Sunday, April 19, 2009

AEEL refusing to release Construction Industry Labour Relations Act records; secrecy rampant as freedom of information denials continue

The Construction Industry Labour Relations Act (CILRA) can now be added to the list of labour legislation for which the Saskatchewan Party government is refusing to disclose records.

In March an access to information request was submitted to Advanced Education, Employment and Labour (AEEL) for copies of any briefing notes or memorandums; and, copies of any reviews, analysis or reports conducted by or for the provincial government regarding the CILRA since May 1, 2008.

On Apr. 2 AEEL deputy minister Wynne Young denied access to the records requested in their entirety pursuant to sections 16, 17 and 22 of The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIP) pertaining to cabinet documents, advice from officials, and solicitor client privilege.

The ministry violated the FOIP by not applying section 8 regarding severability which is mandatory stating: “Where a record contains information to which an applicant is refused access, the head shall give access to as much of the record as can reasonably be severed without disclosing the information to which the applicant is refused access.”

On Mar. 10 the provincial government introduced amendments to the CILRA it claimed “will expand freedom of choice for workers and employers and help sustain Saskatchewan’s economic momentum.”

“Our construction industry requires fair, flexible and effective labour laws to help keep Saskatchewan’s economy strong during this time of uncertainty,” AEEL Minister Rob Norris said in the news release. “This legislation will lead to increased construction activity by giving employers and workers the freedom to establish their own collective bargaining arrangements.”

Norris said the existing legislation was an impediment to growth in the province’s construction industry. He said the amendments will attract additional companies into the province to help build Saskatchewan’s infrastructure.

Norris said the government will solicit public feedback on the legislation and conduct consultations with key stakeholders during the summer.

It seems, however, that at least one key stakeholder had the government’s ear three months ago.

The Saskatchewan Construction Association (SCA) said in its Nov. 2008 newsletter it had “received confirmation” that Premier Brad Wall and the provincial cabinet would meet with the lobby group’s board of directors on Nov. 26.

“These meetings offer the construction industry a huge opportunity to have influence on government programs, polices, and spending priorities,” the newsletter said.

In its Dec. 2008 newsletter the SCA called the private meeting “a great success.” An issue the board “raised directly” with cabinet was that the government “must provide more balanced and fair labour legislation.”

When it comes to the Wall government you know what that means.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Larry Hubich had this to say about Norris’s Mar. 10 announcement: “Assistant Deputy Minister Mike Carr confirmed in a stakeholder briefing that the construction and other unions in Saskatchewan did not ask for this and that none were consulted prior to its introduction. The government says it’s about so-called freedom of choice for employers and employees. We say it is about opening the door to certain employer-dominated unions to do wall-to-wall certifications of construction projects.”

Trades unions have long argued that wall-to-wall certifications, rather than the current system of certifying on a craft basis, will lead to deskilling and lower wages, the news release said.

“Once again, the government is gutting legislation that affects thousands of workers without consulting them in advance. We saw this with last year’s essential services legislation and the amendments to the Trade Union Act. Now they’re doing it with the construction trades. This government is obviously intent on breaking unions in every sector,” says Hubich.

It should be noted that in 2000 the aforementioned Mike Carr, a Saskatchewan Party supporter and contributor, served on the Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce’s labour committee when the NDP government introduced amendments to the CILRA. The chamber, according to the Leader-Post, was part of the Saskatchewan Alliance for Economic Growth, “a newly formed coalition of business groups” that said labour laws, like the CILRA are “anti-business and anti-democratic” and should be changed or scrapped.

The alliance, which included the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, Saskatchewan Construction Association and Prairie Implement Manufacturers Association, were calling on the government to put the amendments to the CILRA on hold and meet with business groups to discuss alternatives.

Manley McLachlan of the SCA said the government was proceeding with the amendments, despite lack of consultation with non-unionized contractors who represent most of the construction industry.

But the labour minister at the time, Joanne Crofford, said there had been over 100 meetings on the CILRA. [Business coalition slams the province’s labour laws (Leader-Post, June 13, 2000)]

In contrast the Wall government held no talks whatsoever – at least with labour.

