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Saskatchewan spells out rules for new labour law, including rights of interns

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REGINA - New labour rules that index the minimum wage and recognize the rights of interns are now in effect in Saskatchewan.

The province has proclaimed the Saskatchewan Employment Act and regulations that spell out how employers and workers can be treated.

Among other things, the regulations say that interns are employees if they're doing the same duties as other workers and that means they must be paid.

"The term 'intern' became really broadly used and probably abused," Labour Minister Don Morgan said Tuesday. "The people that were called interns were often entry-level workers, and employers were sometimes taking advantage of those people, saying, 'Well, you're an intern. Therefore you will not be paid for this or we're going to pay you whatever lesser amount of pay than what the act would require,' he said.

"So we've said, interns, you're going to get paid."

The regulations create a separate class for student learners, such as student teachers, who have to do a work placement for an educational program and may or may not be paid, Morgan said.

The regulations also allow employers and workers to agree to average hours over one to four weeks.

Such a modified work agreement means an employee might work 160 hours over four weeks. For example, that could be done with five eight-hour days or four 10-hour days.

Morgan said it became clear during consultations that workers wanted the flexibility.

"Firefighters were working 24-hour shifts because they were there all day. We had nurses working 12 hours. We had people under permits, sometimes unionized, sometimes not, in the far north that wanted to have seven days in, four days out or whatever the alternate arrangements were," he said.

"There was all kinds of desire to have those, and it wasn't a matter of the employer saying, 'we want this to happen.' It was a matter of the employee saying, 'I want to spend a greater amount of time with my family.'"

People who are called to work outside of their scheduled shift will have to be paid three times their hourly wage. The old rule was three times the minimum wage.

The regulations also say that retail workers should get two consecutive days off and, when possible, one of those days should be a Saturday or a Sunday.

The Saskatchewan Federation of Labour said the new regulations leave a number of questions unanswered.

"Some of the most glaring examples are the issues of scope and supervisors," federation president Larry Hubich said in a news release.

"As currently written, the (Saskatchewan Employment Act) could potentially mean that thousands of Saskatchewan people are driven out of their organizations, and that thousands more will be prohibited from exercising their constitutional right to join a union."

The Saskatchewan Employment Act rolls together about a dozen pieces of labour legislation into one omnibus law.

However, the Public Service Essential Services Act is not yet included because it is being challenged at the Supreme Court of Canada next month. The act says employers can dictate which workers are so needed that they can't walk off the job.

The labour federation has been challenging the essential services legislation since it was passed in May 2008.

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