Labour federation to challenge Tories’ wage-control bill in coming weeks
Organized labour will challenge the Pallister government’s wage-control bill within two weeks, Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck declared Thursday.
“They’re eliminating the right to bargain. We believe this law is unconstitutional, it’s unfair, it’s unnecessary,” Rebeck said in an interview.He expected a legal challenge will be filed in Court of Queen’s Bench within two weeks.
Rebeck said the newly formed and growing-by-the-day Partnership to Defend Public Services coalition of unions said it doesn’t matter whether the Tories do not proclaim the bill — technically, the bill would have passed in the legislature, but the government could hold it back as a threat, with the ability to put it into law any time.
Rebeck said the unions believe they can take the bill to court even if it’s not proclaimed.
“We believe the impact is being felt already,” Rebeck said. “There’s not a public-sector employer — and even some private-sector employers — putting anything on the table but zero, zero, 0.75 and 1.0.
“They’re saying that’s the new norm.”
Rebeck said the United Food and Commercial Workers has started bargaining with a private-sector employer offering nothing higher than the province’s public-sector controls, though he could not name that company Thursday.
Bargaining has begun with the University of Manitoba for a new faculty deal and with some smaller health-care bargaining units, who have been without a collective bargaining agreement since March 31.
Also complicating bargaining is the refusal of regional health authorities to bargain with most of the 30,000 health-care employees without a deal since March 31, including 12,000 nurses, said Rebeck.
“We want to bargain today,” Rebeck said.
Rebeck said the unions suspect, but have not been told, RHAs are refusing to bargain because they believe Bill 29 may take precedence.
The bill was scheduled to be passed Thursday night, significantly reducing the 182 health-care bargaining units in Manitoba. Under rules agreed to by all parties, if it passes, it won’t be in force unless and until the cabinet proclaims the bill.
It would establish a fixed number of bargaining units for each region and for each province-wide health employer. The bill would create a commissioner responsible for determining the composition of the bargaining units and conducting a vote of employees to select a single bargaining agent.
However, it is not clear in Bill 29 if all that has to happen before the existing bargaining units can negotiate their next collective bargaining agreement.
The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority and premier’s office had no immediate comment Thursday.
“The Pallister government has made it very clear — they’re using heavy-handed legislation,” Rebeck said. “It’s ridiculous for them to go that hard and not even bargain.”
Premier Brian Pallister refused Thursday to say if his government will proclaim Bill 28 imposing wage controls on 120,000 public-sector workers.
Labour fears the province could hold the bill in abeyance as a weapon it could use any time if it doesn’t get compliance at the bargaining table. Pallister wouldn’t discuss that Thursday.
“What we demonstrated is the importance of the issue. We have to get control of our finances,” Pallister told reporters Thursday.
The courts could decide organized labour cannot challenge the bill in court until the bill is proclaimed.
The bill imposes controls on public-sector workers on their next collective bargaining agreement: zero increase for two years, followed by a 0.75 per cent maximum increase in wages and benefits in the third year, and 1.0 per cent in the fourth year.
Public-sector workers are paid about $10 billion a year.
Pallister said Thursday he wants organized labour to work with the Tories to control spending.
“I’m confident in the need for us to partner and work together. I’m asking for the co-operation and support of our labour union leaders,” the premier said. “Let’s get the partisanship and chuck it to the side.”
On the other hand, Pallister acknowledged, “I know they’re interested in trying to push back.”