PIPSC Submission on Manitoba’s Bill 28: The Public Services Sustainability Act
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada is Canada’s largest union representing professionals. Institute members work in the Government of Manitoba in the health care and engineering professions. Our members are directly affected by Bill 28 – The Public Services Sustainability Act. It is our contention that this Act is an unwarranted attack on public services and the professionals that deliver them.
Provincial and federal governments in Canada have a long and controversial history of resorting to legislation to impose wage restraints on their employees and to restrict their collective bargaining rights. The proposed Public Services Sustainability Act (Bill 28) is a particularly egregious example of this sort of legislation. It violates both the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (“the Charter”) and Canada’s international obligations, without reasonable justification.
The law around freedom of association and its application to collective bargaining rights has evolved greatly over the past decade. The Supreme Court of Canada has made it clear that the process of collective bargaining is protected by the Charter. Bill 28 substantially interferes with the process of meaningful collective bargaining and, as such, infringes on the associational freedom protected by s. 2d of the Charter.
The Professional Institute urges the Committee to carefully reconsider this proposed legislation in light of the constitutional principles laid down by the Supreme Court of Canada and applied by other courts.
In Budget 2017, the Government of Manitoba reduced spending, services and taxes. This is not an approach upon which governments can build public services that are sustainable, effective and of high quality. The combination of cuts to the tuition fee income tax rebate and limits on salaries of professional staff in the public service will create a drag on the economy in the long run and create less incentive for highly skilled professionals to stay in the province and work in the provincial government.
The government had options other than to freeze wages in Bill 28. As one commentator noted,
“There is no discussion in the three-year forecast about potential revenue sources. We know that carbon pricing is imminent; that will bring hundreds of millions of dollars into the public purse. Once Marijuana is legalized it is estimated that the Province will collect $25 million / year and it still has $500 million owing from the federal government for disaster assistance.”1
Accounting for these sources of revenue could have allowed the government to paint a much rosier picture of public accounts. However, they chose to leave them out. Instead of creating a plan for the future, the government chose to use the budget as a tool to drive an agenda of austerity.
As a member of the International Labour Organization (“ILO”), Canada has committed itself to respect and promote the fundamental principles in ILO Conventions. The Supreme Court of Canada has pointed out that Canada’s adherence to international labour conventions has important legal significance. The fundamental principles set out in ILO Conventions are consistent with and support Charter protection of collective bargaining.
In 1998, the ILO adopted the Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. The Declaration contains the core principles of the ILO, and commits all members of the ILO, including Canada, to the protection and promotion of these principles. The Declaration states that all Members of the ILO, whether or not they have ratified ILO Conventions, have an obligation to provide effective recognition to the right to engage in collective bargaining.
ILO Conventions 87 (Freedom of Association) and 98 (Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining) form an integral part of the core ILO principles and must be respected by member states. ILO Convention 151 protects the right of public sector employees to engage in collective bargaining and provides in Article 8 that:
“The settlement of disputes arising in connection with the determination of terms and conditions of employment shall be sought, as may be appropriate to national conditions, through negotiation between the parties or through independent and impartial machinery, such as mediation, conciliation and arbitration, established in such a manner as to ensure the confidence of the parties involved”.
Bill 28 does not meet this standard, it is a one sided approach to a problem manufactured by the Government and its approach in Budget 2017. Several previous rounds of wage restraint legislation have been the subject of complaints to the ILO. The ILO has consistently concluded that Canada was in violation of international labour conventions.2 In ILO Case No. 1800 the ILO stated:
“The Committee profoundly regrets that yet again the Government has not given preference to collective bargaining to determine the pay conditions of these employees, through which the objectives recognized as being in the general interests of the country could have been extensively discussed and understood by all parties, but that instead it opted for a measure which deprives workers of a fundamental right and of a means of defending and promoting their economic and social interests”.
There cannot be a clearer statement that wage restraint legislation such as that imposed by Bill 28 contravenes some of the most basic principles to which Canada is committed internationally. The Government of Manitoba still has a chance to withdraw this legislation and pursue a course consistent with the country’s international commitments.
1Lynne Fernandez, “Budget 2017” published April 28, 2017. Available online at http://policyfix.ca/2017/04/28/budget-2017/
2See, in particular, ILO Case Numbers 1859, 1800, 1758, and 1616