized a permanent impairment as a result of the injury.

The 1979 legislation provided full income support for surviving spouses for five years, or until the youngest child reached 16 years of age. For example, if the youngest child was six years of age, benefits would continue for 10 years and the benefits would be reviewed each year after the fifth year and adjusted in relation to the Consumer Price Index. In the event a spouse remarried, the benefits continued for two years.

In summary, the worker's wages were protected until age 65. At 65, compensation was based on lost retirement income. Real wages were protected against inflation by a cost of living feature and any physical impairment caused by an injury was compensated for by way of a lump sum payment.

Much credit was due to the Chairmen of the Workers' Compensation Board (Dick Fowler, Alex Taylor and Brian King) and the Commissioners representing labour and management during the 1971-82 period. They approached the job with empathy and understanding of the problems of injured workers.

To their everlasting credit also, their financial management was outstanding. While other provincial jurisdictions were piling up mountains of unfunded liabilities, the Saskatchewan Workers' Compensation Board, via employer contributions, developed a fully funded plan and in the early 1980s was prepared to contribute $7 million towards the construction of a new rehabilitation centre which was on the drawing board. The rehabilitation program is a vital component of the compensation system in rehabilitating injured workers in order that they may return to gainful employment.

Judge Alistair Muir also deserves to be singled out for special mention for the consecutive reviews he chaired and the leadership he provided in his reports and his recommendations to government. His work, and that of the committee members, pointed the way for the changes mentioned above.

Pension Benefits Act 1980

Canadian workers are an extremely mobile group and in many instances can expect to work for three or more employers during their productive earning years. One of the tragedies of our time has been the movement from job to job and, in most cases, the employee, upon termination, would receive his own pension contribution along with a minimum of accumulated interest. This exercise might be repeated several times during the employee's working years. Too often that pension nest egg, instead of being re-invested in another pension plan or a Registered Retirement Savings Plan, was spent on other pressing needs, or a new car or holiday.

In many cases, employees would find themselves well into their 40's or 50's when they settled into their final job prior to retirement. Quite simply, there was not enough time left to establish a sufficient pension to prevent a drastic income reduction upon retirement.

At the time the amendments to The Pension Benefits Act were passed, there were seven people in the work force for each person on pension. Demographic projections indicated that by the year 2035 when the baby boomers are retired, there will be only 3 people working for each person on pension. Clearly, pension reform had become a major issue which could develop into crisis proportions if ignored. Accordingly, a number of major changes resulted. They did not go as far as one might have wished, but governments are inhibited from going too far, as voluntary private pension plans are just that. They are elective.

The spring Session of 1980 produced the following changes to those pension plans registered in Saskatchewan. The amendments assured that in the future each employer participating in a pension plan would be responsible for his share of any pension obligation. Also, it was required that minimum vesting arrangements be provided. In 1980 an employee, upon termination, was entitled to a deferred pension only if he or she was 45 years of age or older and had ten or more years of service.

The amendment provided for entitlement to a deferred pension when the employee's age plus years of service equalled 45. For example, a person 35 years of age, with 10 years of service, was entitled to a deferred pension at an age determined by the rules of that pension plan. It was estimated that the number of terminated employees who would become entitled to a deferred pension would be increased dramatically. It was predicted that 80% of those employees terminated after age 35 would be entitled to a deferred pension. This was a major step forward to provide pension protection for a highly mobile section of the workforce.

While it is generally assumed that employers contribute 50% or more of the value of an employee's pension, high interest rates over a number of years have drastically reduced or, in some cases, eliminated employer contributions entirely. Accordingly, an amendment was provided that an employee's contributions, plus accumulated interest, would limit the employee's liability to 50%.

A further amendment ensured that a terminated employee could transfer to another pension vehicle any contributions and earnings in excess of the 50% of his or her liability under the terms of the plan. It was also provided that all pension plans must make arrangements for a surviving spouse pension benefit to a minimum of 50% of the deceased employee's pension.

Circumstances dictated another change resulting from the fact that many pension plans did not benefit from the higher interest rates experienced during the 1970s and early 1980s. It was seen that as little as 3% was applied to employee contributions in some cases and in extraordinary cases, a terminated employee had contributions returned with no interest at all. To add insult to injury, cases were known where the employee was charged a fee for handling that employee's money.

For this reason, the legislation established a 10 year average of the weekly yield on Government of Canada long-term bonds as the minimum rate which must be applied to members' accounts.

Another amendment eliminated any source of conflict between The Pension Benefits Act and The Matrimonial Property Act. The change provided for the assignment of pension credits by a court order in accordance with an inter-spousal contract.

The legislation also provided for the appointment of a trustee in the event of a winding-up of a pension plan or in the case of bankruptcy. Along with other amendments of a housekeeping nature, the revision represented a major step in providing the framework for what was regarded as the best pension benefits act in Canada.

Women's Issues

In 1971 the Department of Labour had a single employee who filled the role of the Women's Bureau, providing token recognition of the greater numbers of women who were entering the workforce and demanding recognition. Women rarely found their place in positions of authority in private industry and governments at all levels were slow to respond to the fundamental changes that had taken place. Women were traditionally paid less than their male counterparts with no reason or justification offered.

