Supreme Court will not hear appeal of Manitoba’s public sector wage freeze

The Supreme Court of Canada will not hear an appeal from unions that consider the Manitoba government’s push for a public-sector wage freeze a violation of collective bargaining rights.

As per its usual practice, the high court gave no reasons for its decision Thursday to refuse to hear the case.

Read more: Manitoba finance minister promises ‘fresh start’ with public sector unions

Labour leaders were displeased.

“We’re disappointed the Supreme Court is not going to hear and give a clear decision on some contradictory decisions that have happened already,” Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, said.

Click to play video: 'Province to introduce bills that may freeze public-sector wages'

Province to introduce bills that may freeze public-sector wages

Rebeck was among the labour officials who led the fight against the wage freeze on behalf of more than 110,000 public sector workers including teachers, civil servants and health care staff.

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“Are we worried that that sets a precedent down the road? Perhaps.”

The Progressive Conservative government introduced a wage-freeze bill in 2017 as part of its deficit-cutting plan.

Read more: Appeals court rules Manitoba had the right to impose wage freeze on public sector

The bill called for any new public-sector collective agreement to start with a two-year wage freeze, followed by pay increases of 0.75 per cent in the third year and one per cent in the fourth.

The bill was passed by the legislature but never proclaimed into law, and the government held out the possibility of amending it. The unions said, however, that government negotiators acted as if the wage freeze was firmly in place.

They took the case to the Court of Queen’s Bench, as it was then called, and a judge ruled the bill violated collective bargaining rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba finance minister promises ‘fresh start’ with public sector unions'

Manitoba finance minister promises ‘fresh start’ with public sector unions

The government took the case to the Manitoba Court of Appeal, which overturned the lower court ruling and said the government had the right to set down a time-limited set of wage increases.

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Brian Pallister, the premier who put forward the wage freeze, resigned last year and his replacement, Heather Stefanson, repealed the bill and said she would allow collective bargaining to proceed without it.

Read more: Manitoba’s public sector wage freeze bill violates Charter, court rules

Labour groups have said they are worried the province may try to impose a wage freeze sometime in the future. For now, they are taking comfort in the fact the Tories backed down on the wage freeze.

“We’ve forced a majority government to repeal a bill that would have held wages back … we got workers real dollars and increases in wages,” Rebeck said.

Click to play video: 'Appeals court rules Manitoba had the right to impose wage freeze on public sector'

Appeals court rules Manitoba had the right to impose wage freeze on public sector

&© 2022 The Canadian Press

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