Pallister won’t rule out blanket wage freeze

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Brian Pallister wouldn't rule out a blanket freeze on all future public sector salary increases in order to help slay the province's deficit and control spending.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 31/10/2016 (2167 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Brian Pallister wouldn’t rule out a blanket freeze on all future public sector salary increases in order to help slay the province’s deficit and control spending.

The Manitoba premier refused to directly answer questions Monday concerning accusations of an edict by his government to see a wage freeze across the public sector, stating he “doesn’t bargain in public.”

However, he addressed a series of “realities” the province faces: a growing deficit, an unsustainable growth rate in public sector wages and a need to protect frontline jobs. The only way to tackle these realities is to get a handle on the increasing salaries, he said.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Premier Brian Pallister

“The mandate we were given by the people of Manitoba is to fix the finances of the province. Part of that is to get a handle on the expenditures of the government and the largest category of expenditures of the government of Manitoba is wages,” Pallister said after question period.

“I have been very clear about how important we feel it is to protect frontline workers (to do that) we have to get control over our finances and debt. There is no security for workers in a company that is leaking money.”

This was the first time Pallister publicly addressed accusations levelled by the University of Manitoba that his government interfered in the collective bargaining by encouraging the university to extend the existing contracts with U of M faculty for an additional year at zero per cent wage increase.

The charge by the university spurred the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (MGEU) to ask for an emergency meeting Tuesday with Pallister.

“The government has not told us anything about a unilateral wage freeze or salary cuts — that’s why we requested the emergency meeting,” said MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky in a prepared statement.

“That meeting has been set up for tomorrow (Tuesday), and we will be looking to get some answers at that time from the Premier. We need assurance from the province that bargaining will be fair and not dictated before it even begins.”

While the 14,000 provincial public servants represented by the MGEU ratified a new five-year contract under the NDP Selinger government, several other workers represented by the MGEU have their contracts up for negotiations next year. This includes 8,300 health care aides and other employees who work in personal care homes and hospitals, as well as Red River College and Assinboine Community College’s collective agreements.

The Manitoba Nurses Union’s contract expires March 31, 2017, but the union’s president, Sandi Mowat, isn’t ready to panic until she speaks with Pallister or the government.

“There is no point in listening to rumours, so we are proceeding as we always do,” she said. “We are basically doing business as usual… we have heard nothing and had no discussions with anyone.”

The Opposition NDP spent Monday’s question period hammering Pallister over the accusations, with education critic Wab Kinew charging that Pallister’s mandate involves an “obsession with austerity.”

A freeze on public sector wages isn’t a new mandate for the public sector. In 2010 and 2012 the Selinger NDP government drew a line in the sand and called for a two-year freeze on public sector wages. This edict meant several groups of public service workers, including Manitoba doctors, saw their wages frozen for two years during a time of economic downturn in the province.

Pallister did rule out instituting a “Filmon Fridays” type plan to tackle wages. Under the Progressive Conservative Gary Filmon’s government in 1993, reduced-work-week legislation gave provincial government workers 10 unpaid days off each year.

kristin.annable@freepresss.mb.ca

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