Collective Bargaining Best Way to Reach Goals
Kevin Rebeck, pictured at podium, while addressing media in February 2017.
Mar 15, 2017
In the coming days, health-care aides, teachers and thousands of other public service providers will find out just how much the Pallister government values their work.
Premier Brian Pallister has said he’s all about public services. He’s gone so far as to say that "protecting front-line services and the people who provide them is what we ran on and what we will do as a government." But just months after his election, the premier started changing his tune, calling it a "moving target."
Every Manitoban wants to see the budget balanced and we can all work together to get there. In Manitoba, we know what hard bargaining means.
Under the former NDP government, thousands of workers across the province agreed to "zeros" — instead of wage increases. But it was done at the bargaining table, through respectful and meaningful consultation and negotiation.
Collective bargaining works. Over the past five years, Manitoba has seen only five public-sector work stoppages — two of those were on Pallister’s watch. In fact, throughout Canada over the last decade, more than 90 per cent of public-sector collective agreements were settled without a work stoppage.
There are three features to collective bargaining that have made it a preferred option for virtually every government in Canada instead of heavy-handed legislation.
First, collective bargaining requires workers to co-ordinate and focus the ask for their employer. Workers come together to prioritize things such as safer working conditions, fair wages and retirement plans and then negotiate their narrowed-down list with their employer.
Second, collective bargaining requires compromise. Just as employers don’t want to see their operations halted, workers don’t want to see the paycheques on which their families rely disappear.
By sharing information and engaging in open and constructive conversation, both sides can better understand the challenges an employer or employees face.
Third, collective bargaining and the process of compromise provides stability through the life of the contract.
A deal is a deal and these agreements create a clear process for resolving disputes.
They’re also not permanent. They allow for employers and employees to come back to the table at the end of the agreement, collaborate and sign a new agreement that accounts for changes in the workplace.
Despite the stability that collective bargaining and meaningful consultation has provided to our province and others, Pallister is set on sticking to his own agenda, even if it hurts others.
Pallister made a promise to protect public services and the people who provide them, but this government has already closed a QuickCare Clinic, cancelled $1 billion in previously approved health-care projects and announced 900 layoffs to come at Manitoba Hydro.
It’s clear the premier is focused on balancing the budget.
But balancing the budget should not come at the expense of either the public services so many families count on or the people who provide them.
And balancing the budget just doesn’t seem to include the premier.
Despite repeatedly saying that "it’s all hands on deck," the premier last year allowed himself and his entire cabinet a 20 per cent increase in pay over the previous government.
Public-sector unions are willing to come to the table and are prepared to work constructively with the government to find solutions that will protect public services and balance the provincial budget over an eight-year period, as the premier committed to in his first budget.
Threats of heavy-handed legislation that will freeze wages arbitrarily, force unpaid days off on Manitobans, make changes to pensions and even reopen signed contracts will only create unnecessary conflict.
Let’s meet at the bargaining table and actually start working together.
Kevin Rebeck is the president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour
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