Manitoba takes aim at wage increases

Manitoba takes aim at wage increases

Manitoba takes aim at wage increases The Manitoba government plans to pass a law to control wage increases in the public sector and aims to eliminate dozens of provincial boards and commissions as it tries to bring down a stubborn deficit.

The two measures are among several cost-cutting steps announced Monday in the throne speech, which outlines the government's agenda for the coming year.

The Progressive Conservatives will introduce legislation ``to ensure that the province's public-sector costs do not exceed Manitobans' ability to sustain the services they receive in return,'' said the speech read in the legislature chamber by Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon.

Premier Brian Pallister revealed few details, but confirmed the proposed law is aimed at capping wage increases inside government and among public institutions such as hospitals and universities.

``Our No. 1 category of expenditure - across government, in the public service - is, of course, wages,'' Pallister said.

Some recent contract settlements have been excessive, he said. The premier would not rule out trying to impose a wage freeze, and said he was waiting for the settlement of a faculty strike at the University of Manitoba, where a tentative deal was being voted on Monday.

``We have tremendous respect for the people who work in our system and want them to be fairly paid. But we cannot fail to get a handle on the out-of-control spending growth that we've seen over the last number of years, which has gone up by over 2 1/2 times the rate of inflation in the last decade.''

Union leaders said the Tory government was not living up to its election promises.

``It got elected on a campaign to protect services, but the language that we start hearing is all about cost-savings and cutting costs and not dealing with the services that are being provided,'' said Kevin Rebeck, president of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

``I did get a meeting with the premier a couple of weeks ago ... and he assured me many times over ... that he believes in the bargaining process and in fair bargaining,'' said Michelle Garwonsky of the Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union.

``Since bargaining is a constitutional right of ... Manitobans, I'd be curious to see exactly what direction he plans on going with this.''

Pallister has clashed with labour groups since winning the April 19 provincial election to end 17 years of the NDP in power. Earlier this month, his Tory majority passed a law to require more secret ballots when workers vote on joining a union. Previously, no vote was needed if 65 per cent of workers signed union membership cards.

The throne speech also promises to cut 20 per cent of the province's roughly 200 agencies, boards and commissions.

The government also plans to reduce NDP-imposed restrictions on public-private partnerships when capital projects are built - a move the Tories say will save money.

Pallister inherited a deficit of $846 million in the last fiscal year. He has promised to balance the budget without severe cuts and over eight years.
NDP interim leader Flor Marcelino said the throne speech was a recipe for privatization and cuts.

The throne speech contains a long list of other promises, including new legislation to crack down on ticket-scalping and a new voluntary pooled retirement pension program for workers who don't have a company pension. Pallister said details on those plans will come shortly.

For the province's troubled child-welfare system, the government is promising to reduce the number of kids in care and to give more powers to the Office of the Children's Advocate to investigate and report on systemic problems.

The throne speech also reiterates election promises the Tories made in the spring, including bringing back a law that would require a referendum before major tax increases.

The legislature is scheduled to sit for eight days before the holiday break. Politicians are to return in March to continue debating bills and to comb through next year's budget.
  • The Canadian Press