Union leader labels Manitoba Tories vengeful for bill that he says undercuts workers' rights
Proposed legislation may prolong labour disputes by removing arbitration requirement
The Manitoba government is being accused of undermining public sector unions as it attempts to make it easier for employers to fire striking workers and for workers to dismantle their union representation.
The new legislation introduced Wednesday would also wipe out the requirement for binding arbitration, in most cases, after a 60-day dispute between a union and employer, which could result in strikes and lockouts lasting indefinitely.
Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck called the actions of Premier Brian Pallister's government a petty response after unions won a legal fight this summer over a proposed wage freeze.
"We won in court and we see this as retribution that he now has public servants on his enemies list," Rebeck said of the premier.
"This is him acting up and acting out as a result of us beating him in court."
The Progressive Conservatives reintroduced the Labour Relations Amendment Act on Wednesday, but with changes from its original version. The previous bill died on the order paper when the government called off the last legislative session early.
Arbitrator no longer needed
Rebeck took offence at the government trying to eliminate mandatory binding arbitration in collective bargaining between the union and employer where a contract previously existed.
He said Manitobans like that a neutral third party can solve labour disputes. The two sides are often motivated to reach an agreement before the arbitrator shows up, and if not, the arbitrator hammers out a fair deal in a timely fashion, he said.
"Pallister has made his mind up to draw out labour disputes and to tip the scales," Rebeck said.
"We think that's really unfortunate and Manitobans and workers will suffer as a result."
If it passes, the new legislation will give employers more grounds to dismiss an employee who is on strike or locked out. Under current rules, the employee would have to be convicted of a criminal offence, but now misconduct could be considered grounds for dismissal.
The amended legislation says an employer can release an employee if their conduct during the strike or lockout is just cause for dismissal.
NDP Leader Wab Kinew said that clause may trample on workers' rights.
"I drive by the young people who are striking at Stella's quite often when I come into work and I worry about them," Kinew said.
"What's that going to mean for people standing up for their right to a better wage or to better working conditions?"
The new bill would also permit workplaces to hold a decertification vote if 40 per cent call for it, instead of the existing 50 per cent requirement.
Employers would no longer be required to provide 90 days notice that a technological change will result in layoffs.
And an employer would be prohibited from paying the salary, or any compensation, of an employee who is on leave to work full-time as a union executive.
Transparency good for unions: PCs
In an email, Finance Minister Scott Fielding said the bill improves financial transparency, including a requirement for audited financial statements and disclosure to members if union officers and employees make more than $75,000 in a year.
"This aligns the public sector unions with the Manitoba government's compensation disclosure. We are surprised that Kevin Rebeck is opposed to the idea of having more accountability and transparency from the public sector unions to its union members."
Fielding said eliminating the requirement for binding arbitration puts Manitoba in line with other Canadian jurisdictions.
The amended bill was among more than 30 pieces of legislation the government reintroduced Wednesday. The substance of the other bills was not seriously changed in their reintroduction.
Some of the proposed laws include a bill implementing multi-year Public Utilities Board hearings to set electricity rates, rather than annual hearings.
'Significant legislative agenda': Friesen
The province would also institute a social responsibility fee for cannabis retailers, restrict door-to-door sales for products like furnaces, shorten the government blackout period before elections from 90 days to 60 days and create a claims dispute tribunal for Manitoba Public Insurance customers.
"For all of those bills, we believe that this is a significant legislative agenda that we have … and we're here to see it through," Health Minister Cameron Friesen told reporters Wednesday.
Opposition leaders panned the government for a legislative agenda that they claim misses the mark while Manitobans face a worsening pandemic.
The NDP leader said the province should focus on paid sick leave and help for small business owners.
"A lot of them are like fixing horse racing and, you know, school board elections and stuff like that. This is during a COVID pandemic, on the day when we had the record high case count, not exactly the top priorities of Manitobans right now," Kinew said.
He said he opposes the PUB reform the most, which would result in government setting electricity rates before the multi-year rate hearings begin.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said "most of [the bills] are every bit as offensive as they were before."
The new legislation has nothing to do with the pandemic, he said.
"For us to be in a crisis of this magnitude and for them to just say, 'steady as she goes,' that's really an indication of a lack of imagination and stubbornness of this government."