New workplace legislation offers protection for gig workers

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If you thought we’d forgive and forget, you were mistaken. Mika Baumeister via Unsplash

Working continues to suck

In a press release on November 18, 2021, the Government of Saskatchewan announced that it has introduced a number of amendments to the Saskatchewan Employment Act as part of the regular review process, including an amendment regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. The statement expressed hope that these amendments will help build a better and safer workplace for employers and employees in the province.

The most prominent amendment, which the release also devotes more attention to, is one that addresses the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace. This amendment clarifies that any unwelcome action of a sexual nature constitutes harassment. Further, the amendment also mentions that this definition of harassment, and any associated legislative process, will now also cover independent contractors, student/interns, and volunteers. This makes Saskatchewan one of five jurisdictions that specifically reference sexual harassment at a legislative level, and also cover interns, contract workers, and volunteers. The release mentioned that these amendments are a result of regular reviews of The Saskatchewan Employment Act. Additional amendments address issues regarding bargaining units as it pertains to employees at the supervisory levels.

Labour Relations and Workplace Safety Minister Don Morgan is quoted in the press release, saying “The legislation that governs our employers and employees needs to address the challenges of the modern work environment, including protecting vulnerable workers. These amendments will help us build a stronger, safer and healthier Saskatchewan.” On Twitter, Premier Scott Moe stated that the amendments will better support employers and employees.

We also reached out to the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour for comments, speaking to Eric Bell, who is Strategic Advisor to the SFL. Given that the most prominent amendment relates to the definition of, and coverage for, sexual harassment, we wanted to find out more about the background that led to a review of this aspect of the law, and what tangible benefits workers in Saskatchewan can hope for.

Bell explained that previously, the harassment provisions as mentioned in the Saskatchewan Employment Act did not offer protections for independent contractors, students, and volunteers from harassment while at work. “These changes have been necessary for some time, but are arguably needed even more today due to the changing nature of work – more and more folks are working as independent contractors and ‘gig’ workers – working for companies like Uber and Skip the Dishes. These workers are more vulnerable, face precarious working environments and are more prone to harassment. The SFL has been calling for these changes for some time and so we are pleased that this amendment has been made,” said Bell. He also added that with this aspect of the amendment, the act now covers the vast majority of workers in the province, including students who are in work placements or internships.

Bell also added, “All employers will now have a duty to provide a working environment free of harassment for all employees, including independent contractors, volunteer workers and students. The amendment will help make sure that workers who are in these positions are able to enjoy a safer working environment, free of harassment. If in fact they do still face harassment, they will also now have the mechanisms through which to seek redress of their grievances.”

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