Public-sector union leaders know the Pallister government wants to impose some form of wage legislation on their workers — beyond that, they insist they’re in the dark.

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This article was published 10/2/2017 (1716 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Public-sector union leaders know the Pallister government wants to impose some form of wage legislation on their workers — beyond that, they insist they’re in the dark.

"The only thing they’re sure of is they want to impose some sort of legislation," Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck told reporters Friday afternoon.

"We’re disappointed we didn’t get answers to the questions we asked."

Public-sector labour leaders met for an hour with a delegation of provincial government officials, a meeting that had been expected to go two hours or more.

"The government officials again declined to answer questions," saying they are not decision-makers, Rebeck said.

Premier Brian Pallister made it clear in a letter to the unions this week he intends to freeze wages and could reopen collective agreements, Rebeck said, but the unions don’t know more than that.

Friday’s delegation "did not elaborate on the legislation mentioned in the province’s recent letter," he said.

Rebeck allowed that the unions would listen to ideas about unpaid days off, but only through bargaining. "We’d rather not go down that road through legislation — legislation is a pretty heavy-handed approach," Rebeck said.

Rebeck said labour offered different "fiscal scenarios" to government Friday to work together to bring the province’s finances under control over eight years, but would not spell them out publicly before Friday’s delegation reports back to the politicians. "We threw several paths forward," he said.

Rebeck said collective agreements should be honoured: "We really hope we don’t have to go down the road of legal challenges," he said.

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen met with public-sector unions Jan. 5, but the government sent only officials Friday, and said it wouldn’t comment afterwards.

"These discussions are being co-ordinated through public service officials and union leaders. No cabinet ministers will be in attendance and in the interests of respectful and ongoing discussions, we aren’t going to comment publicly," said Olivia Baldwin-Valainis, the premier’s director of communications and stakeholder relations, prior to the meeting.

Late Friday afternoon, she issued another statement criticizing the unions for their reaction to the letter they’d received Thursday.

"While it is unfortunate that union leadership has today sought to colour a direct consultative process with inaccurate public grandstanding, our government’s commitment to meaningful and collaborative communication with organized labour continues," she said.

"It is no secret that our government inherited serious financial challenges and unsustainable expenditure growth. As we address these issues and consider options, including legislation, we welcome constructive input and feedback through a respectful process that is being co-ordinated directly through public service officials and union leaders.

"The integrity of this ongoing process requires direct and frank dialogue so neither the premier nor the minister of finance will be drawn into premature speculation about potential outcomes. Our government respectfully urges our partners in labour to follow the same course by focusing on the opportunity for actual discussion and co-operation rather than seeking charged and mischaracterized public conflict," said Baldwin-Valainis.

NDP finance critic James Allum denounced Pallister’s plans as "a recipe for disaster."

Allum said Friday it’s not the time to deny Manitobans services, to take salaries and taxes and spending power out of the economy, and to show young people that good jobs aren’t available.

"This is part and parcel of the government’s austerity program," Allum told reporters.

"First there was an assault on education, then on Manitoba Hydro, then on health care (capital projects)," he said.

In a letter delivered to unions, Gerry Irving, the secretary of the provincial public-sector compensation committee, said the province’s "serious fiscal situation" requires future meetings with union leaders focus on "early policy and statutory decision-making — particularly concerning public-sector costs/sustainability legislation."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca