Manitoba

Manitoba reaches new tentative contract with 3,000 doctors

While other health-care unions take the Manitoba government to court over a legislated wage freeze, the province has quietly reached a new four-year contract with physicians.

Province settles with Doctors Manitoba, who agree to 2-year wage freeze prescribed in bill

The province of Manitoba and Doctors Manitoba, which bargains on behalf of physicians, have settled on a new four-year contract. The agreement still needs to be ratified by doctors. (CBC)

While other health-care unions take the Manitoba government to court over a legislated wage freeze, the province has quietly reached a new four-year contract with physicians.

Doctors Manitoba reached a new agreement with the province, president Fourie Smith told members in a memo on Monday. The contract is subject to approval from membership.

The deal spells out pay increases for Manitoba's nearly 3,000 doctors in line with Bill 28, the contentious bill forcing two years of pay freezes on public-sector workers and mandates increases of no more than 0.75 per cent in the third year and one per cent in the fourth year.

The Progressive Conservatives have yet to proclaim the bill, so it is not law, but the threat has hung over the province's labour movement. Nurses have been without a contract for two years, while talks with other health-care unions have been on hold for months.

Pay increases in third, fourth year

A coalition of more than a dozen unions are fighting the wage freeze legislation in court, but Doctors Manitoba is not one of them.

In the new tentative agreement, the province's physicians will be permitted rate increases in the third and fourth year of their contract, as specified in the legislation, for their alternate funded agreements, the memo states.

It also details a general fee-for-service increase of 1.75 per cent over the final two years of the collective agreement. 

Officials with Doctors Manitoba would not comment while the ratification process is underway. Members are expected to receive their ballots in the coming days.

In a letter to physicians, Smith said Doctors Manitoba settled on a new collective agreement, which retroactively would take effect on Apr. 1, during an "increasingly uneasy" environment.

"Ongoing system restructuring and the government's focus on fiscal restraint has changed the landscape for physicians in Manitoba," the memo states.

"This new master agreement will provide a level of certainty and predictability that will allow us to better plan our respective practices, with negotiated compensation and benefits that remain competitive."

Other contract highlights include an extra $2 million for maternity and paternal benefits annually, an additional $1 million per year for a rebate program for continuing medical education and the extension of a $10-million annual fund for the physician retention program, according to the memo.

If the government is prepared to bargain with other groups in health care, we'd expect them to extend the same courtesy to the nurses​.- Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson

Money will also be set aside to develop a locum program. A locum fills in for a doctor while they are absent. 

There will be no fee-for-service caps or expenditure limits, the memo says.

The letter from Doctors Manitoba says the new agreement "supports a productive relationship with government."

Health Minister Cameron Friesen wouldn't say much about the deal on Tuesday.

Positive outcome: Friesen

"We look forward to discussing this very positive collaborative outcome, for physicians and all Manitobans, following the ratification process," he said in an email.

Other unions want the government to come to the table as well.

"If the government is prepared to bargain with other groups in health care, we'd expect them to extend the same courtesy to the nurses, who have gone above and beyond for their patients despite serious issues brought about by ongoing cuts and closures," Manitoba Nurses Union president Darlene Jackson said in a statement.

Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union president Michelle Gawronsky is calling on the government to start bargaining following next month's vote to slash the number of health-care bargaining units.

"Even though most Manitoba health workers have been working with expired contracts for over two years now, they have been dedicated to caring for patients through a chaotic and stressful time of cuts and restructuring."

The Manitoba Federation of Labour is in the coalition fighting the wage-restraint legislation in court. 

President Kevin Rebeck said dedicated health-care workers have a right to negotiate fair contracts, but the government shouldn't refuse to negotiate and hide behind a wage freeze.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is covering the Manitoba provincial election for CBC Manitoba. He previously has reported on provincial politics and breaking news in Winnipeg, Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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