Manitoba

Manitoba asks for wage-freeze bill court case to be adjourned

The Pallister government wants an upcoming court challenge against its public sector wage-freeze bill to be adjourned.

Unions, NDP say bill would take away an employee's right to collective bargaining

The Pallister government wants an upcoming court challenge against its public sector wage-freeze bill to be adjourned. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The Pallister government wants an upcoming court challenge against its public sector wage-freeze bill to be adjourned.

The government is being accused of trying to take away an employee's right to collective bargaining by introducing 11th-hour amendments to its wage-freeze bill Monday.

The province is scheduled to be in court on Nov. 18 to defend Bill 28 which the Manitoba Federation of Labour is fighting as unconstitutional.

On Monday, after amendments were introduced, the federation got notice from the government that the province is asking a judge to adjourn the upcoming trial. The federation said amendments introduced Monday would allow cabinet and ministers to determine wages, and wouldn't respect the arbitration process.

"We don't understand why this government can't respect that process. We think it's wrong we think it's unconstitutional and that's why we're going to court," said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

Rebeck calls the legislation, which he wants repealed not amended, heavy-handed and it says it directly impacts about 120,000 public sector employees who want to meet at the bargaining table fairly.

NDP Labour Critic Tom Lindsey said the amendments would mean employees would be negotiating with a minister and not their employer.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding said the amendments make the bill stronger and give the government flexibility with collective bargaining under the legislation. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

"The danger of that is the minister now gets to decide who he likes and who he doesn't. Which group might get a raise, which group might not get a raise. It's not negotiations as it should be. It's the minister directly interfering with all collective agreements now."

The Tories passed the wage-freeze bill in 2017 that mandated a two-year wage freeze for public-sector workers as each new collective agreement was negotiated.

That would be followed by a 0.75 per cent pay increase in the third year and one per cent in the fourth. The bill has never been proclaimed into law, but public-sector unions said government negotiators were treating it as if it had been and were refusing to budge on wages.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding said the amendments make the bill stronger and give the government flexibility with collective bargaining under the legislation.

"This isn't about the court case. This is improving the legislation to make it even stronger."

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont questioned why the government was amending a law ahead of the looming court case. He said he suspects the government has found some kind of a loophole and is taking advantage of it.

"There's nothing the premier loves more than a good loophole."

Lamont said he's concerned the bill would let cabinet dictate wage increases and exposes the province to liability. "You have to negotiate in good faith."

About the Author

​Austin Grabish started reporting when he was young, landing his first byline when he was just 18. He joined CBC in 2016 after freelancing for several outlets. ​​In 2018, he was part of a team of CBC journalists who won the Ron Laidlaw Award for the corporation's extensive digital coverage on asylum seekers crossing into Canada. Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

With files from The Canadian Press

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