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Union urges review of Sask human rights commission

REGINA (Canadian OH&S News)


REGINA (Canadian OH&S News)

Saskatchewan’s largest union is calling for an independent review of the province’s human rights commission, just over a month after the union says six workers were laid off in a “reckless” and unjust manner.

Over 200 delegates from the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) unanimously passed the resolution during its annual convention in Saskatoon on March 1. On January 25, six front-line employees of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission (SHRC) were dismissed without cause and without access to union representatives or with regards to seniority, charges Tom Graham, president of  CUPE Saskatchewan.

One worker had only “a couple of years” experience, while another, Bill Rafoss, a spokesman for CUPE Local 1871 and a member of the union’s bargaining committee, had worked for the commission for nearly 30 years, Graham says.

The layoffs have left a situation where there are now 10 workers and seven managers, with two workers recently announcing that they will either be resigning or retiring. “So we’re going to have an issue of eight workers to seven managers for the whole province of Saskatchewan,” Graham says. “It really speaks volumes — the fact that the organization that is supposed to protect people’s human rights has acted in this manner,” he contends.

However, SHRC chief commissioner David Arnot says “it is business as usual” at the commission, despite public statements from the recently laid off employees. “We have restructured our operations and renewed our mandate to better serve the people of Saskatchewan.”

Last year, the provincial government dissolved the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal and amended legislation so cases that go to litigation are heard by the Court of Queen’s Bench instead of a panel of tribunal members. But Graham says that this new “directed mediation” approach eliminated the right to appeal tribunal cases.

“It’s very disappointing. The commission remains, but there was a major downsizing of it for lack of a better term,” Graham says. “The whole idea of sitting in the courtroom and pleading your case before a judge is a problem, a huge problem, as far as we are concerned.”