"The National Union stands with MGEU and our members as they fight for a fair deal." — Larry Brown, NUPGE President.
Ottawa (10 Oct. 2019) — The MGEU/NUPGE Civil Service Bargaining Committee updated its members last week after the Minister responsible for the Civil Service refused to appoint an arbitration panel, as required by law.
"The province's actions show a lack of respect for the public sector workers who provide a range of services to Manitobans every day," said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. "The National Union stands with MGEU/NUPGE and our members as they fight for a fair deal."
Bargaining reaches an impasse
The MGEU Civil Service collective agreement between MGEU/NUPGE and the province of Manitoba expired in March, and bargaining proposals were exchanged with the employer just prior to that. The province’s proposals included a long list of concessions that would erode many rights and benefits in the collective agreement.
In April, the union began bargaining meetings with the province in good faith. Almost immediately, these negotiations were frustrated by the province’s refusal to discuss wages and benefits and their unwillingness to be up front about whether or not they intended to table the wage mandate contained in Bill 28, the Public Service Sustainability Act. This Act, passed in 2017 but not yet proclaimed into force by the province, would mandate 2 years of wage freezes and strict caps on wage increases in the following 2 years.
The bargaining committee understood that for fair and meaningful negotiations to continue, the province needed to be up front about whether or not its own Bill 28 mandate would be imposed in negotiations. After all, the answer to this critical question influences all other issues at the bargaining table.
By failing to be up front about their intentions, the province has been disingenuous and disrespectful to MGEU Civil Service members, and has made meaningful discussions impossible.
Union files for arbitration
For these reasons, the bargaining committee felt compelled to file for arbitration, which allows an independent, third-party panel to hear arguments from both sides, and determine a contract settlement. The committee strongly believes that an independent arbitration panel will provide a fair outcome, setting aside the province’s unproclaimed legislation. This judgement has been reinforced by recent arbitration settlements in Manitoba’s public sector.
After filing for arbitration, the union began working with legal counsel to prepare their presentation on behalf of all MGEU/NUPGE Civil Service members.
Province fails to meet its obligations
However, in recent weeks, the MGEU was shocked to learn that Minister Scott Fielding, who is responsible for the Civil Service, is refusing to appoint an arbitration panel, as the Civil Service Act requires him to do upon the request of either the union or the employer. In doing so, he requested that MGEU return to the bargaining table rather than fulfill his legal obligation to appoint an arbitration panel.
In effect, the Minister is denying members' legal right to arbitration, which is why MGEU/NUPGE is left with no choice but to go to court to seek an order for Minister Fielding and his government to follow the law. They will be pursuing this matter in court in the coming weeks.
Although MGEU/NUPGE is disheartened by the disrespect the province has shown for MGEU Civil Service members, the union remains open to returning to the bargaining table if the province is willing to begin fair negotiations and come clean about its intentions regarding wages and benefits. Otherwise, they remain committed to pursuing a fair contract through the arbitration process established by law.
MGEU/NUPGE continues to fight for members
While pursuing arbitration, the MGEU/NUPGE continues to work with the Partnership to Defend Public Services to challenge the constitutionality of Bill 28 and its heavy-handed wage freezes. The case will go to trial, beginning on November 18, 2019.
The MGEU Civil Service Bargaining Committee will keep members updated as these efforts continue to unfold.
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