“We are proud to stand up for the rights of working people, but we wish that this government had respected these rights and met at the bargaining table, not the courtroom.” — MFL President Kevin Rebeck
Winnipeg (26 Feb. 2020) — The Partnership to Defend Public Services (PDPS) delivered closing arguments this week in the court challenge against the Manitoba government’s wage freeze legislation (Bill 28) for public sector workers.
Wage restraint legislation violates workers' rights under the Charter
Throughout the proceedings, and repeated again in closing arguments, the PDPS maintained that Bill 28 is unconstitutional, as it denies public sector workers of their Charter rights to sit down and negotiate fair wage increases with their employer.
Meanwhile, the government surprisingly changed course in its closing arguments about the rationale for the legislation. Initially, the Manitoba government argued that the legislation responded to what they called a “fiscal crisis.” But in their closing arguments, it appeared they had given up on the idea that there was a “fiscal crisis” and, instead, based their argument on amendments to the law that have yet to be passed and that would not allow for free and fair collective bargaining.
“This so-called ‘fiscal crisis’ was the main argument from the Premier for this legislation. Now it seems his own lawyers don’t even believe that. So what was the real goal here?” asked Michelle Gawronsky, President of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union (MGEU/NUPGE). “Was it simply a made-up excuse to impose wage freezes and caps on the hard-working people who provide our public services in this province?”
The government also admitted that they did no financial analysis of the cost savings they hoped to gain from the wage freeze legislation (and, in fact, picked the maximum wage increases of .75% and 1% in years three and four out of thin air), while conceding that the legislation was already complete by the date of their first “consultation” meeting with public sector unions. They didn’t approach these meetings in good faith, because they didn’t, and still don’t, believe they had an obligation to.
Decision in judge's hands now
Following closing arguments today, Manitoba Federation of Labour President, Kevin Rebeck, said the PDPS put forward the strongest case possible on behalf of all provincial public workers.
“We are proud to stand up for the rights of working people, but we wish that this government had respected these rights and met at the bargaining table, not the courtroom.”
Now that closing arguments are finished, both sides await the judge’s decision, which may take several months.
A brief history about PDPS Bill 28 challenge
The PDPS’s court challenge against Bill 28 began in 2017, but just weeks before the trial was set to begin in the fall of 2019, the Province introduced an 11th hour amendment to the legislation, asking the judge to adjourn the trial based on their changes.
The MGEU and its PDPS partners disagreed that the amendments provided any real reason to adjourn the proceedings and the government backed down from its stalling tactic, by officially withdrawing its motion.
The challenge proceeded to trial in November 2019 with MGEU President, Michelle Gawronsky, and a number of MGEU staff among those who provided testimony.
Both sides then filed written briefs and court reconvened on February 18, 2020 for closing arguments.
The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE