Over the past two years, Saskatchewan has been hit by a seemingly endless series of public sector labour disputes. In 1999, it experienced the most serious health conflict in the public service since the 1962 doctors` strike. This strike by the Saskatchewan Nurses Union was preceded by a legal termination of a work stoppage at SaskPower. The result was a work stoppage by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) against the Saskatchewan Association of Health Organizations (SAHO). A subsequent agreement between SAHO and the Service Employees International Union was reached only after a simple withdrawal and a threat of withdrawal. Discussions by the Government of Saskatchewan and the General Employees Union (GSP) and cancer treatment centres led to a strike. A subsequent provisional agreement was rejected by the accession. More recently, 14,000 health professionals have proposed 18 health districts. Volunteers, managers and relatives of patients have tried to maintain the essential service. In the end, an SAHO and CUPE conciliator helped secure an interim collective agreement that exceeded provincial wage guidelines. The province and the Saskatchewan General Employees Union (SGEU) have agreed on a new collective agreement that provides for a seven per cent increase over six months. „Essential services laws, in their current form, make free collective bargaining virtually impossible.“ If the government underscored its importance sufficiently, this common definition of a new working relationship would be the basis for collaborative processes. In the past, Saskatchewan has implemented innovative public policies that are recognized at the national level.
The province has strong traditions of community cooperation. There is little social distance between people. And the province is not so rich that it can afford ineffective practices. Such reforms could also provide a future direction for collective bargaining in the public sector in Canada. On the basis of the latest assessment, it seems fair to say that collective bargaining in the public sector in Saskatchewan is in crisis. In my view, the reasons are primarily structural and include: „I welcome the commitment and cooperation in the work on a new collective agreement,“ said Ken Cheveldayoff, Minister of public service. It would be a mistake to believe that the current difficulties in public sector negotiations in Saskatchewan are temporary and can be resolved with certain negotiated collective agreements. The current difficulties are symptomatic of more entrenched problems. As long as they are not addressed, they are repeated several times and public health, safety and comfort are constantly threatened.
In the pursuit of their divergent interests, some trade union and managerial actors undermine the acceptance of collective bargaining in the public sector in the Community. Their activities do not reflect Saskatchewan`s tradition of community reconciliation.