Manitoba

'Huge, confusing mess': Health workers' union worried about delays after Appeal Court ruling

A 2018 bill to slash the number of health care bargaining units in the province also transfers decision-making power on new union certifications, according to a recent decision from Manitoba's Court of Appeal.

Bill 29 commissioner wasn't aware of power prior to ruling: Province

The commissioner appointed to cut down the number of health-care bargaining units in Manitoba has the decision-making power over new union certifications, the Manitoba Court of Appeal has ruled. (iStock)

A 2018 bill to slash the number of health care bargaining units in the province also transfers decision-making power on new union certifications, according to a recent decision from Manitoba's Court of Appeal.

The decision, delivered on March 4, puts that power in the hands of the provincially-appointed commissioner in charge of of overseeing the changes under Bill 29, instead of the Manitoba Labour Board.

Prior to the ruling, commissioner Robert Pruden hadn't been aware he held that power, according to a provincial spokesperson.

"This was a decision made by the Manitoba Court of Appeal," the spokesperson wrote in an email. "It is not in the legislation."

The decision resolves jurisdictional questions raised by Manitoba's Labour Board about who approves or denies union certification applications under Bill 29, the Health Sector Bargaining Review Act.

The bill was introduced by former Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen to streamline labour negotiations by slashing the number of Manitoba's health care bargaining units from 183 to seven per health region and Shared Health Services.

However, Bob Moroz, president of the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals, said the Court of Appeal's decision adds unexpected complexity to an already controversial move.

"This process, that we have to add into the entire Bill 29 mess that we're in, is just going to add even more confusion and possibly even more delays to the process," said Moroz.

"Our members are getting very, very tired of it."

'Uncharted territory': Union

The association represents roughly 3,900 health-care professionals in more than 160 disciplines in Manitoba, including pharmacists, physiotherapists and lab technologists. 

The union's appeal stemmed from a group of 12 occupational therapists who wanted to form a bargaining unit with the union last year, Moroz said. The union had sought a formal certification application to the Manitoba Labour Board in June 2018, Moroz said, before the board forwarded the jurisdictional question to the courts.

Prior to the decision, Moroz said his union's understanding was the Bill 29 commissioner only had purview over unionized workers, and non-unionized workers could make certification applications to the labour board as normal.

The decision pushes unions and prospective members into "uncharted territory," which may cause delays that could infringe on workers' right to organize, he said.

"There's no indication of even how to apply to the commissioner for that certification," Moroz said.

"It's all very, very frustrating," he said. "Despite our best efforts, it still remains a huge, huge confusing mess."

A government spokesperson dismissed Moroz's concerns as "without merit."

"As noted by a recent Court of Appeal ruling, government is well within its rights to appoint a commissioner who accepts and reviews applications for certification in the health sector," he wrote in an email.

The Manitoba Labour Board received three union certification applications after Bill 29 was proclaimed, the provincial spokesperson wrote. To date, the commissioner hasn't received any of them.

In the past, the province has said Bill 29 will streamline bargaining units, simplify labour negotiations and align Manitoba with other provinces with fewer collective agreements.

About the Author

Aidan Geary

Reporter

Aidan Geary is a journalist at CBC Manitoba. Connect with her at aidan.geary@cbc.ca.

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