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The Brandon University Faculty Association said the laws governing public-sector contract negotiations hampered their ability to negotiate during recent contract talks with the university.
That might be part of the reason why only 85 per cent of participating faculty members voted in favour of the new contract, the lowest margin of victory for a ratification vote at the institution since 2005.
The Public Services Sustainability Act, passed during the Pallister government in 2017, strictly defines wage increases for government employees during a four-year "sustainability period," including two years of wage freezes.
Under this act, public employees are limited to raises of zero per cent, zero per cent, 0.75 per cent and one per cent over four years, respectively. The contract ratified last week by the BU board of governors matches those totals.
"While we attempted to offer creative solutions to mitigate the damage to our university caused by this legislation, we met with little success," said BUFA lead negotiator Jon-Tomas Godin in a release.
In the same release, BUFA president Bryan Hill said the ballot distributed to faculty for voting on the recently ratified contract outlined that the collective agreement was not freely bargained.
Since wage increases were strictly regulated, changes to the CBA involved clarifications to existing language and elements from previous rounds of bargaining, such as the adoption of a 15-credit-hour work week.
The faculty association is part of a lawsuit made up of public sector unions challenging the constitutionality of the act.
According to Hill, the new contract contains a clause under which either side may reopen negotiations should the act be repealed by the government or declared unconstitutional by the courts.
In relation to that lawsuit, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister hinted at a possible olive branch to public-sector unions on Friday.
Pallister’s Progressive Conservative government is to introduce amendments to the province’s wage-freeze bill in the legislature on Monday.
He would not reveal details Friday, but said the changes will address at least some of the concerns expressed by unions.
"We’ve been listening, meeting with public-service representatives," Pallister said. "These amendments ... will illustrate very sincerely that we’ve heard some of the concerns that they’ve expressed."
Pallister indicated the changes will not likely include the government backing off the wage freeze itself. "The wage issue isn’t the only issue that we can (be) negotiating on and bargaining on, so I’ll just say that."
The bill has never been proclaimed into law, but public-sector unions said government negotiators were treating it as if it had been and were refusing to budge on wages.
More than a dozen unions representing 110,000 government workers, nurses, teachers and others across the public sector filed the court challenge in 2017. They argue the bill violates their charter right to collective bargaining.
The court case is to start next month.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour appeared unmoved by Pallister’s comments Friday.
"Manitoba’s public-sector workers deserve to have their rights respected, not undermined through heavy-handed legislation by the Pallister government," federation president Kevin Rebeck said in a written statement.
"We continue to call on the government to repeal this unconstitutional law and begin meaningful public-sector bargaining."
When asked for voter-turnout numbers within the BUFA, Tobin told the Sun he did not have statistics readily available.
An employee at the faculty association’s office said the full text of the contract would be made available in approximately one week.
» email@example.com, with files from The Canadian Press
» Twitter: @ColinSlark