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In a major decision, a Manitoba judge threw out controversial legislation Thursday that sought to freeze the wages of more than 100,000 public sector workers.
Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Joan McKelvey ruled against Bill 28, the legislation that was trying to force a two-year wage freeze on public sector unions.
"I have concluded that the (Public Services Sustainability Act) operates as a draconian measure that has inhibited and dramatically reduced the unions' bargaining power and violates associational rights," McKelvey wrote.
The legislation, introduced in 2017, mandated a two-year wage freeze for government employees once their existing contracts expired.
The freeze was followed by a 0.75 per cent pay increase in the third year and one per cent in the fourth.
The bill was never proclaimed in law and thus never in effect — but public-sector unions say government negotiators acted as though it was. The law would have applied retroactively if it was proclaimed.
'Substantial interference,' court findsMcKelvey slammed the government's approach as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"The overall impact of the legislation on a process of collective bargaining rises to the level of substantial interference," she said.
"The legislation circumvents and compresses the leverage or bargaining power available and inhibits the unions's ability to trade off monetary benefits for non-monetary enhancements."
Unions argued the legislation hung over collective bargaining negotiations for years. Some employee groups, including the Manitoba Nurses Union, have been working without a contract for years.
"Despite the fact that it has not been proclaimed," McKelvey wrote, the bill's "effectively in force" in Manitoba.
She adds the 21 agreements settled since the bill's introduction were "negotiated under duress."
The Manitoba Federation of Labour applauded the ruling.
"The courts today have upheld the position that we took, and that's one that this was an unconstitutional law that this government moved on," MFL president Kevin Rebeck said.
"Our legal team did a tremendous job and Manitoba's unions didn't blink once when we saw workers' rights were being trampled on."
The MFL, along with the other 28 unions involved in the legal fight, maintained the province was interfering with their right to collective bargaining.
The Canadian Union of Public Employees said it would act swiftly to negotiate new agreements for thousands of workers who have gone without a contract for years.
"Brian Pallister has been pushing ideological cuts to public services and attempted to do so by violating our constitutional right to bargain collective agreements," said Abe Araya, president of CUPE Manitoba, in a news release.
"Pallister lost in court today, but the fight against his austerity agenda isn't over."
The province will carefully review the decision and may consider appealing the ruling."The legislation had never been proclaimed into law and was in the process of being amended. So, as before, regular labour relations and collective bargaining will continue," it said in a statement.
The ruling will add "even deeper fiscal challenges" for the province, which is already dealing with the financial hit of the COVID-19 pandemic, the email said.
Many of you have expressed a desire to write to your local MLA to make your voice heard regarding a potential reopening of school in August, the possibility of a loss of PD days, as well as a multitude of other issues pertaining to the reopening of schools in the fall.
If you would like to voice your opinion on these issues, you can email your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA).
Here are some excellent tips that you should consider in writing your letter:
Use this simple structure.
1. Introduce yourself. A simple phrase such as “I have spent the last 20 years teaching at Gillis School” creates a mental image that brings you and your point alive.
2. Establish yourself as a constituent. It is most effective if you are a voter in their constituency so establish yourself as a constituent when writing to your MLA. “I have lived in your constituency for X number of years.
3. Voice your concerns, thoughts, or ask your questions.
Make it personal. Use phrases like
In my experience…
I have seen…
Be respectful. They are more likely to listen to your point if it is not accompanied by abuse. This is not an opportunity to vent.
Be concise. It’s best to write about only one issue at a time. HOWEVER, since all of these issues are somewhat connected you can write about more than one issue, but keep each issue to one paragraph. Sometimes less is more.
Clearly state your point/concern early in the letter. “I am concerned that an August 31 re-entry, the repurposing of Professional Development Days (etc.) will negatively impact our public education system, students, families, local businesses (whatever is most appropriate to your concern).
