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End of bargaining in the public sector

Supreme Court Denies Hearing Controversial Labour Law

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On October 27 the Supreme Court denied giving a final decision on a highly controversial law passed by the Manitoba Conservative government in 2017 to freeze the wages of public sector workers. Because the Supreme Court denied the hearing, other provincial governments are still able to pass laws like The Public Services Sustainability Act (PSSA).

The PSSA was a law passed to freeze the wages of public sector employees for 4 years with increases per year of: 0%, 0%, .75%, and 1%. Although the law was passed, it was never enacted. The PSSA was a retroactive law, which means had it been implemented, workers would be forced to repay all the raises, RRSP contributions and benefits they had received since 2017.

North Star spoke with Kevin Rebeck, the president of Manitoba Federation of Labour, "It was having this gag-effect on bargaining. Where we had employers who had funds... but because this law would have been retroactive and would have made it illegal to agree to [any raises] over 0% and have to collect that back - they wouldn't [give raises]."

In 2017, the Manitoba Federation of Labour (MFL) took the province to The Court of the Queen's Bench to fight against the law. The Queen's Bench deemed the law unconstitutional. However, the provincial government contested the verdict by taking the MFL to the Court of Appeal - where the decision was overturned, and the law was passed.

"Even though it's not in law, it froze collective bargaining and people aren't getting paid. Government's getting their way, they're giving zeros. Why allow these overrides to begin with? If it's a charter right to be able to collective bargain and go on strike, then it shouldn't be a debate."

"The Supreme Court doesn't hear every case... How they decide which cases they hear is a little bit of a mystery - they don't give reasons. On a court basis that leaves things standing as if government was okay to pass that kind of legislation... We're disapointed the Supreme Court isn't giving a clear answer to some conflicting rulings that the courts have made." 

Although Premier Stefanson has overturned the law, Rebeck thinks that "[the Stefanson government] [repealed the PSSA] to try and lock in the court decision. I think they knew that if it were no longer on the books, it was unlikely the Supreme Court would hear it. And that they may have done it as a move to reset the clock for them to potentially explore [the law] in the future." 

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