Sask. Premier says individuals can’t opt out of union dues, but ‘fair’ to consider exempting teens:

REGINA — Premier Brad Wall says his government won’t allow individual workers to opt out of paying union dues, but there should be public discussion about whether groups such as teenagers should be exempt.

Wall’s comments came one day after a 33-page consultation paper released by the Saskatchewan Party government posed several questions for the public to consider as the province undertakes a major review of labour laws.

The paper asks for input on whether there are “situations where employees should be able to opt out of the union for reasons other than religious grounds.” It additionally ask whether there are “any instances where union dues should not be collected in a situation where the employee has opted out.”

Despite the wording of the document, Wall insisted the government has no plans to consider letting individuals quit paying union dues, saying Canadian courts have ruled that is not an option. But Wall said it’s worth considering whether whole groups could be exempt from paying union dues.

“What would be wrong with somebody putting forward the notion that maybe the disabled or kids who are in high school ought not to pay union dues?” the premier asked during question period.

“What’s wrong with having that discussion? It’s not about individuals opting out. It’s about an entire group.”

Wall said exempting groups such as teenagers from dues “might be the fair thing to do.”

But NDP Leader John Nilson accused Wall of going back on his word, noting the premier stated during the election campaign last October that he wouldn’t consider allowing workers to opt out of union dues.

“Yet now he has opened up this issue for discussion in his attack-style consultation paper,” Nilson said.

Wall said his comments during the fall election campaign referred to individuals — not groups — when he stated there would no opting out.

The question was asked by reporters at a campaign stop last October in the context of right-to-work legislation — a concern also raised by the Saskatchewan Building and Construction Trades Council in a press release last year that demanded “Brad Wall tell us his intentions before it’s too late” because “a democratic society relies on its leaders to be truthful and forthcoming, especially during an election.”

Wall said right-to-work rules, which in several American jurisdictions essentially allow workers to opt out of unions and paying dues, are not being contemplated in Saskatchewan.

However, the premier said what he is considering now would be akin to kids getting a discount on movie tickets because they are younger. It makes sense that unions might also cut young workers a deal by having dues deducted from their pay cheques, Wall said.

“This is the government potentially saying ‘If you’re a kid in high school, you shouldn’t have to pay union dues, perhaps,’” Wall said. “Now we’ll hear from groups.”

The premier also defended the 90-day consultation period as the government contemplates introducing a Saskatchewan Employment Code law that would modernize and potentially amalgamate as many as 15 pieces of labour legislation.

While the government is only receiving written input on its consultation paper until the end of July, any new labour legislation wouldn’t be introduced until the fall and couldn’t pass until next spring. That means there is an entire year for people to speak out, Wall said.

Terry Parker, Saskatchewan Building and Construction Trades Council business manager, questioned why the government is considering an opting-out option for any unionized workers after seeming to dismiss the idea last fall.

“The thing is with young people, they still get all of the rights and benefits when they’re a member as anyone else. So my thoughts are they should be paying union dues,” Parker said.