Request that a particular action be taken. When writing to a politician, always have a solution to the problem. In this case, “I urge you to leave the 2020-21 start date of classes after Labour Day, leave our PD and Admin days for schools to use in a way that we determine best to meet the needs of our students”
Aim for the public interest. Explain why you think your request will benefit the public as a whole, not simply you and your friends or colleagues.
Get the facts right. You do not have to have all of the facts (much less recite them all), but the ones you put in your letter must be correct. Do not let the fact that you are not an expert prevent you from voicing your opinion.
Express yourself naturally. Remember that this is you expressing what is on your mind. You do not have to sound like a professional speech-writer.
Ask for a reply. The best closing sentence is “I look forward to hearing from you”. As a rule, letters sent via mail will receive a response within 30 days.
Consider if you should send a copy of the letter to anyone else. If writing to your MLA, consider sending a copy to the Minister of Education, or the Premier.
The Louis Riel arbitration board recently issued a unanimous award to the Louis Riel Teachers’ Association. The outcome of the award is as follows:
The Manitoba government will increase funding for public schools by more than $6.6 million for the 2020-21 school year to a record total of $1.33 billion, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen announced today.
Manitoba has the third-highest spending per student in Canada at $14,733, after Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.
“This investment in our public schools demonstrates our government’s commitment to students’ success,” said Goertzen. “This funding is the most ever committed to public schools in Manitoba’s history. Since 2016, funding to elementary and secondary education has grown by nearly $33 million.”
The funding comes in addition to the province’s guarantee to build 20 new schools during the next decade. Two new schools in Winkler and Niverville have been completed and are in use by students. Three new elementary schools in Brandon and Winnipeg are under construction and will open later this year. An additional two new schools in Waverley West are being designed and are scheduled to begin construction before the end of this year, the minister said. In addition, school expansions are happening across the province with openings this week in Neepawa and La Salle.
The cost of these 20 new schools is approximately $500 million, Goertzen said.
The province will also continue to ensure all school divisions receive no less than 98 per cent of the operating funding they received a year earlier.
“Like all levels of government, school divisions need to make choices and carefully prioritize spending decisions,” said Goertzen.
School division administration expenses topped $65 million in 2018-19. To increase transparency, the Department of Education has released an out-of-province travel summary for school divisions. This disclosure of travel expenses is similar to what is in use for Manitoba members of the legislative assembly and cabinet ministers. A list of school divisions' out-of-province travel expenses can be found at www.edu.gov.mb.ca/k12/finance/sd-opt/index.html.
The minister noted that school divisions currently have an accumulated operating surplus in excess of $98,000,000.
School divisions, as well, raise revenue through local education property taxes. The minister is again requesting that school divisions limit increases to education property taxes to a maximum of two per cent for the 2020-21 school year.
The government looks forward to receiving the final report of the Commission on Kindergarten to Grade 12 Education, which has an expected public release at the end of March. The commission is leading a comprehensive and independent review of Manitoba’s entire public elementary and secondary education system.
Woodlawn and Southwood Elementary School have officially diverged from the traditional structure of a school day.
Where most schools operate with a lunch break and two short recesses, Woodlawn and Southwood have been operating on two 25-minute nutrition and activity breaks instead. The concept is called a “Balanced School Day” and has been a two-year-long pilot project. The result? Considerable.
Danielle Funk serves on the Hanover School Board as the Chair of the Education Committee. She is also a mother of students affected by this new program. Both roles, she says, have given her a favorable first impression.
From what she has heard from teachers, the three longer blocks of learning afforded by the Balanced School Day principles has increased student attentiveness and decreased restlessness.
“In my kids, I’ve noticed a change in behavior after school,” offers Funk, “and they are less tired and less hungry.”
Funk says most of her fellow parents have noticed a similar shift in attitude.
“I would say it has been very successful. I’m sure there a few people who have some difficulty with it, but overall it has been very well-received."
Considering this success, the schools have asked the HSD Board to permit them to continue with their Balanced School Days indefinitely.
The board unanimously approved the request.
Funk says there is no word yet on whether or not other schools in the division are interested in adopting a similar procedure.