Tories' law undermines labour rights

Winnipeg Free Press

As we head into the Labour Day long weekend, I encourage all Manitobans to take a moment and think about the importance of the labour movement and the benefits it has brought to working people in Manitoba and across our country.

Unions enable working people to come together and help to build good jobs for themselves and their families, strengthen our economy and ensure that workers are treated with fairness and dignity.

Unions have fought for vital protections and benefits for all workers, such as minimum wage, maternity leave, workplace health and safety, vacations and, more recently, an enhanced Canada Pension Plan.

At a time when income inequality and precarious work are major concerns for many Manitoban families and young people, unions continue to fight for good jobs, fair wages and safer workplaces.

For many years, Manitoba avoided major labour unrest and experienced relatively few strikes and lockouts. This relatively stable climate was good for working families and businesses alike and helped our economy grow. When deciding where to invest their dollars, investors and site selectors look at labour peace as a major economic advantage.

This period of labour peace did not happen by accident. It was supported in our province by clear and fair rules that carefully and sensibly balanced the interests of workers and employers in the workplace.

One of the main factors was a consistent respect by government, employers and labour for the collective bargaining process. Collective bargaining has been affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada as a charter right.

Collective bargaining works for several reasons.

First, it requires workers to come together and prioritize things such as safer working conditions, fair wages and retirement plans and then negotiate their narrowed-down list with their employer.

Secondly, collective bargaining requires compromise. Just as employers do not want to see their operations halted, workers do not want to see the services they provide affected, or the paycheques their families rely on disappear.

Lastly, the process provides stability for workers and employers through the life of the contract. In other words, a deal is a deal.

But this process is under threat by the provincal Tory government, which has unilaterally decided to use the heavy hand of legislation to freeze the wages of more than 120,000 public-sector workers in Manitoba. The so-called Public Service Sustainability Act shows blatant disregard for the collective bargaining rights of the workers who provide public services to all Manitobans.

This new law fundamentally undermines collective bargaining rights. It’s unfair and it’s unconstitutional.

Even though labour came to the table with practical ideas to help reduce the deficit, it quickly became clear that the Pallister government was never serious about consulting with anyone.

They were only interested in using their majority in the legislature to get their way, which left us no choice but to challenge this unconstitutional law in the courts.

Balancing the budget should not come at the expense of the public services so many families count on, or the dedicated Manitobans who provide them. That is why 26 labour bodies representing 110,000 Manitoba workers — the Partnership to Defend Public Services — have come together to launch a full constitutional challenge against this unfair law.

As unions have always done, we will continue to stand up for workers and for fair treatment and fair compensation for the hard work that they do. And we will be there to push back against the Pallister government’s plans to cut services and hurt working people in our province.

- Kevin Rebeck is the president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

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