Saskatchewan Government and General Employees’ Union (SGEU)

SGEU members at the Regina Correctional Centre took job action, November 1992.
Robert Watson (Regina Leader-Post)

The forerunner to the SGEU was founded on February 21, 1913; it was called the Saskatchewan Civil Service Association (SCSA). The object of the SCSA was “the promotion of social intercourse and sports among the civil servants in the Parliament Buildings.” Harry Wilsmer was its first president, and Premier Walter Scott the honorary president. For most of the 1920s and 1930s the SCSA acted as a social club and lobby group. Membership was voluntary, and the SCSA tended to be dominated by senior management. One of the major achievements of the SCSA was the passage of the Public Service Superannuation Act in 1927.

A change in the character and role of the SCSA came with the election in 1944 of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), led by T.C. Douglas. The CCF had as part of its election platform the passage of a Trade Union Act that for the first time anywhere in North America would give all workers, including government employees, the right to join trade unions, to bargain collectively with their employers, and to strike. The SCSA, encouraged by Douglas, decided to take advantage of the new legislation and became affiliated with the Trades and Labour Congress. In 1945, history was made when the first collective agreement was signed between the Government of Saskatchewan and the SCSA.

From 1945 to 1972, the SCSA never engaged in strike action, despite a change in government from CCF to Liberal in 1964, and then to the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1971. With changing times and high inflation, the first strike by the Association (renamed the Saskatchewan Government Employees’ Association in 1962) was at the province’s liquor board stores. Successful action on wages and benefits as well as challenges to legislated wage controls spread during the 1970s. A successful general walkout in 1979 by the Public Service bargaining unit, the largest in SGEA and the province, was declared illegal by the courts.

The Association shed its remaining social club inclinations and renamed itself the Saskatchewan Government Employees’ Union (SGEU) in 1981. In 1982 the NDP was defeated in the provincial election, and the Progressive Conservatives led by Grant Devine were elected. During the 1980s, the SGEU fought many battles over government cutbacks and privatization by the Devine government. Cutbacks continued under the newly elected NDP government led by Roy Romanow in 1991, as the government argued it had inherited a huge debt from the PC years. By 2004, SGEU represented over 18,000 workers in more than seventy different bargaining units.

Doug Taylor


Further Reading

Taylor, D. 1984. For Dignity, Equality and Justice: A History of the Saskatchewan Government Employee’s Union. Regina: SGEU.