Labour groups call out government on Bill 28

Manitoba Building Trades leaders say the Progressive Conservative government's proposed Bill 28 would increase costs and bring workers from other provinces to Manitoba. The legislation would end project labour agreements in the province.

Legislation would end project labour agreements coveted by skill trades unions

Manitoba Skilled Trades leaders said, at a 2018 rally, the end of project labour agreements means cheap labour will come from outside Manitoba. (Sean Kavanagh CBC)

Trade union leaders took aim at a coming piece of legislation they say is a bad deal for skilled workers and will bring cheap labour to Manitoba.

Bill 28 — the Public Sector Construction Projects (Tendering) Act — will be debated in the coming session of the Manitoba Legislature and would end the practice of project labour agreements for major infrastructure projects.

Project labour agreements require non-unionized workers to pay dues and be governed by the same requirements and benefits as their unionized counterparts.

Progressive Conservative leaders have called project labour agreements "forced unionization" that discourage companies employing non-unionized workers from bidding for contracts.

On Tuesday morning in front of a monument to the Winnipeg General Strike, leaders from Manitoba Building Trades and 50 or so workers began a campaign against Bill 28.

"It's a bad deal for Manitoba skilled workers, it's a bad deal for the men and women that stand beside me today," said Sudhir Sandhu, CEO of Manitoba Building Trades. 

MBT represents 8,000 workers through 13 separate unions.

"We're here to remind Premier Pallister that skilled labour is not cheap and cheap labour is not skilled," Sandhu said at the rally.

High-profile project labour agreements

A project labour agreement was in effect for the construction of the Red River Floodway expansion. 

One was also for the East Side Road project before the current government dismantled the authority that oversaw the northern road construction effort. 
Sudhir Sandhu, with Manitoba Building Trades, said in 2018 that Bill 28 was brought in with little consultation and will impact local employment. (Sean Kavanagh CBC)

The Keeyask dam project is also subject to a project labour agreement. Its costs have ballooned from an original estimate of $6.5 billion to $8.7 billion and could go much higher according to a consultant.

Sandhu told reporters project labour agreements enhance the pool of skilled workers in the province and slow the tide of cheap labour coming from outside Manitoba's borders.

"This is smart business, this is smart economics. This is not about the vested interests of one group of workers. This is about our economy. I would like those dollars staying in our economy," Sandhu said.

The legislation is one of a number of confrontations between the PC government and organized labour in the province. 

The government passed the Public Services Sustainability Act in the spring of 2017 but hasn't proclaimed the legislation.

The bill would freeze public sector workers wages for two years and is the subject of a court battle between the two sides.

In the 2016 election the Tories campaigned on a promise to end project labour agreements. 

In reaction to Tuesday's rally, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler declined an interview but sent a brief statement saying Bill 28 would ensure qualified workers and their employers would have have equal access to public construction projects.

"This proposed legislation is about fairness and ensuring that all workers and employers are treated as such. Our government is focused on building the best product at the best price, and how workers choose to interact with their employer should not be mandated by government," Schuler wrote.