Manitoba

Teachers told to keep bargaining through local units despite plan for province-wide bargaining

The Manitoba government is telling teachers to continue negotiating through their local bargaining units even though it has made clear its intention to move from the current model of 38 units to a single province-wide collective bargaining model.

Teachers society and school boards asked province whether negotiations should continue

The provincial government wants to eliminate the existing 38 bargaining units for Manitoba teachers and move to a single province-wide bargaining model. (bionicteaching via photopin cc)

The Manitoba government is telling teachers to continue negotiating through their local bargaining units even though it has made clear its intention to move from the current model of 38 units to a single province-wide collective bargaining model.

In a letter to the Manitoba Teachers Society and the Manitoba School Boards Association on June 12, Finance Minister Cameron Friesen and Education Minister Ian Wishart state that "any legislation designed to advance this policy initiative will not be introduced until at least the fall."

Wishart said in an email statement that the letter was sent in response to a request from the school boards association and teachers society, asking whether they should continue with collective bargaining given the province's stated position.

"Pending necessary legislative changes to achieve this consolidation, we have encouraged parties to follow the established local bargaining process," he said.

In the meantime, the ministers say in their letter that they "encourage collaboration … on a transitional approach" that achieves the goals of their Bill 28, The Public Service Sustainability Act, including a two-year wage freeze for all public employees.

The bill was passed in Spring 2017 but hasn't been proclaimed into law, and the ministers say in their letter that want to clear up any "erroneous conclusions" about it's status.

"Its status does not, however, alter the governments traditional role in setting broad monetary collective bargaining mandates for employers within the public sector," the letter states.

On Monday, NDP MLA James Allum accused Premier Brian Pallister and the Progressive Conservatives of resisting free collective bargaining and of trying to impose Bill 28 "through the backdoor, rather than simply simply proclaiming it as it should be.

"Will [Pallister] stop attacking teachers? Will he withdraw Bill 28 and allow free and collective bargaining in this province that's required by the constitution of this country?" Allum said.

Pallister said the NDP supports a "regressive" model and reiterated his argument that having this many bargaining units forces teachers to spend more time away from the classroom during contract negotiations.

The province is currently embroiled in a lawsuit with several unions representing roughly 110,000 public-sector workers, including teachers, who argue Bill 28 violates their Charter right to collective bargaining.

Although school boards have the power to set property taxes, the letter from Friesen and Wishart also reiterates the province's "expectation that additional costs should not be shouldered by Manitoba ratepayers through increased taxes."

The province has also previously told school boards to keep education property tax increases to no more than two per cent, and although there is no penalty for school divisions that don't comply, the province has said it would consider legislative options if they don't.

Instead of raising school taxes the government has directed school boards to cut administrative costs. 

In its most recent budget, the province increased funding to school divisions by 0.5 per cent, which is less than the rate of inflation and which the NDP has labelled a de facto cut.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cameron MacLean is a journalist for CBC Manitoba living in Winnipeg, where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience reporting in the city and across Manitoba, covering a wide range of topics, including courts, politics, housing, arts, health and breaking news. Email story tips to cameron.maclean@cbc.ca.

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