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This article was published 16/2/2010 (4234 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WINNIPEG - The Selinger government drew a line in the sand today for its public sector unions in its plan to whip a projected $600 million budget deficit.
Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk said Tuesday the province wants public employees, including its nurses, to take a two-year wage freeze.
"We’re asking everybody to take a pause," Wowchuk told the Free Press. "We are in difficult times and we have to have realistic expectations."
The province is in the middle of negotiating new contracts with its nurses and starts negotiations next month with its biggest union the Manitoba Government Employees Union. Its contact expires March 26.
MGEU president Peter Olfert said he was disappointed Wowchuk is "negotiating in the media" on its position on wages.
Olfert said despite Wowchuk’s warning, the MGEU will table proposals for wage increases for its 13,000 members.
"I’m not going to negotiate in the media," he said. "We believe in sitting down and working through the process."
Wowchuk said the proposed wage freeze comes out of budget planning for the next fiscal year. That budget will be tabled at the end of March.
She said the freeze will allow the province to maintain services and not see any layoffs, or bring in unpaid days off for workers in the same way the former premier Gary Filmon’s Progressive Conservative did in the mid-1990s. That was the last time the province was in a deficit situation.
"Filmon Fridays" were created in 1993 under reduced-work-week legislation and gave provincial government workers 10 unpaid days off each year. In the first year, the days off were legislated, but for the next five years, they were negotiated into the contracts of unionized workers.
Wowchuk said public employees have to share the burden of tough economic times.
She said cabinet ministers will forgo a $1,000 raise due to take effect in April as part of government belt-tightening.
Premier Greg Selinger is also looking at freezing the base pay of all legislature members, which is scheduled to jump in April to $85,564 from $83, 722 under a cost-of-living formula.
Wowchuk said by freezing public sector salaries over two years it will help the province in its five-year plan to get back in the black.
Healthcare wages were about $3 billion in 2009 and civil servants salaries were about $770 million, she said.
"Those are big costs," she said. "If we can contain those costs, maintain them where we are without having increases then we can look at ensuring that we don’t layoff people and maintain services.
"If we can get through these next two years that way we should be in much better shape."