Workers win fight to end illegal wage freeze


BRIAN PALLISTER CAN’T FREEZE WORKERS OUT. Justice Joan McKelvey has ruled his government has no legal right to do that.

The Pallister government froze the wages of all public service workers in 2017 when it passed the Public Services Sustainability Act (Bill 28).

The Partnership to Defend Public Services (a coalition of 20 public and private sector unions with more than 125,000 members) went to court to argue this law was an obvious violation of labour rights in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms because it made collective bargaining an impossibility. Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice McKelvey agrees.

No right to ‘inhibit’ collective bargaining

In her June 11 ruling Justice McKelvey states that the act “... is a draconian measure which limits and reduces a union’s bargaining power...and inhibits the union’s ability to trade off monetary benefits for non-monetary enhancements, such as protection from contracting out, job security, and layoffs.

“It has left no room for a meaningful collective bargaining process on issues crucial to union memberships.”

She ruled that key provisions of the bill, including the wage limits, “are invalid and of no force and effect.

The court has not yet determined what financial and other remedies will be payable to the union plaintiffs by the government, including compensation for legal costs.

MGEU proud of their contribution

“I am deeply proud of the many contributions our staff made to the Partnership to Defend Public Services case, including researching supporting documents, reviewing affidavits and bargaining notes, meeting with our lawyers to prepare for the trial, and giving evidence,” MGEU (Manitoba Government Employees Union) President Michelle Gawrsonky said.

“Our hope now is that we will be able to return to the bargaining table and negotiate fair collective agreements for our members without heavy-handed tactics from the government.”

Cynical game politicians play

“This is a big deal for the MGEU, and all the public service workers in Manitoba, a very big deal,” says James Clancy, president of the CLI (Canadian Labour Institute). “But the truth is it won’t stop governments from attacking labour rights.”

“It’s all part of a cynical game our governments play: they know these kinds of laws are obvious charter violations, but they ram them through anyway.

“They know it will take the courts years to rule. By then everything will have changed. The government will either be out of power, or the phony crisis they manufactured will be long past and forgotten. They will manufacture a new burning issue to divert us all. The cynical cycle will continue.”

“The one certainty in all this is that as long as governments keep ‘settin’ ‘em up’, unions will keep “knockin’ ‘em down’.”

Hope Pallister sees ‘the writing on the wall’

Gawrsonky pointed out that throughout the pandemic crisis, thousands of MGEU members have been working incredibly hard, under incredibly trying and stressful conditions, while at the same time, the government’s disrespectful approach in dealing with its own public-sector workers have taken a toll.

“This victory, however, should give us all reason for hope,” she said. “We can now move forward with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on our side, in the hope the Pallister government can see the writing on the wall.

“The time has come for the Pallister government to change course and start treating dedicated public sector workers with the respect they deserve.”

Click to read a “Summary of Current Charter Challenges and Their Impact on Union Security in Canada”, February 2018

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