Manitoba

Pallister says he isn't interfering in Hydro's contract dispute despite calling for a wage freeze

Manitoba's premier insists he isn't meddling in the contract dispute between Manitoba Hydro and 2,300 front-line workers, despite asking the Crown corporation to freeze their wages for two years.

Elected officials taking a side is reckless, Pallister alleges; NDP says premier is the one interfering

The Progressive Conservative government and Opposition NDP are accusing of each other interference as the contract dispute between Hydro and 2,300 of its workers drags on. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

Manitoba's premier insists he isn't meddling in the contract dispute between Manitoba Hydro and 2,300 front-line workers, despite asking the Crown corporation to freeze their wages for two years.

Brian Pallister rejected the claim he's interfering in negotiations on the same day he accused NDP Leader Wab Kinew of the "reckless move" of taking the union's side.

The premier maintained his government has a responsibility to set guidelines for bargaining, as it has done by instructing Hydro to set a two-year wage freeze. 

"Every time that you set a mandate, you can be accused of being involved," Pallister said, after question period, in his government's defence.

"We are involved. We're there as a government to set a mandate for negotiations. Those negotiations are underway and they need to stay underway and not be participated in by elected officials." 

Results of union vote on Tuesday

Last week, IBEW Local 2034 rescinded its notice of a general strike after receiving a contract offer from Hydro workers, which its members are voting on. The results are expected to be made public on Tuesday.

Union members were previously conducting rotating strikes as IBEW called for a fair deal.

Pallister said the negotiation between the Crown corporation and 2,300 of its workers has been sullied by Kinew openly backing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2034.

The premier said Kinew and the NDP shouldn't have invited IBEW members to a recent press conference (which was investigated for breaking public health orders), participated in the picket line or encouraged a honk-a-thon protest outside the Manitoba Legislature. 

"I'm saying that it's not helpful to have an elected political person taking sides in such a discussion," Pallister said.

Kinew said Pallister is the one who is interfering.

He said the Progressive Conservatives are pushing to freeze wages when that very idea on a broader scale was ruled unconstitutional by a judge. Last year, a court struck down controversial legislation that sought a two-year wage freeze for all public sector workers. The government is appealing that decision. 

"Even though they lost in court, the Pallister government is still trying to use the same formula for negotiations," Kinew said. "We think that's wrong."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont called for arbitration to settle the dispute, if necessary. He accused Pallister of "breathing down the neck" of Hydro's CEO by demanding a wage freeze. 

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister doesn't want his political rivals to pick a side in the negotiations between Manitoba Hydro and IBEW Local 2034. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

One political analyst said Pallister is on the offensive, trying to portray the NDP and IBEW as blocking the government from dealing with what they describe as financial mismanagement under the previous administration.

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, added there's a history of politicians taking an active position in labour disputes, despite what Pallister said.

"When these disputes rise to the level of strikes or potential strikes, politicians are forced to comment," Thomas said. "They just can't simply be disinterested and step aside and not have an opinion to offer."

He added the government can rightfully set guidelines for bargaining, but it cannot be seen as overreaching, which the court found when it rejected a proposed wage freeze across the public sector.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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