Manitoba’s public sector unions were working double-time Monday evening to stop the passing of two bills that will make sweeping changes to collective bargaining under the Pallister government.
Dozens of delegates lined up at two separate committee hearing rooms at the legislature to have their final say to government on two contentious labour bills before they become law in the coming months.
Union representatives ranging from Doctors Manitoba and the Manitoba Nurses Union to the Manitoba Teachers’ Society spoke out against Bill 28, which effectively takes wages off the bargaining table and institutes a two-year wage freeze for all future collective bargaining agreements.
Across the hall at another room, more gathered to speak out against Bill 29, which seeks to chop the number of bargaining units in the health sector from 183 to seven.
Representatives such as Manitoba Nurses Union president Sandi Mowat played double duty, speaking at both hearings. The contract for Manitoba’s 12,000 nurses expired in March, making it one of the first collective agreements to test the bill that will mandate two years of freezes, followed by a 0.75 per cent raise in the third year, and one per cent in the fourth.
“It infringes on our right to bargain,” said Mowat of Bill 28. “We are concerned that this bill actually infringes on our charter rights to bargain collectively.”
Mowat wouldn’t confirm that a legal challenge is in the works if the bill becomes law, but said her union is looking into the idea.
Manitoba Teachers’ Society president Norm Gould called the bill “Draconian” and said it contradicted promises made by Premier Brian Pallister that he would consult with unions before passing such legislation.
“Our hope is that they will come to their senses and allow us to go to the bargaining table and work this out,” Gould said. “It is not a public sector deficit, so to put it only on the shoulders of the public sector is improper and inappropriate.”
Today’s debt is tomorrow’s tax increase: CFIB
The committee hearings allow for private citizens to speak to government officials in a public forum and offer suggestions for amendments before the bills reach third reading and then become law.
Over 30 delegates were scheduled to speak at both meetings, with Finance Minister Cameron Friesen speaking for government at the Bill 28 hearings and Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen at the head of the Bill 29 hearings.
While the vast majority were speaking in opposition to the bills, the government had a cheerleader in the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. Its director of provincial affairs, Jonathan Alward, presented in favour of the bill, saying all Manitobans are bearing the brunt of a massive deficit and something has to give.
“Today’s deficits, today’s growing debt, are going to translate to tomorrow’s tax increases,” he said.
“At the end of day, private sector companies have difficult decisions to make … the government is in that position right now,” Alward told CBC News. “They (the unions) are only showing one side of the story … this type of a wage freeze is a difficult, but necessary decision.”
‘We must do our best’: Pallister
The government has been firm on its stance that both bills are necessary to get the government’s fiscal house in order. When asked about the bills in question period by the Opposition NDP, Pallister reiterated that his government inherited a “fiscal challenge.”
“We must do our very best” to fix that, Pallister said Monday.
Pallister has previously said a one per cent increase in public sector salaries costs the government $100 million.
As for limiting collective bargaining units, Goertzen told CBC News last week that the measure will bring Manitoba in line with the rest of Canada.
He said British Columbia has five collective bargaining units. In Saskatchewan there are 14. Bill 29 would drop the number in Manitoba to seven from the current 183.
“There is so many different bargaining units, which means there is so many different labour agreements, which means every time somebody is trying to schedule somebody … or ensure there is proper coverage in a hospital or on a ward, we have to check to make sure that the individual collective agreement allows somebody to do it,” Goertzen told CBC News.
The bill also would lead to the appointment of commissioner who could supercede rulings by the Manitoba Labour Board and would not be accountable to legal challenges.
Unions will have to wait and see
Mowat said she didn’t understand the need for the bargaining unit bill, explaining that most of the units in the health care system bargain together. She also said it would also further disrupt a health-care system that is already in the midst of a major revamp with the closing of three emergency departments in Winnipeg.
“To get all these health-care unions to have to have runoff votes is not something we need right now when the health-care system is already pretty disrupted,” she said.
She described it as “interesting” that the government would appoint a commissioner.
“We will have to wait and see what the regulations say at the end of this,” she said of the appointment.
On September 19, 2017, community and union members joined together to tell the Pallister Government to increase the minimum wage to $15-an-hour at a rally hosted by the Manitoba Federation of Labour and Make Poverty History Manitoba.
Far too many Manitoba workers are unable to meet ends meet even though they have a job, because Manitoba’s minimum wage of $11-an-hour is a poverty wage. That is just not fair. As MFL President Kevin Rebeck said at the rally, “no one working full-time should have to live in poverty.”
Nicole Dvorak, a minimum wage worker, shared her story and the challenges that her co-workers face to meet basic needs like rent, groceries, and other essential costs by working full-time at the current minimum wage.
Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew committed that if elected in 2020, an NDP government would increase the minimum wage to a living wage over the course of its first term. Liberal MLA for River Heights Jon Gerrard also supported the need to increase the minimum wage.
Even though they were invited, no member of the Pallister Government showed up to speak. That’s not surprising.
