Potential strike by civil servants could be next labour battle in Manitoba

The union that represents 11,000 Manitoba civil servants is planning a strike vote after negotiations appear to have stalled on the issue of wages.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union says the government has offered wage increases of two per cent each year for four years.

In a letter to members, the union bargaining committee says that is not enough to keep up with inflation.

It’s the latest potential labour trouble for the Progressive Conservative government, and comes amid a walkout that started Monday by 1,700 workers at Manitoba Public Insurance, the Crown-owned auto insurance corporation.

The province also recently reached an agreement to end a strike by Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries workers that forced many government-run stores to close and disrupted supplies to private retailers.

The labour strife comes with a provincial election set for Oct. 3, and opinion polls suggesting the governing Tories are lagging behind the Opposition New Democrats.

There was no immediate response from the government Tuesday evening.

The Tory government angered public-sector unions in 2017 when it threatened to impose a two-year wage freeze on all new collective agreements. The government passed a bill to enact the freeze but never proclaimed it into law. Labour leaders said government negotiators acted as if it was law.

Last year, an arbitration board awarded retroactive pay increases to the civil service totalling about six per cent over four years, dating back to 2019. That collective agreement expired in March of this year.

“Your bargaining committee is strongly recommending that you reject the employer’s offer and provide your committee with a strike mandate,” the committee letter to members Tuesday said.

“A strike mandate shows strength and solidarity. The intention is to increase our leverage at the bargaining table so that we can achieve a fair agreement.”

Kyle Ross is the president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

The strike at Manitoba Public Insurance, as well as the recently concluded strike at Manitoba Liquor and lotteries, prompted Premier Heather Stefanson to take to social media Monday. In a video, she said the government could not say yes to the union’s demands, and accused them of seeking higher wage increases than those recently given to health-care workers.

Labour leaders have pushed back, saying provincial politicians have been given higher raises through an automatic cost-of-living adjustment each year.

The Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union is planning to hold a rally at the legislature Wednesday.

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