WINNIPEG – The first of many meetings between labour leaders and the government featured few specifics and left union heads with more questions than answers.
Finance Minister Cameron Friesen met with the heads of many labour unions for about an hour at the Legislature Thursday morning.
Premier Brian Pallister has said that he wants to reduce the number of collective bargaining units in the province, and Friesen made clear that some sort of legislation is coming in the spring.
“The real backdrop of this is the pressure that is on the province to get our fiscal house in order. We know that the time is now. There is a real immediacy to this. I would say on that point, there was some disagreement. We believe that all the facts line up.”
Friesen was insistent that the government does not have its mind made up on the contents of this legislation, and that they are sincere in wanting input from the unions.
Kevin Rebeck of the Manitoba Federation of Labour is not a big fan of legislation, calling it a heavy-handed approach, and is also curious about the urgency the government is showing.
“If we have a commitment to Manitobans that in eight years we will bring things back to balance, what’s the rush here to work on legislation? I’m not entirely thrilled with the answer, but they want to explore things and get the work started, meeting and talking with us, and that they weren’t ruling out options.”
Some of those options could include wage freezes or reopening contracts. Rebeck says he asked Friesen about these and was not given a direct answer.
Speaking on behalf of the labour leaders in attendance, Rebeck also found it challenging that the Premier was not present.
“The Premier is out there giving one message and then, a month later, we’re meeting with another to talk about issues. We’ve asked, for future meetings, if the Premier could be part of those discussions. There wasn’t a firm answer on whether that would happen or not.”
Friesen says that the government will have something more concrete to show union leaders in the coming weeks.