“From the beginning, we made a very strong public case that such cuts were unnecessary, unfair and bad for the economy, and we were joined by a wide range of economists and community and business leaders,” said MGEU President Michelle Gawronsky. “There was a real public backlash and Pallister began scaling back his demands.”
By early May, the province’s proposed cuts to the Civil Service had come down to 2.2%. By mid-May, the province’s ultimatum for the Civil Service became more clear – take five unpaid days off or face significant layoffs.
“The government was slow to provide critical details about which workers and which public services would be impacted and were initially not offering any protection against layoffs,” Gawronsky said. “It was incredibly frustrating and disrespectful.”
At the end of last week, however, the MGEU made a breakthrough – the government agreed to provide a no-layoff clause for this fiscal year. This was a significant win under the circumstances, and critical to the acceptance of any unpaid days (see below for more details).
“After weeks of listening to MGEU members, it was clear if forced to choose, most would prefer no-layoff protection and five unpaid days to significant layoffs,” Gawronsky said. “We did try to reduce the number of unpaid days. We made a serious proposal that would have reduced the number of unpaid days to three, while still providing the government with its desired cost savings. Unfortunately, the government stubbornly refused to consider these alternatives. It appears the government is more interested in punishing their own employees than achieving its desired cost savings.”
More details about the five unpaid-days-off agreement with the Province:
- All Civil Service employees except those exempted by the employer (see below) are required to take five unpaid days off in this fiscal year at a time mutually agreeable to the employee and their supervisor, pro-rated as to EFT.
- Credit will be given for any Voluntary Reduced Workweek (VRW) days already approved. Requests for less than five days will need to have an appropriate number of days added. No one who already has five or more days approved will need to serve any additional days.
- The five “new” unpaid days will be treated the same as VRW days in that the deductions will be spread over the pay periods available in this fiscal year. Service dates, benefits, and pensions will not be affected.
- There will be no lay-off of regular and non-seasonal departmental employees for the 2020/21 fiscal year. Any term position that expires during this period and that the department renews shall also be subject to this no lay off period.
The employer will exempt from this agreement:
- Members working in institutional settings such as Corrections, Selkirk Mental Health Centre, and Manitoba Development Centre;
- Areas critical to pandemic response such as Cadham Provincial Lab and Provincial Nursing Stations; and
- Seasonal Employees.
Government forced to appoint arbitration panelMeanwhile, in response to a court order that the Province follow the law and appoint an arbitration panel to determine a fair contract for the Civil Service, the Minister responsible for the Civil Service wrote to the MGEU yesterday, saying they would take the first step in complying with this order.
In April, the Court of Queen’s Bench ruled that the MGEU was entirely justified in seeking arbitration on behalf of all Civil Service members. In her ruling, Justice Keyser sided firmly with the union and directed Finance Minister Scott Fielding to appoint an arbitration panel as clearly required by the Civil Service Act. She called the government’s case for contravening the Civil Service Act and refusing to appoint an arbitration panel “disingenuous at best."
“Obviously, this was welcome news for our Civil Service members who've been working without a contract since last March,” Gawronsky said. “Many of them are on the front lines during this pandemic and have continued to serve Manitobans while under threat of layoff. We hoped the government would accept this direction from the courts to get on with appointing an arbitration panel -- and that we could finally move forward with meaningful talks at the bargaining table.”
However, the government has told the MGEU it is appealing the judge’s ruling.
“This shows the disrespect this government has for its own workers, not to mention taxpayer dollars,” Gawronsky said. “One judge has already told this government that it is wrong. Instead of righting its error, it is digging itself deeper in a dogged attempt to delay the bargaining process.”
The Court order will have effect while the appeal proceeds. This means an interest arbitration board will be appointed, and dates set for the arbitration while the MGEU waits for the Court or Appeal process to unfold.