CUPE Manitoba President Gina McKay presented to the Standing Committee on Justice hearing on Bill 2: The Public Services Sustainability Repeal Act.
The Manitoba government’s introduction of Bill 28: The Public Services Sustainability Act in 2017, threw labour relations into chaos, and was cited as “unconstitutional” by the court of Queen’s Bench after CUPE and other unions challenged it in court through the Manitoba Federation of Labour.
Although the government brought the court’s decision to the Court of Appeal in October 2021, they decided to repeal Bill 28 altogether by passing Bill 2, following tremendous pressure from unions and workers.
“Thousands of Manitoba workers were punished for years, starting before the pandemic, because of this government’s interference in free collective bargaining,” McKay told the Committee. “Worse yet these workers have gone years without fair wage increases, including throughout the pandemic, working under the shadow of The Public Services Sustainability Act which continues to impact Manitoba workers’ lives,” she said.
If a union took the legislated 0%, 0%, 0.75%, 1% in 2018, it would have been the equivalent of a 5% wage rollback over that period.
Many employers in Manitoba continue to offer 0% wage increases due to the legacy of The Public Services Sustainability Act (PSSA).
“Some employers refuse to tell us where the mandate is coming from, citing some ominous spectre that is directing them to continue offering zeroes,” said McKay to the Committee. “While the PSSA is set to be repealed, the damage it has done continues to affect negotiations.”
One example highlighted by McKay was that many school divisions claimed they were offering zeroes because of the mandate. CUPE fought back at the bargaining table in dozens of school divisions and did not accept zeroes at all – CUPE pushed these school divisions to understand that the zeroes were not legislated, and that school support staff deserved better.
CUPE members also had to take strike mandates in order to break this government’s “ghost mandate,” disrupting their work, their lives, and impacting the love for the work they do. Some of CUPE’s K-12 school sector members even went on strike.
“The past few years have shown the real, human impact of a government that interferes with free collective bargaining,” said McKay to the Committee. “Low wages and sub-inflationary wage increases also disproportionately impact women, gender diverse workers, Indigenous workers, and workers of colour who make up a large part of our membership.”
CUPE noted that in addition to repealing The Public Services Sustainability Act, the government should also withdraw its opposition to the Partnership to Defend Public Service’s application to have the Supreme Court consider the constitutionality of the wage freeze legislation.
“We urge this government to make clear to every public sector employer, across all types of work – including health care, school divisions, crown corporations, social services and more, that the provincial government will not interfere with free collective bargaining,” McKay said in her closing remarks.
This year, with inflation near 6%, Manitobans need a government that will come to the table and correct this past injustice against workers to make them whole for the losses they experienced over this period.
“We believe The Public Services Sustainability Act should never have been introduced. We know the impact of this legislation continues today. It must be withdrawn, and this government must be held accountable for the damage it has done to working Manitobans.”
Bill 2 will now proceed to the third reading at the Manitoba Legislature. Once it receives royal assent, it will be passed as law and will repeal the former Bill 28 for good.