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Bill 1 (4 December 2006)

The Labour Standards Amendment Act, 2006

From Economy Committee Hansard - 4 December 2006

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Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Mr. Chair. Minister, I’d like to welcome you and your officials here this afternoon. We have a few questions about Bill 1 although I don’t anticipate that we’ll be here just too long in discussing it. But there are a couple of areas of concern that . . . or at least there are some questions that we have about this Bill and I’m sure it is our hope that you’d be able to provide us with the answers.

Minister, you mentioned in your brief remarks that this is an important piece of legislation and I guess what I would like for you to do is indicate what type of consultative process you undertook before this Bill was drafted and introduced. Did you meet with interest groups that will be directly affected by this legislation? If so, who were they and those sorts of things? If you could just give us a brief summary of the consultations that you may have done.

Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Thank you very much. And it’s an important point that we know what the thinking is in Saskatchewan around our labour legislation, and particularly around work and family balance. And also in terms of the kind of new initiatives that we might do to make sure that Saskatchewan is the best place to work.

In specific terms of this legislation, we did not have specific consultations but what we did do and what I think that is fair to say is that over the course of years, and of course of my time, we’re very aware of the different perspectives that stakeholders in the labour world have concerning this particular initiative. We were very well aware of some of the concerns around costs. And comments since that point of time has been, you know, it’s been consistent with what we thought certain stakeholders would say. As well, we were aware that there are stakeholders out there that advocated very much that work-family balance is a very important issue, and that we needed a 10th holiday. And that was borne out as well with statements following the announcement.

So at some point a decision has to be made. And our Throne Speech was very clear that we wanted to make sure that Saskatchewan residents feel real tangible benefits from our thriving economy. And we felt certain this was the thing, the right thing, the appropriate thing for this government to do, and in that that has been borne out.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Minister. So what I heard you say is that you did not undertake any formal process to consult with stakeholders and the interest groups that will be directly affected. I can imagine that you . . . I mean, a number of these organizations and groups have certainly made their views known since this Bill was introduced.

Did you or any of your cabinet colleagues do any type of work as to what the additional cost of this holiday would be, even within the civil service? You know, it’s another statutory holiday. There are some essential services that need to be . . . must be maintained. There is some additional costs. What work was done in that area to look at the additional cost to government and to related groups like health regions and those sorts of organizations?

Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Yes, we did do costing. The department did do some costing on what the impact would be, and I can share some of those numbers with you if you’d prefer me to go through that.

We went through it, what would be . . . what’s the average weekly cost, the salary cost here in the province. And we came up with the average industrial wage is about $694.14 per week. When we factored in the cost of what would be additional holiday costs, it’s about $69.3 million through the provincial economy. Some of this would be lost productivity — people not in the workplace, but being paid as part of the regulations. Others will be in the workplace and therefore will have to be paid their salaries accordingly, such as the hospitals and jails and that type of thing.

We broke it down as well to what would be the cost to businesses in the private sector versus what would be the cost to the public sector. The cost to business is approximately two-thirds of the 69 million, or about $40.5 million. The cost of governments in the province is about $20.2 million.

Mr. Hart: — Thank you, Minister. Minister, some of the private sector may be able to recoup some of those costs through passing those costs along. Ultimately the consumer will end up paying those costs. However in the public sector, there really isn’t . . . and I should clarify that. In the private sector not all businesses will be able to do that so the employers will have to absorb those additional costs and so on. And as I said, I know that representatives of those groups have expressed their concerns, and I’m sure you’ve heard them. However in the public sector, whether it be your government or whether it be municipalities, there are, you know, there are those additional costs as you said, at about $20 million.

Let’s look at the health regions, for instance. I mean they will be impacted in a fairly significant way. Health care goes on 24-7. Have you been in discussions with the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Health? Are there plans for additional funding? Is the Finance minister going to help the Health minister out with those extra costs? You know, I mean it’s a result of your legislation, Minister, and you know, I think the people of this province are asking, you know, where’s that additional money going to come from to look after the costs in the health care sector? Or will we see some reduction in the standard of care?

Hon. Mr. Forbes: — Oh you won’t see a reduction in service and care. That is a definite. And it’s our intention, and of course, it’s . . . We cannot speculate on what might be in the budget, but clearly, you know, this is a government decision. And of course we all know . . . But the fact of the matter is our economy is thriving, and we’re seeing a situation where we want to make sure all people in Saskatchewan see real benefits. And because of that we were able to announce some very exciting initiatives in the Throne Speech that will help out business, will help out the workers, and I think this is a good thing. So we’re seeing a province, it’s just thriving. The economy is booming.

And the other thing is, and it’s just something that we should not . . . and I alluded to this in my opening remarks, the cost of that going from January 1 until Good Friday. This is something that I think people deserve. And Saskatchewan winters are long and hard. We know that. And so in fact, it will be a positive. And I think that from the general comments we’ve had, they’ve been generally positive. People think it’s about the right time to do this.

Mr. Hart: — Well, Minister, I certainly can’t argue with you that our winters can be long and particularly that time frame between early January and Easter. I know the dog days of winter can be pretty long and I think the majority of people, you know, certainly do look forward to a bit of a break in that area.

My colleague, the member from Canora-Pelly, in his remarks to this Bill outlined some concerns that he had around . . . with school divisions and, you know, the school boards having to plan for an extra holiday which will be causing them some concerns this year because the school year was already set prior to this Bill coming forward and that sort of thing. So they’re going to have to deal with this extra day off.

But getting back to the extra costs to governments, municipalities are another level of government that will incur extra costs. We look at policing costs, you know, firefighters, you know, that whole area of public safety, maintaining our streets and our roads, all those sorts of things. And that will be an additional cost that they will have to look after and they would, I’m sure, be looking to your government to help them with that additional cost. However as I said, I mean overall — and I certainly agree with you —there is a cost to the stress of dealing with family members and the workplace. And for those of us that are in that sandwich generation where we have aging parents and we have grandchildren that . . . and those of us, those people that are somewhat younger have their own families to look after, yes there certainly will be some benefits. And I guess I would ask is your department, are you prepared to monitor the effect of this additional holiday and try in some way to measure the positives of an additional holiday?

Hon. Mr. Forbes: — One of the things . . . And I would say that Saskatchewan is a real leader in terms of work-family balance issues and of course our unit here has done an awful lot of good work in that area, and in fact has done work that is recognized nationally.

We have not set up any sort of formal research on this but it would be one that I think that we’ll be doing a lot of work. And a lot of people will be looking at the province and saying, you know, what are the positive outcomes? What are the challenges, but what are the positive outcomes for this? Because we know that there is the challenge as you’ve alluded to, especially with older folks and with looking after seniors, those challenges we are now facing. So we’ll be watching this, monitoring this very closely, yes.

Mr. Hart: — Well, Mr. Chair, I have no other questions at this time. I’d like to thank the minister for the answers that he has provided and we feel that this Bill can move forward.

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