Process to slash number of health bargaining units in Manitoba could take 18 months, cost $250K

Manitoba's health minister says the planned process to cut the number of bargaining units in the province could take up to 18 months and cost up to $250,000, but he hopes it won't take that long.

Number of units will go from 183 to less than 50; MGEU says that won't help patient care

Health care unions met with the province on Thursday to find out the ramifications of Bill 29, which allows a government-appointed commissioner to cut the number of health care unions from 183 to less than 50. (Shutterstock/John Panella)

Manitoba's health minister says the planned process to drastically cut the number of bargaining units in the province could cost up to $250,000 and take up to 18 months, but he hopes it won't take that long.

Health care unions met with the province on Thursday to find out the ramifications of Bill 29, which allows a government-appointed commissioner to cut the number of health care unions from 183 to less than 50.

As for how long that will take, "some of that will depend on the co-operation of the unions, of course," Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.

"Ultimately I hope that the different unions and those that are within the unions will see that this isn't unusual, this is happening across Canada, and ultimately this will be good their members because it will be good for the system."

Currently, Manitoba's health system has more bargaining units than all the other western provinces combined, Goertzen said.

"Certainly [more than] 180 is disproportionate and unreasonable when you're trying to operate a health-care system and properly schedule and properly manage and co-ordinate a system," he said.

Workers will be grouped into categories — seven for each of the province's five regional health authorities, as well as provincial health providers like CancerCare. The commissioner will decide which workers will be in which category.

In cases where workers in different unions are grouped together into a new category, a vote will determine which union will represent those workers.

Goertzen also announced the province has appointed former Manitoba labour relations director and chief negotiator Robert Pruden as the commissioner to oversee the changes.

"I am confident that he will be able to bring a lot of credibility to the process," Goertzen said.

Michelle Gawronsky heads the largest union involved, the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union. She says the new law is nonsensical.

"The monies are basically all the same and we've got standards for wages and benefits. So I don't see how this is going to be an improvement anywhere in patient care especially. This is not about improving patient care. This is about having unions pitted against each other."

Goertzen disagrees with union leaders who don't believe the streamlining will improve health care.

"Trying to organize staff and to have shifts and to determine what are the different bargaining units? What can one nurse do? What can another nurse do? It's difficult to manage a system that way," he said.

With files from Sean Kavanagh