January 21, 2020

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Government unions to fight wage freeze in court

A coalition of unions that represents more than 110,000 government workers will be in court Monday to fight a government-mandated wage freeze. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

A coalition of unions that represents more than 110,000 government workers will be in court Monday to fight a government-mandated wage freeze. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

After launching a court challenge of a government-imposed wage freeze in 2017, unions that represent more than 110,000 public-sector workers in Manitoba will finally get their day in court.

The partnership to Defend Public Services says it will present legal arguments against "the Pallister government's heavy-handed wage freeze law (that) fundamentally undermines collective bargaining rights" in a trial that starts Monday.

In 2017, the province passed a bill that imposed a two-year wage freeze on public-sector workers as each new collective agreement was negotiated. That was to be followed by a 0.75 per cent pay increase in the third year and one per cent in the fourth year. The Tories have never proclaimed the bill into law.

The partnership, which includes more than a dozen unions, says government negotiators have acted as though the bill is the law and they refuse to negotiate fairly. The unions represent nurses, teachers and civil servants.

The unions want the bill struck down as unconstitutional. 

Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck said the unions aren't seeking an outcome to wage agreements but are fighting to protect the process of free and fair collective bargaining.

"We cannot let the Pallister government get away with trampling over our Charter-protected right to collective bargaining," he said in a statement.

The trial is expected to run until Dec. 5, and resume for three days in February.

Last month, the Manitoba government backed away from its plan to apply for an adjournment of the trial.

"While the province raised concerns about the utility of a trial over legislation that is not in force and is in the process of being amended, after further discussions it was agreed the court dates could still be used productively," press secretary David Von Meyenfeldt wrote in an email last month.

 

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