Pallister government introduces a number of Labour bills in the Legislature

Friday, November 29, 2019

MFL News

This week the Pallister government introduced a number of bills that would impact labour. Some of them are brand new, and many of them are bills that have been introduced before but died in the Legislature because Brian Pallister called a snap provincial election this summer.

New Legislation:

The Pensions Benefit Act

The Pallister government has introduced a bill to amend a number of elements of Manitoba’s Pensions Benefits Act

As you’ll recall, when the government released the findings of its Pension Commission review nearly two years ago, the report floated a number of dangerous and concerning ideas that would weaken pension security for Manitobans, and Manitoba’s unions pushed-back hard. One of their schemes was to weaken defined benefit plans into target benefit plans, and another was to end universal participation in workplace pension plans. As a result of strong advocacy from the labour movement, the Pallister government has backed down from acting on these recommendations.

However, the bill introduced this week still contains some very concerning elements, including a provision to allow workers to unlock pension funds and deplete their retirement income prematurely. In fact, under the new bill, workers aged 65 and over would be permitted to unlock their entire retirement income (100% of it), exposing them to tremendous risk in the private market place.

The bill also reduces the solvency requirements for plans from 100 to 85 per cent, representing a weakening of funding security for retirement plans. We have seen too often with cases like SEARS how dangerous it is to let Employers under-fund their pension obligations.

The Workers Compensation Act

This bill would make extensive changes to the Workers Compensation Act, based on the five-year review of WCB and the government’s own promises.

While we continue to sift through the fine details, the bill appears to be a mix of wins and losses for Labour. On the negative side, government is following through on its pledges to re-introduce a cap on insurable earnings (set at $150,000) and to create an employer advisor office.

On the positive side, the bill:

o   Creates a schedule of occupational diseases with presumptive coverage;

o   Stops the unfair practice of applying the ‘dominant cause’ test to psychological injuries;

o   Expands provision of medical aid to injured workers; and

o   Assigns responsibility to the Manitoba Federation of Labour for providing worker nominees to the Board of Directors.

The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act (Leave for Victims of Interpersonal Violence)

There was some good news on the legislative front this week, as this bill would extend the employment leave provisions available to victims of domestic violence to include all victims of interpersonal violence, including sexual violence and stalking. These leave provisions include five paid days. The labour movement spearheaded the push to make Manitoba the first province in Canada to create employment leave for those experiencing domestic violence, and we were glad that these extensions received unanimous support from employers and labour at the Labour Management Review Committee.

Old Legislation

Public Services Sustainability Act

The government has re-introduced its 11th hour amendments to the PSSA that they tried to get through before our court case (thankfully stopped by the NDP opposition). This bill would just tinker around the edges of a bad, unconstitutional bill. In short it:

o   Provides greater flexibility in setting the timing and duration of the sustainability period (allows expanded scope for giving “credit” for earlier zeros);

o   Sustainability savings remain at the sole discretion of Treasury Board but may now be shared in full or in part and be applied throughout the full sustainability period (not just years 3 and 4);

o   Includes specific new language on recovering any overpayments from public sector employees; and

o   Includes scope for some special exemptions at the government’s sole discretion.

Workplace Safety and Health Act

This bill was previously introduced last spring, and it would make the following changes that will weaken the rules that protect workers’ safety and health on the job:

o   It eliminates the important position of Chief Prevention Officer, which was established to be an independent public watch dog to ensure continuous progress and accountability on workplace health and safety;

o   It gives heavy-handed powers to government to dismiss workers’ health and safety appeals without proper due process or a hearing at the Manitoba Labour Board; and

o   It imposes a new arbitrary time limit on workers’ ability to defend themselves in cases where workers face unfair retaliation from their employers for sticking-up for their health and safety rights.

Public Sector Construction Projects (Tendering) Act

The Pallister government is taking a third crack at passing this bill, which has died twice in the Legislature under their watch. This is the bill that would ban project labour agreements for large scale construction projects that benefit Manitobans. We know that PLAs provide tremendous value for money to Manitobans, while supporting good-paying local jobs and safe workplaces. We will continue to support the Manitoba Building Trades in opposing this bill. 

Labour Relations Act

The government has re-introduced its bill to privatize conciliation and mediation services, as it did not pass before the election. As we said when it was last introduced, the longstanding public mediation and conciliation services provided by the Province served employers and workers well, and we oppose this decision to move it to the private sector.

We encourage affiliates to register to speak to any or all of these bills at legislative committees, which will most likely to be held in the spring. The MFL will be developing submissions on each of these bills and we can share them with you. To register to present, just call the Office of the Clerk at 204-945-3636.

In solidarity,

Kevin Rebeck,

President of the Manitoba Federation of Labour

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