Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What is an essential service?

Reading this story I started questioning, "What, in this current society, is an essential service? What can't we get along without?"

This all has to do with 2 bills which were passed by the Saskatchewan Legislature last year, barely a 6 months into the Saskatchewan Party's term in office. One of those bills forces management and union to discuss, compromise and agree on a list of essential workers who can not strike (Bill C-5). The second is a bill amending the trade union act to force secret ballot votes and to raise the threshold required to begin the unionization of a workplace from 25% to 40%(Bill C-6). Now, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand why unions might be upset about these two bills. That doesn't mean that the bills are fundamentally wrong and should not have been passed.

What it means is that unions now find themselves having to justify why someone is NOT essential before they can even negotiate the new contract.

So who is essential? I guess it depends on many different circumstances. The time of the year. The job they do. The department they work in. A highway maintenance worker in the summer time is not essential - we'll just drive around the potholes like we usually do. A highway maintenance worker in the winter time IS essential because of the prevalence of winter storms and the danger of letting snow, slush and ice pile up on highways. A nurse on a ward may not be as essential as the cook in the kitchen, getting meals out for all the patients in a hospital.

What it comes down to, though, is that unions have had some power taken from them with those two bills. They no longer get to dictate terms because an employer could, now, designate enough of a skeleton staff to leave strikers out much longer than before, thereby taking the economic reasoning for striking.

Perhaps this should be a signal to unions that they can no longer take a combative stance with their employers. Perhaps it's a signal to employees that unions are no longer as powerful or as important as before. Either way, it is good that more power has accrued back to the risk takers of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment