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NDP gets deal it wanted with MPI employees

THE Selinger government got what it wanted in a new four-year collective agreement for about 1,700 workers at Manitoba Public Insurance.

They've accepted a wage freeze in the first two years and a 2.75 per cent increase in both years three and four. The new agreement, effective Sept. 23, 2012, was ratified Wednesday night.

The deal brings MPI into the fold of public-sector unions who've had to accept two years of wage freezes as the NDP wrestles down its deficit. MPI employees will see 2.75 per cent wage increases in October 2014 and in October 2015.

"The government was imposing zeros for two years across the board almost for all of bargaining everywhere across the province," Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (MGEU) president Michelle Gawronsky said.

In lieu of pay increases in the first two years, Gawronsky said workers will get an annual $300 health and well-being account for fitness-related expenses such as a gym membership or to buy home workout equipment. The benefit is effective Jan. 1, 2015.

She also said the long-term disability benefits cap was doubled from $2,700 to $5,500 a month and there was an increase of $100 to employees' health spending account effective Oct. 1, 2014. Employees will also see expanded family leave and bereavement leave, more equitable overtime and an earlier date for vacation selection.

MPI employees who work downtown will see a $50-per-month downtown allowance effective Oct. 1, 2014 to assist them in parking and other costs.

Finance Minister Stan Struthers has made no secret the government intended to negotiate pay freezes with all public-sector employees who've escaped them over the past three years.

The province saved about $120 million in 2010 and 2011 by negotiating wage freezes with tens of thousands of other provincial employees. This included the more than 13,000 provincial civil servants covered by the government employees master agreement and the 14,000 members of the Manitoba Nurses Union. The province also won a freeze on doctors' fees for two years.

Meanwhile, the contracts of thousands of hospital support workers -- health-care aides, tradespeople, and laundry, housekeeping, dieticians and clerical staff -- remain in limbo. Bargaining was put on hold when the province amalgamated regional health authorities from 11 to five last spring. The Manitoba Labour Board has been holding votes in each of the newly merged health regions to determine which union will represent workers: the MGEU, the Canadian Union of Public Employees or the Manitoba Association of Health Care Professionals. The last vote was on Thursday.

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