October 15, 2019

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MGEU to take province to court over arbitration

The union that represents more than 12,000 Manitoba civil servants plans to take the provincial government to court over its refusal to appoint an arbitration panel in contract negotiations between the two sides.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding, who is responsible for the Civil Service Commission, has told the union it is premature for the arbitration process to begin. He has encouraged further negotiations.

But the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union said Fielding has no choice, under the Civil Service Act, but to appoint a panel if either the union or the employer requests it, as long as bargaining has started.

The union requested arbitration in July. Contract negotiations on a new civil service deal began in April, after the collective agreement expired on March 23.

The union that represents more than 12,000 Manitoba civil servants plans to take the provincial government to court over its refusal to appoint an arbitration panel in contract negotiations between the two sides.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding, who is responsible for the Civil Service Commission, has told the union it is premature for the arbitration process to begin. He has encouraged further negotiations.

But the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union said Fielding has no choice, under the Civil Service Act, but to appoint a panel if either the union or the employer requests it, as long as bargaining has started.

The union requested arbitration in July. Contract negotiations on a new civil service deal began in April, after the collective agreement expired on March 23.

An arbitration panel would have the power to impose a settlement, including wage increases.

Michelle Gawronsky, president of the MGEU, said contract talks have been stymied by the fact that government negotiators refuse to discuss wages or say whether they will follow the dictates of the 2017 Public Services Sustainability Act, which mandates annual maximum pay increases of 0 per cent, 0 per cent, 0.75 per cent and one per cent in public-sector contracts during a four-year period.

While the act has been approved by the legislature, it's never been proclaimed. So it is not yet in force.

"The government... is not coming clean at the (bargaining) table," Gawronsky said, "(It's) not sharing with us what is actually there for us in bargaining."

Contract talks have been stalled because government negotiators refuse to discuss wages or say whether they will follow the dictates of the 2017 Public Services Sustainability Act, says MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky. (Mikaela MacKenzie /Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Contract talks have been stalled because government negotiators refuse to discuss wages or say whether they will follow the dictates of the 2017 Public Services Sustainability Act, says MGEU president Michelle Gawronsky. (Mikaela MacKenzie /Winnipeg Free Press files)

She said it is pointless to enter into a lengthy bargaining process without knowing where the government is coming from.

Normally, negotiating a new civil service contract is a lengthy process in which non-monetary matters are discussed before the two sides move on to economic issues.

Fielding told the Free Press on Friday the government decided not to appoint an arbitrator because there had only been a day and a half of negotiations.

"We encouraged both groups to get together to continue discussions. Usually, these things take months," he said.

In a letter to Gawronsky, dated Aug. 9, Fielding said the union had failed to produce an accompanying "statement of difficulties" in its request for arbitration.

The union responded in a Sept. 4 letter to the minister that the government's unproclaimed wage act satisfies that requirement.

The MGEU sent emails to members late Friday informing them of the decision to "go to court to seek an order for Minister Fielding and his government to follow the law" by appointing an arbitration panel.

The union said it will file an application in Court of Queen's Bench in the coming weeks.

The MGEU said it remains open to returning to the bargaining table if the province is willing to begin "fair negotiations" and reveal its intentions concerning wages and benefits.

Finance Minister Scott Fielding told the union it is premature for the arbitration process to begin. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p></p>

Finance Minister Scott Fielding told the union it is premature for the arbitration process to begin. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The province has repeatedly urged the union, in letters to its chief negotiator, to return to the table.

The government has reason to be skittish about a potential arbitrated settlement with its 12,000 civil servants.

Recently, the 600-member Professional Association of Residents and Interns of Manitoba received an arbitrated, three-year settlement that includes wage increases of 1.5 per cent, 1.25 per cent and 1.5 per cent, respectively, as well as increased paid sick leave.

Since the public-sector wage act is not yet in force, arbitrators are not bound by it.

The act is also being challenged in court by a group of public-sector unions, including the MGEU. Hearings are to begin next month.

Meanwhile, according to a legislative order paper, Fielding will introduce amendments to the act on Monday.

At an unrelated news conference on Friday, Premier Brian Pallister wouldn't say what changes might be sought to the act, although he said they are a result of conversations the government has had with public-sector unions.

Pallister said the wage-freeze portion of the legislation is unlikely to be amended.

— with files from Jessica Botelho-Urbanski

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

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