By Scott Price
The Manitoba Tory government has introduced several bills over the last week that freeze public sector wages, reduce the number of bargaining units in health care, the introduction of “ride-sharing” companies like Uber, election law changes and changes to various regulatory acts. All of this is ahead of the provincial budget set to be released April 11. Here is a quick recap of the Bills and the response from the unions in Manitoba.
Bill 24 – Red Tape Reduction and Government efficiency Act
Eliminates the Public-Private Partnership transparency and accountability act and amends or replies 15 pieces of legislation that government concluded were unnecessary. The two that raised the most eyebrows are infrastructure and water source assessments for drinking water will be change from once every 5 years to once every 10 and the elimination of the ban on construction and expansion of manure storage facilities for hog operations.
Individual donations to a political party have been increased from 3,000 to 5,000 and will rise with inflation. Third party spending limits will be put in place. 25,000 during election period, up to 100,000 during 90-day period before fixed election date beings. Previously there were no pre-election spending limits before an election.
There were also changes to what people need to do to vote in a provincial election. Manitobans are now required to show a minimum of two pieces of identification to prove both identity and address to vote.
Bill 28 – The Public Services Sustainability act
Legislates wage freezes for public sector employees, including doctors and nurses for the first two years of the contract and wage increases of .75% and 1% in the 3rd and 4th years of the contract. Other concessions maybe on the table such as unpaid days off, wage rollbacks, pension changes are also on the table when the government starts negations with public sector workers. Layoffs have also not been taken out of consideration. The wage package will be rolled out gradually as the contacts are up for negotiation. Previous contacts will not be reopened as was mused about by the government previously.
In terms of the wage freezes proposed there have been similar cases in British Columbia and Nova Scotia and were meet with a court challenges. The MFL has said that they are reviewing the situation. There could be a court challenge but that could take many years to play out.
The amount of health care bargaining units will also be reduced. The Health Sector Bargaining Unit review act calls for the reduction of heath care bargaining units from 180 to less than 50. There has also been statements from the government that point to closing some emergency rooms but there has been no straight answer from the government on this and it remains to be seen if this will happen.
Bill 30 – Local vehicles for Hire act
The provincial Taxi board will be dissolved and the city of Winnipeg will be responsible for the licensing and regulation of both taxi’s and “ride-sharing” companies like Uber. This costs the provincial government about $750,000 to administer and there are concerns of what affect this will have on the city’s budget as that amount is small for a provincial government but will have a major impact on the city’s budget. Licensing fees may go to pay for this but it is unclear how exactly this will work. There is also the added issue that the city of Winnipeg will have to create a new regulatory regime. February 28, 2018 is the date given for this to be done.
Caps on tuition increases have also been eliminated and will rise by 5% plus the rate of inflation. Oddly as part of this legislation universities and colleagues will be required to maintain average tuition rate lower than other western provinces. If tuition goes above the average the institution’s provincial grants may be reduced. The Canadian Federation of students launched an rally at the legislature in response to the tuition increase.
Response from labour
The response from the labour movement, in particular the Manitoba Federation of Labour, the Manitoba Government Employees Union and the Canadian Union of Public Employees to the wage freezes has been mostly uniform.
Their main talking point is that the bills undermine the collective bargaining process and that public service employees are willing to help in reducing the deficit but it has to done be at the bargaining table. They point out that the previous NDP government negotiated wage freezes with public sector workers this way.
It certainly doesn’t inspire confidence that the main argument in the face of wage freezes and possible layoffs from the Tories is that workers who’ve already gone through previous years of wage freezes are better served to simply accept more at the bargaining table.
Seventeen years of NDP government has lulled the labour movement into confusing access with influence. It has also dulled labour’s capacity for organizing and building the type of campaigns to defend public services that are desperately needed right now.
It is clear the Tory provincial government has little interest in reaching compromises at the bargaining table and has even less interest in consulting with unions.
The question is when will the labour movement in Manitoba figure this out? Once the budget is introduced on April 11, it’s already far past due for this revelation to sink in.