Manitoba

Manitoba election: PCs promise labour law changes if elected

Campaign promises by Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister to change labour laws if elected has drawn the ire of union leaders and four former labour ministers.

Brian Pallister says he'll require secret ballots and end 'forced unionization' if elected

PC Leader Brian Pallister speaks to reporters in Winnipeg on Friday morning. Pallister says if his party is elected on April 19, it will change current labour legislation so union members can vote by secret ballot. (CBC)

Manitoba Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister's promise to change labour laws if his party is elected has drawn the ire of union leaders and four former labour ministers.

Pallister said if his party is elected on April 19, the government will change legislation so union members can vote by secret ballot.

"In terms of the labour law, there is one key change that I think we need to make," Pallister, who described himself as a former labour representative, told reporters in Winnipeg on Friday morning.

"Union members have been telling me this for years: they want the right to a secret ballot. We're going to restore their right to a secret ballot."

Pallister said he would also end what he calls forced unionization — collective agreements negotiated with trade unions that cover all workers on large government projects.

However, four former NDP labour ministers have issued an open letter accusing Pallister of hurting workers' rights and driving down wages.

Kevin Rebeck, the head of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said current laws have worked well to protect worker rights.

Tories say change could save $12M

The Tories' platform predicts Manitoba would save $12 million with the elimination of "forced unionization."

"What the project labour agreement model does … is it forces all companies that participate to pay into a fund for union dues, whether unionized or not," he said.

Pallister said the cost savings would come from no longer requiring companies to be unionized so they can work on Manitoba Hydro projects and East Side Road Authority construction work. The project labour agreement program sometimes forces companies to pay dues to the union involved in the project, even if they are not part of that union, he said.

He argued the process is "unfair to unionized people and unfair to non-unionized people," and it has driven down participation in the project bidding process.

"We want more Manitoba companies to participate in our bidding process," Pallister said. "The better participation, the better value for money."

With files from the CBC's Sean Kavanagh and The Canadian Press

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