New premier should reset relationships

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THE Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba is set to elect its new leader, and our new premier, this weekend. Whether the party chooses Heather Stefanson or Shelly Glover, working Manitobans will be looking for a clear break from Brian Pallister’s legacy.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/10/2021 (336 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba is set to elect its new leader, and our new premier, this weekend. Whether the party chooses Heather Stefanson or Shelly Glover, working Manitobans will be looking for a clear break from Brian Pallister’s legacy.

The new premier would be well served by taking this opportunity for a fresh start seriously and working to reset and repair this government’s relationship with unions and the workers they represent.

While Pallister’s approach to labour relations tipped the scales against working people, there are concrete steps the new premier should take to set their government on a different, more collaborative approach with working Manitobans.

First of all, the Stefanson/Glover government needs to do much more to support low-wage workers. Under Pallister, Manitoba’s minimum wage has sunk to be among the lowest in Canada, meaning low-income workers are being left behind.

This year, the government increased the minimum wage by only a nickel, at a time when it’s becoming harder and harder to make ends meet, especially for lower-income Manitobans. No one should work full time and still live in poverty, but that is exactly what is happening to thousands of Manitoba workers because our minimum wage is just too low.

The new premier should move to immediately increase the minimum wage, and commit to bringing it up to a living-wage level to help lift low-wage workers out of poverty.

Another immediate step the new premier should take to provide greater economic security for thousands of Manitoba workers is to make sure all Manitobans have access to paid sick days. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted what has always been true: it is unfair and unsafe to force workers into making the impossible choice between their paycheques and doing the right thing and staying home to protect public health when they are sick.

This is a widespread problem, as more than 50 per cent of workers have no access to paid sick days.

First of all, the Stefanson/Glover

government needs to do much more to support low-wage workers. Under

Pallister, Manitoba’s minimum wage

has sunk to be among the lowest in Canada, meaning low-income workers are being left behind.

This summer, the Pallister government introduced a completely inadequate program that reimbursed some employers for providing paid sick time if they voluntarily opted into the program. That program has since ended, but Manitoba workers still need to stay home if they are sick to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Doing that becomes a lot harder when staying home means you cannot make your rent, or that you cannot pay for groceries that week.

The Manitoba Federation of Labour has been calling for the government to establish 10 paid sick days a year as an annual floor for all workers in Manitoba. The federal Liberal government has committed to 10 paid sick days for federally regulated workers, and we encourage the new premier to seize this opportunity to build a stronger safety net for all working Manitobans.

Fortunately, Pallister’s departure seems to have softened the government’s obsession with wage freezes for public-sector workers. After years of gridlock prompted by government interference, new collective agreements have been bargained recently with nurses and school support staff, and a combination of bargaining and arbitration has led to new contracts with teachers and Hydro workers.

Public-sector workers have been there for us throughout this pandemic, both on the front lines and behind the scenes. It is high time that they were treated with fairness and respect by this government.

We hope that the new premier will commit to the principles of free and fair collective bargaining, and allow Manitoba’s dedicated public-sector workers to bargain fair deals with their employers. Tens of thousands of public-sector workers remain without a contract today.

Our province stands at a crossroads, and it will be up to the new premier to decide whether they want to forge a new path or follow in Pallister’s footsteps. If the incoming premier wants to reset the relationship with workers and unions, labour will be ready to work in collaboration with them to make life better for working people. But our new premier, whether named Glover or Stefanson, must take meaningful steps to undo the damage caused by the Pallister years.

Kevin Rebeck is president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour

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