As Manitobans enjoyed a reprieve on Labour Day, the Manitoba NDP, Liberal and Conservative parties made work-related announcements within a few blocks of each other in the Exchange District.
Outside the newly erected streetcar sculpture memorializing the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike, NDP Leader Wab Kinew reiterated his party’s plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 during their first term in office if elected. Kinew said the wage should increase to $15 by 2023, after which it would be indexed to the rate of inflation as a living wage, rising to "15 and change."
In order to minimize disruption to business, Kinew said his party would raise the small-business tax exemption by $50,000 to $550,000, giving those businesses eligible more time and space prior to paying corporate tax.
The NDP, Liberals, and Greens have all committed to a $15-per-hour minimum wage this campaign cycle. "In every jurisdiction across North America where the minimum wage has been brought up to $14 or $15 an hour, we have seen job numbers stay steady and we have seen the benefits to the economy locally," Kinew said, addressing concerns about the impact on small businesses.
Kinew also said his party would prohibit employers from requiring medical notes for their employees’ short-term (less than 72 hours) sick leaves, a move he said would give workers more time to recover and save health-care workers valuable on-the-job time. Additionally, Kinew said individuals on Employment Insurance due to illness will have their jobs protected when they return to work. "It seems like a no-brainer, but this is a piece of our legislation that does require modernization."
Kinew also said he’d commit to cancelling the public-sector wage-control bill the Conservatives introduced in 2017, return to "fair collective bargaining" and to hire more workplace health and safety workers. The workers would be funded through the Workers’ Compensation Board, Kinew said.
Nearby at Union Station, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont made similar commitments. His party would increase enforcement of workplace health and safety issues, and crack down on timely labour negotiations so Manitoba workers don’t spend months on the job without a contract. Lamont also promised to scrap the Pallister government’s public-sector wage-control bill and roll back the subsequent wage freeze.
"There’s an idea that people will just have to accept that good, stable jobs are a thing of the past. This is not normal," Lamont told reporters.
In a press release, he added Manitobans’ right to negotiate pay, hours and value in the workplace are among the "most important decisions" they can make throughout their lifetimes. The party also said the province is lagging behind in workplace injury protections.
A 2019 report on Canada’s workplace injuries and fatalities out of the University of Regina shows injury rates in Manitoba have been on a steady decline since 2014. Still, Manitoba averaged the highest work-related injury rate of all provinces over the past five years.
In 2017, Manitoba recorded a rate of 2.8 injuries per 100,000 employees — the highest of all provinces with more than 100,000 workers.
Lamont also reiterated Monday a promise he made earlier on the campaign trail — that his party would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour within their first two years in power. The minimum wage plan would move with inflation.
At Patent 5 Distillery on Alexander Avenue, Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister stepped behind the bar to pledge an on-site sales exemption he said would remove Manitoba Liquor and Lottery mark-ups for beer, spirits, cider and wine.
Pallister said he felt the exemption would provide a boost to craft brewers and distillers, and encourage investment in local industry. He said it would create jobs and boost tourism.
The industry is "in its infancy" in Manitoba, Pallister said, but mark-ups are higher here than in other provinces, which has limited growth. He said the exemption would apply to 16 businesses in the province, but that more are in developed and could be conceived due to the exemption.
Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Maggie is a cub reporter who covers every beat in the newsroom. She appreciates alliteration, when newspaper ink stains her fingertips and, more importantly, tips on social and environmental equity issues.