Manitoba's premier says reopening collective agreements in the public sector and reducing salaries are on the table because "something's got to give" in order to tackle the province's poor finances.
Brian Pallister said he will be meeting with public sector unions to discuss the possibility of wage freezes for contracts that have already been negotiated. The government is already planning legislation for future collective agreements that would limit wage hikes.
"What we are doing is saying these things are on the table. Let's have a listen to what people have to say. Something's got to give," Pallister said following question period on Monday.
"You can't keep running $900-million deficits and think you are doing anything but deferring a tax obligation to your kids and yourself when you are older."
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Some unions recently signed contracts with the province that included salary increases for two more years. Pallister said he wants to get ideas from unions and he's "not trying to pre-write the agenda for the discussions."
However, NDP finance critic James Allum said it's time Pallister is "crystal clear" about his intentions.
"Now we find, which we predicted all along, that he is quite interested in opening up contracts, ignoring the collective will that came together on other contracts," Allum said.
"It's not a surprise to us but I think it's a surprise to Manitobans that this is a premier who didn't mention this to the electorate during the campaign and now wants to engage in this kind of activity."
The meetings with unions are expected to take place over the next couple of weeks, according to Pallister. The premier said he would include all public sector employees in the discussion including government workers, teachers and staff at Manitoba's crowns.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU) president Michelle Gawronsky recently met with the premier and he didn't say anything about opening up existing contracts.
"In fact, he assured me that he supports fair collective bargaining and wouldn't dictate a mandate before bargaining even starts," Gawronsky said in an emailed statement to CBC. "Reopening contracts or imposing settlements wouldn't be fair and both would likely be unconstitutional."
Pallister may be legally allowed to impose wage restraints if he shows he tried to negotiate first, according to David Camfield, who teaches labour studies at the University of Manitoba.