WSD gives trades employees pay increase despite provincial wage freeze

A handful of school painters, plasterers and floor installers has received nine per cent wage increases despite the provincial government”s wage freeze.

Even as Premier Brian Pallister imposed wage controls on 120,000 public workers this month, Winnipeg School Division trustees gave a nine per cent wage increase over four years to trades employees.

They”ll be paid wage increases of two per cent for 2016, 2017, and 2018, and two 1.5 per cent raises in 2019, in a deal covering July 2, 2016, to June 30, 2019.

The division does not believe it violated Bill 28, WSD board chair Sherri Rollins said Tuesday. It”s an unusual collective bargaining agreement — reached in the summer of 2015, with wages beyond the first year for a few job categories to be left blank and agreed to at a later date. As it turns out, a much, much later date, after wage controls had passed in the legislature.

But Amy McGuinness, press secretary to Finance Minister Cameron Friesen, said Tuesday that “if the group is covered by the Public Services Sustainability Act (Bill 28), the provisions of the legislation would apply.”

McGuinness would not say what happens next, or what action the province would or could take. “These questions should be directed to the employer,” she said.

The legislature passed the wage control bill June 1, WSD trustees ratified the wage deal June 5. However, provincial cabinet has yet to proclaim the wage controls into law, a move that Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck has said lets the province hold it back as a weapon in negotiations, while trying to delay labour from taking the bill to court on the grounds it is unconstitutional.

Rebeck said Tuesday there has not yet been legal action taken. Meanwhile, 30,000 health care workers have been without a new collective bargaining agreement since March 31.

Pallister said last week that cabinet has not yet proclaimed Bill 28 into law, because the province still hopes that organized labour will work with his government to get control of public spending and reduce Manitoba”s deficit.

To add even further complications, the Tories have also passed Bill 29, which significantly reduces the number of health care bargaining units. That would involve a lengthy process, including the naming of a commissioner to oversee the process. Rebeck has said labour fears that regional health authorities have not started bargaining because they assume that Bill 29 takes precedence.

Last week, Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said that Bill 29 does not have to be implemented prior to health care workers in their existing bargaining units negotiating under Bill 28″s provisions.

Meanwhile, WSD continues to bargain with its trades staff as though the wage controls are not an issue.

“We needed to do what was best for Winnipeg School Division,” Rollins said in an interview. “We”re watching and listening, we understand the government is trying to create public services that are affordable. We read the throne speech, the budget, we read what Minister Wishart (Education Minister Ian Wishart) was saying.

“With the trades, we”re really concerned we don”t want to lose any” to the private sector, she said. “It”s really competitive.”

The deal covers painters, plasterers, and floor installers. The division is still bargaining on wages through 2019 with bricklayers, welders, millwrights, roofers, and other trades, who Rollins said need wage increases if they”re not to jump to the private sector.

The division reached agreement on multi-year wages in the summer of 2015 with Local 110 of the Canadian Union of Public Employees and settled with caretakers, bus mechanics, and other staff who form the majority of the bargaining unit.

However, agreement on wages for other trades covered only one year, with the approved deal leaving subsequent years” wages listed as TBD — to be determined.

Rollins said that trustees were aware through this past winter that the province would impose a wage freeze. “For sure, the bargaining environment came up for trustees,” she said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.


WHAT”S BILL 28?

It imposes wage controls on the next collective bargaining agreement of 120,000 public sector workers.

Their combination of wage increases and any costed improvements in benefits cannot exceed zero in the first two years, 0.75 per cent in the third, and 1.0 per cent in the fourth.

The bill is retroactive to March 20 of this year.

The Conservative government used its majority in the legislature to pass the bill June 1, but the cabinet has yet to proclaim it into law.

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