Manitoba unions want Supreme Court to weigh in on public-sector wage freeze case

·2 min read

WINNIPEG — Public-sector unions in Manitoba are hoping to appeal a court ruling that said the government had a right to impose a wage freeze on more than 100,000 workers.

The coalition of unions said Wednesday it is asking the Supreme Court of Canada to hear the case so as to protect collective bargaining rights.

"When we launched our constitutional challenge to the ... government's wage-freeze law, we knew it would not be a quick process. But we will always stick up for the rights of workers," Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour and the coalition's spokesman, said in a news release.

The Progressive Conservative government under then-premier Brian Pallister introduced a bill in 2017 to control salaries for teachers, nurses, civil servants and others. The bill contained a two-year wage freeze on any new public-sector agreement, to be followed by pay increases of 0.75 per cent in the third year and one per cent in the fourth.

The bill was never proclaimed into law. The unions said negotiators for the province and other public-sector employers acted as if it had been.

A Court of Queen's Bench judge, who called the bill "draconian" last year, ruled it violated bargaining rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and struck down the wage freeze.

The government took the case to the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which last month said the government was within its authority and overturned the lower court ruling. The Appeal Court said governments can set limited boundaries on contract talks without substantially interfering with bargaining rights.

It was a unanimous ruling by the three Appeal Court judges.

"We won Round 1 and government won Round 2. Now we are asking the Supreme Court to consider Round 3," Rebeck said.

Despite the wage-freeze bill, some workers have managed to secure higher salaries.

A recent agreement with the Manitoba Nurses Union, retroactive to 2017, includes wage increases totalling 9.6 per cent over seven years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 3, 2021

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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