After the Pallister Government left minimum wage workers $400 poorer by freezing the wage last year, it is set to increase by only 15 cents on October 1st. That just isn’t good enough.
Four IAMAW members learn/improve their Web site training for their local lodges.
Winnipeg Free Press – Nick Martin
The NDP is raising fears the Pallister government could weaken protection for workers over air quality and exposure to toxic chemicals. Labour critic Tom Lindsey said Wednesday that Growth, Enterprise and Trade Minister Cliff Cullen has ordered a review of workplace safety and health regulations by June 30.
Flin Flon MLA and NDP Labour critic Tom Lindsey says Cullen wants to weaken occupational exposure limits in workplaces.
Lindsey told the house Cullen wants his advisory council on workplace health and safety to give the highest priority to the employer’s costs. Cullen wants weakening of occupational exposure limits (OEL) in workplaces, Lindsey charged.
“Guaranteeing the health and safety of workers must be the top priority of government and employers,” Lindsey said.
That’s exactly why he’s having the regulations reviewed, Cullen said. “We believe there was a flawed process under the previous (NDP) government,” the minister said.
“Shameful!” said Lindsey. “How about keeping workers alive? ”
OELs protect workers from short and long-term” health problems, Lindsey said. “His mandate changed from protecting the health of workers to protecting the economic health of employers.”
Rather than answering directly, Cullen said the NDP needs to figure out its position on trade policy.
Workers are very concerned, Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said Wednesday.
“We are very alarmed that the minister has ordered that the current process for protecting workers from chemicals and other hazards should be weakened,” Rebeck said.
“We are strongly supportive of Manitoba’s existing automatic adoption rule, which requires employers to ensure that workplaces stay up to date with the latest science and recommendations from the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. When the experts tell us that workers will be harmed if they are exposed to chemicals and other hazards, we need to listen and ensure that protections are put in place without delay.
“When we know something is hazardous, it is inexcusable, and potentially criminal, to not take protective action,” Rebeck said.
With only four days of notice, the Pallister government called to committee Bill 33, the Minimum Wage Indexation Act, for debate this evening. [Manitoba Federation of Labour] President Kevin Rebeck made a submission on behalf of 100,000 unionized workers across Manitoba.
“The Pallister government’s new bill is inadequate and unfair,” said Rebeck. “Having a job and working full-time, should mean Manitobans can live above the poverty line. But this bill makes poverty wages the law of the land and keeps many vulnerable Manitobans trapped.”
Bill 33 was introduced after the Pallister government last year refused to increase the minimum wage — one of only two provinces to not raise the minimum wage in 2016 — leaving full-time minimum-wage earners $400 worse off.
Manitoba’s minimum wage falls far short of what working families need to meet their basic needs. Statistics Canada’s most recent (2014) calculation of the low-income cut-off (LICO) reveals that Manitoba’s current minimum wage of $11/hour falls $4.53/hour short of the poverty line, let alone a living wage.
“Indexing the minimum wage at what is already a poverty wage will ensure minimum-wage earners can never escape poverty. Annual indexing can make a difference but only when it’s applied to a base wage that’s already a living wage,” said Rebeck.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour is deeply concerned about the Pallister government’s new budget. In the election, Premier Pallister promised to protect front-line services and respect the people who deliver them. Today’s budget breaks that promise, with serious cuts to public services that families count on every day.
The Pallister government is moving forward with measures that will erode public services, hurt Manitoba families and fail to grow our economy – measures like:
- Closing three emergency rooms in Winnipeg;
- Raising tuition fees, cutting apprenticeships and eliminating tuition rebates for students;
- Cutting mental health and addictions programming;
- Cancelling planned investments in cancer treatment facilities and personal care homes;
- Scaling-back investments in new schools, health facilities, roads and affordable housing;
- Laying off 900 workers at Manitoba Hydro;
- Reducing support for the arts; and
- Legislates wage freezes and wage caps, well below increases in the cost-of-living, without even coming to the bargaining table and trying to reach a deal.
Budget 2017 also marks the second year in a row that the Pallister government has failed to raise the minimum wage. At only $11/hour, Manitoba’s minimum wage falls fall short of a living wage for working families. “Working full time should be a clear pathway out of poverty”, said Kevin Rebeck, President of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, “but at today’s rate, minimum wage keeps working families trapped below the poverty line.” A full-time minimum wage worker will be actually be $800 worse off as a result of Pallister’s minimum wage freeze, due to the effects of inflation on reduced purchasing power.
Budget 2017 cuts funding for positions in Workplace Safety and Health, Employment Standards and the Manitoba Labour Board. “Today’s budget tells us a lot about what this government thinks is important, and what it doesn’t, said Rebeck. It’s clear that protecting workers and respecting fair bargaining rules are not priorities for this government.”
Under questioning from stakeholders and the media at today’s budget scrum, Manitoba’s Finance Minister, Cameron Friesen, refused to give any assurance that public sector jobs would be protected.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour is Manitoba’s central labour body, representing the interests of more than 100,000 unionized workers from every sector, in every region of the province.