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Q and A: Supreme Court decision increases legal power of unionized public sector employees

February 10, 2015 Gordon Thomas, Executive Secretary

Question: Would it be legal for Premier Prentice to legislate salary rollbacks for teachers?

Answer: The Association would challenge any such legislation in court. In the past few weeks the Supreme Court of Canada ruled on Saskatchewan Federation of Labour versus Saskatchewan (2015 SCC 4). The Supreme Court held that the right to strike is protected under the right to freedom of association, guaranteed by section 2(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The 5–2 decision overrules previous legal precedents and dramatically increases the legal power of unionized employees, especially those employed in the public sector. Legislation to impose salary rollbacks, replacing the previous legislation, the Assurance for Students Act, would circumvent the Association’s right to strike and would not replace such a right with an arbitration process binding on government, school boards and the Association.

While the Supreme Court’s decision does not provide 100 per cent certainty of the outcome of such a challenge, in this instance the Association would most certainly make such a challenge, and I anticipate that other public sector unions would do the same.

Premier Prentice and his cabinet colleagues have voluntarily chosen to roll back their salaries by 5 per cent. The salaries are set by the MLAs themselves. In 2008–09, salaries for cabinet members increased from $142,000 to $184,000, an increase of 30 per cent. In 2009–10, 2010–11 and 2011–12, there were no salary increases (three years of zero), and in 2012–13 salaries increased by nine per cent, to $201,000.

MLAs, who have also voluntarily chosen to roll back their salaries by 5 per cent, endured three years of zero salary increases between 2009 and 2012. In 2012–13, MLAs increased their salaries by 71 per cent to $134,000.

So, clearly, the context for MLAs and cabinet ministers is very different from the context for teachers. ❚

Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Gordon Thomas at Barnett House (


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