Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government passed a two-year wage freeze on 120,000 public-sector jobs late Thursday evening.
The announcement came as the Progressive Conservative government passed a bill into law on the last day of the spring legislature sitting.
“We’re very disappointed the government’s not willing to negotiate at a bargaining table. They’re choosing the heavy-handed approach of legislation to get their way,” said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.
Manitoba public-sector unions said Thursday they will file a court challenge against the new law that will freeze their members’ wages for two years.
“Their intentions have been very clear, so we’re working to make sure that we can launch a legal challenge in the coming weeks,” Rebeck said.
Premier Brian Pallister said the wage freeze is needed to bring the deficit under control, and his Progressive Conservative government was elected last year to get the province’s finances in order.
“We can’t accept billion-dollar deficits any more. It’s putting our services at risk,” Pallister said.
The wage-freeze bill was introduced in March. It proposes that as each public-sector collective agreement expires, a two-year wage freeze be brought in, followed by increases of 0.75 per cent and one per cent in the third and fourth years.
Supreme Court of Canada rulings have said governments have some leeway to circumvent contract talks and impose wages if they first make serious attempts at negotiating. Pallister said his government has met and talked with union leaders, but Rebeck said the meetings were few and unproductive.
Flor Marcelino, the Opposition NDP’s interim leader, said the Tory government has revealed an agenda of austerity since being elected, including plans to close some Winnipeg hospital emergency rooms and raise post-secondary tuition.
“They did very dismally, not just with working people, but with seniors, with students, with newcomers – almost everyone except the privileged few,” she said.
Legislation that would let universities and colleges raise tuition by five per cent or more each year is one of several bills being held over until the legislature resumes in October.
Thursday was Marcelino’s last day in the legislature chamber as interim leader. The party is to pick a new boss in mid-September. She took over after last year’s election loss that saw the party lose more than half its seats after 17 years in power.