AEEL’s refusal to disclose records relating to the CILRA isn’t the only freedom of information request that was denied recently.

On Mar. 24 deputy minister Wynne Young refused to grant access to an unspecified number of internal AEEL communications regarding an earlier request for information the ministry had denied.

A request dated Oct. 29, 2008, was submitted to AEEL for copies of any reviews or analysis conducted by or for the provincial government since May 1, 2008, of The Trade Union Act and The Labour Standards Act. The ministry received the request on Oct. 31.

On Jan. 19, after 81 days of stalling, Wynne finally advised that access to the records requested was denied. The ministry had violated the FOIP by not making its decision within 60 days. Wynne provided no explanation for the delay.

A follow-up request (dated Jan. 22) was submitted to AEEL asking for copies of any internal government correspondence, paper or electronic, regarding the application that had just been denied.

On Mar. 24, AEEL released 60 pages of information. Fifty of those pages consisted of multiple copies of the original request form submitted by the applicant, several copies of Wynne’s Jan. 19 refusal letter, and numerous copies of emails sent by the applicant asking for a status update on the request.

Wynne’s cover letter said access to some records was denied pursuant to sections 17 and 22 of the FOIP: advice from officials and solicitor client privilege, respectively. This was the 9th time since May 2008 that AEEL had denied access to records.

In short, the ministry was refusing to release any internal correspondence containing information that might explain how and why the decision was made to deny access to the Oct. 29, 2008, request for records regarding The Trade Union Act and The Labour Standards Act. AEEL’s desire for near absolute secrecy had risen to an absurd level.

The lone piece of information released by AEEL that offers any interesting insight into its freedom of information process is an Oct. 31, 2008, email from access and privacy coordinator Gary Brown to Wynne Young, Mike Carr and Kelly Murphy, the manager of AEEL’s correspondence unit, advising that the Oct. 29 request for information had arrived. What this email does is confirm that the top people in the ministry are aware of what’s going on and are clearly involved in the ugly culture of secrecy that plagues the ministry.

Below are the other eight requests for information that AEEL has denied since May 2008:

Mar. 24, 2009: Access denied to copies of any reviews, analysis or studies that have been conducted by or for the provincial government since May 1, 2008 of The Occupational Health and Safety Act and The Workers’ Compensation Act.

Feb. 23, 2009: Access denied to copies of any reviews or analyses that have been conducted by or for the Government of Saskatchewan since Nov.1, 2008 of The Trade Union Act and The Labour Standards Act; and also copies of any briefing notes and memorandums from May 1, 2008 to Jan. 22, 2009 regarding The Trade Union Act and The Labour Standards Act.

Jan. 20, 2009: Access denied to any briefing notes and memorandums, including any attachments, from Feb. 1, 2008 to Nov. 30, 2008 regarding the essential services legislation.

Jan. 20, 2009: Access denied to any memorandums, including any attachments from Nov. 7, 2007 to Dec. 31, 2007 regarding or relating to essential services legislation.

Jan. 20, 2009: Access denied to any briefing notes, letters and memorandums, including attachments, from Oct. 1, 2008 to Dec. 23, 2008 regarding or relating to the minimum wage regulations and the amendment to allow workers age 15 and older to obtain employment in hotels, restaurants, educational institutions, hospitals and nursing homes.

Jan. 19, 2009: Access denied to any reviews or analyses that have been conducted by or for the Government of Saskatchewan since May 1, 2008 of The Trade Union Act and The Labour Standards Act.

May 22, 2008: Access denied to the daily appointment and meeting schedules for Minister Rob Norris and Deputy Minister Wynne Young from Dec. 1, 2008 to Mar. 14, 2008.

May 13, 2008: Access was denied to the contract and any correspondence between the Government of Saskatchewan and management lawyer Kevin Wilson from Nov. 8, 2007 to Feb. 29, 2008. Wilson was hired to provide advice on the government’s essential services legislation.


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