What You Didn’t Know about The Original ‘Filmon Fridays’
Mar 07, 2017
It’s been almost a year since Manitobans elected a new provincial government. And with each day we continue to see a growing gap between what the Premier promised Manitobans and what he’s actually doing.
The Premier promised Manitobans he would protect and invest in public services and the people delivering those services, but he doesn’t seem to want to talk about that much lately. Mandatory reduced work weeks, known in Manitoba during the 1990s as “Filmon Fridays,” are one of the ideas he’s talked about in order to cut public service wages.
In 1993, then Premier Gary Filmon brought in reduced work week legislation. It forced Civil Service employees to take 10 unpaid days off each year. For some members, who needed every cent of their pay cheque to get by, this was a significant hit to their finances. For others who were in a better position to afford it, the extra days off were less of a burden. But as all MGEU members became more familiar with the effects it would have on their income – also to their pensions – there was a huge swell of unrest amongst government employees.
When an employee was mandated to take a day off, that meant no pension contributions for each day that happened. Civil Service members were starting to see their pensions were taking a significant hit along with their salaries. Thankfully the government ended that practice, but it took 2 years of fighting to get there.
Today, many Manitoba Civil Service members have the option of applying for Voluntary Reduced Work Week (VRW) days. VRWs have been in place since 2002 and, as their name states, they’re voluntary, not mandatory like “Filmon Fridays.” Pensionable service and earnings are protected during VRW days. Members need to understand this so they don’t learn the hard way and possibly see a chunk of their pensions disappear should mandated days off return to the Civil Service.
The MGEU has never supported the VRW program, but has also not stood in its way, because these days are voluntary and we know some members appreciate the flexibility it provides with work/life balance. We have continued to raise the issue that the voluntary reduced workweek still poses a number of challenges for MGEU members. With vacant positions still going unfilled, the VRW program places additional stress on workplaces that are understaffed. This impacts the ability of members to deliver public services that families count on.
Meanwhile, the Civil Service as a whole continues to erode. In a freedom of information request, stats show the Civil Service sat at 1,248 vacancies in December 2015 – and not even a year later in October 2016 that climbed to 1,476 vacancies.
So once again, that brings me back to what the Premier actually promised Manitobans. If he truly wants to protect and improve public services, mandating employees to take days off when they are already stretched thin does nothing to help improve public services. Forcing these members to accept unpaid days off will place additional strain on public services and weaken them. If the Premier is serious about protecting public services for Manitobans and respecting those delivering the services – then he’ll live up to his promise during the election and back away from heavy-handed legislation.