The Women's Bureau attempted to educate and inform women's organizations and the public of the problems of women in the workforce, but was limited in its mandate by a lack of resources and the impossible task to be undertaken by a lone person in the Bureau. Speaking engagements and production of pertinent pieces of literature did not meet the expectations of large numbers of women.

In 1973 an amendment to The Labour Standards Act provided for equal pay for similar work which gave recognition to the fact that the injustices and discrimination against women in the workplace were to be addressed.

By 1982 the Women's Bureau had been expanded to the status of a bona fide division in the department, with a full-time director and assistant director, and a complement of coordinators, investigators, affirmative action officers and an expanded office staff. Staff had increased from one in 1971 to around a dozen employees in 1982.

With the enactment of the equal pay for similar work provision, the Women's Division was charged with the responsibility of investigating violations of the equal pay provisions. When violations were identified and a solution was not found, the Women's Division could refer the matter to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission for final adjudication.

The division also investigated complaints when maternity, paternity and adoption leave provisions were seen to be violated and when an employee was unjustly dismissed because of pregnancy. Education was one of the important roles of the Division with employer and employee groups taking advantage of the services of the Division. Additionally, cases of sexual harassment in the workplace were investigated as part of the mandate of this unit. Affirmative Action Officers provided assistance to women by contacts with employers and in helping in the preparation of resumes and in providing counselling services.

During the later years of the 1970s and early 1980s an emerging awareness of women's rights began to manifest itself, with women in limited numbers being appointed to positions of greater authority. Several women became Deputy Ministers in the Blakeney government and the Crown Corporations began to recognize the realities of the 1980s. A decade later, this may be seen as modest progress.

When the NDP left office in 1982, women's organizations and the trade union movement were actively pressing the government for an extension of equal pay for similar work to a full-blown adoption of the concept of equal pay for work of equal value.

The concept made eminently good sense, but no one at that point was able to identify in a practical administrative way how to evaluate and measure work of equal value, particularly when market conditions often dictated remuneration when an employee with a particular set of skills was in short supply. It was believed that remuneration did not necessarily reflect the value of work performed.

The concept, while legislated by the Federal Government, was largely dormant as they, too, were in a quandary with the practical application of the law. The concept of equal pay for work of equal value was still a very live issue, not yet resolved, when the NDP left office.

The Women's Division was abolished by the Conservative government of Grant Devine in April, 1983.

Construction Industry Labour Relations Act

An attempt was made to reduce the friction and animosity in the bargaining process in the construction industry. In 1979 The Construction Industry Labour Relations Act was passed after lengthy consultation with the construction industry and the affected trades. The Act provided for province-wide trade by trade bargaining to replace the fragmented process which had engendered a multitude of labour-management problems over many years.

The Act prohibited the practice of double-breasting, a practice undertaken by many construction firms. In practical terms, a non-union company formed another union company with the same board of directors, and the same corporate management, allowing the company to bid on both union and non-union jobs with impunity.

This legislation was short-lived, being repealed by the new Conservative government following the 1982 general election.


A review of this kind would be incomplete without at least brief reference to the apprenticeship program and the emphasis which it received during the period in question.

This initiative was designed to facilitate the development of an adequate supply of skilled labour, and at the same time, to permit workers to upgrade their skills and earn a more rewarding living. The improvement and expansion of this program made it one of the most progressive in Canada.

Additional trades were designated and mandatory apprenticeship was introduced in three additional trades at the request of labour and management.

Proposed Sickness and Accident Plan

When the NDP government left office in 1982, the Department of Labour was actively exploring an important program for the purpose of protecting the income of a worker who fell ill or was injured in a non-industrial accident. In the case of an industrial accident, income protection was provided by the workers' compensation program, and when a worker's income was interrupted by an injury related to a traffic accident, Saskatchewan Automobile Insurance offered some limited benefits.

Statistics indicated that around two hundred Saskatchewan wage earners were permanently disabled yearly as a result of sickness or an accident which occurred away from the job. If a worker was stricken with multiple sclerosis, or disabled from an accident which happened at home, that worker's income ceased, often with catastrophic results.

The Sickness and Accident Plan which was under consideration was intended to provide income replacement. Funding of such a plan had not been finalized. The government considered it reasonable to expect the plan would be financed by contributions from workers, employers and the government. Both workers and employers contended that the program, if introduced, should be funded solely by the government from general revenue.

No final judgement had been made and the matter of sickness and accident insurance was one which could be listed under the heading of unfinished business when the NDP government left office.

This limited summary of accomplishments and initiatives in the labour sphere was made possible through the patient, though forceful, leadership of the four Deputy Ministers of Labour during the 1971-82 period. Donald Ching, Robert Mitchell, Donald McMillan and Gary Simons are all deserving of particular thanks. The dedication of these people and their talents for interacting with organized labour and management groups made many innovative changes possible with a minimum of conflict. Additionally, their relationship with directors and staff provided for a degree of enthusiasm and loyalty which made the department the very best.


1. The part of this chapter concerned with innovation was published in Eleanor D. Glor, editor. 1997. Policy Innovation in the Saskatchewan Public Sector. Toronto: Captus Press. The longer piece is included here because it describes the entire reform package and because of requests for copies of the full chapter.

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Last updated: December 4 2013