An open letter to MFL Affiliates
Sisters and Brothers,
The Pallister government has introduced Bill 20 – The Employment Standards Code Amendment Act. The bill includes a number of proposed changes to the Employment Standards Code, some of which our movement supports (and are overdue), but many which we oppose.
Given the seriousness of these issues, and the potential negative impacts for working families, I want to provide some background on the bill and explain why we are concerned about the precedent it sets in terms of rejecting recommendations that have been made jointly by labour and employers together, through a long-standing formal process.
As many of you know, the Labour Management Review Committee (LMRC) has existed for several decades, serving as a forum for labour and employer representatives to work through complicated and often divisive issues. Over many years, LMRC has provided good advice to successive governments of different political stripes, who have seen the value of building consensus between labour and employers.
When government identifies an issue and sends it to LMRC to be reviewed, we do our best to find a constructive path forward that both labour and employers can agree on, and when consensus is reached on an issue, the provincial government has always accepted our advice and moved forward – that is, until now.
For the first time that anyone can remember, the Pallister government has rejected consensus recommendations of LMRC – on not only one, but three important issues - and pushed ahead with its own ideologically-driven agenda, without support from anyone.
The first shoe to drop involved the legislated minimum wage for security guards. Last fall, security guards were caught off guard when the Pallister government decided to freeze their pay, just days before a legislated pay increase was to take effect. The government claimed it wanted to hear from LMRC first. But, when LMRC reported back with consensus advice to reinstate the security guard wage scale, the Pallister government said no. It was clear they had made up their minds from start.
Now, the Pallister government has introduced Bill 20. On the positive side, the bill finally moves Manitoba in line with the federal government’s 2017 changes to parental leave and critical illness leave, allowing working parents can take time away from work to care for their children and critically ill family members. These moves are strongly supported by LMRC. It is ironic that the Pallister government is finally moving ahead on parental leave, when they voted down an Opposition bill last fall that would have made the same changes sooner.
On the negative side, Bill 20 includes two proposed changes that fly in the face of advice from LMRC:
- LMRC had recommended setting the safe minimum age for children to obtain employment permits at 14 years old, as it is in both Ontario and Saskatchewan. This advice was given after careful consideration of the hazards that face young workers on the job, and the prevention strategies and techniques for keeping them safe. Instead of heeding the joint advice of labour and employers, the Pallister government is legislating a complex and potentially dangerous scheme designed to allow children as young as 13-year-olds to obtain employment permits. No government should roll the dice with the safety of our children.
- Bill 20 also gives extraordinary new powers to the Director of Employment Standards to refuse to allow workers to make an Employment Standards claim, violating their basic right to due process. This proposal was put to LMRC for review, and flatly rejected. But the Pallister government is moving forward just the same.
These proposals are extremely worrisome in and of their own right, and even more so because government is refusing to listen to consensus advice from experienced labour and employer representatives – advice that they specifically asked for.
If Brian Pallister isn’t listening to labour, and he isn’t listening to business, then who is he listening to?
In addition to moving ahead on these areas against LMRC’s advice, Bill 20 also includes a number of proposals that government had more recently sent to LMRC to be reviewed, which we were still in the process of working through and making recommendations on. We have a number of questions and concerns about these proposals too – and the government still hasn’t provided any answers:
- New powers for employers to be able to force employees to work for weeks at a time, without days off, and without a fair say.
- Banning unionized employees from raising complaints through the Employment Standards process, which they have always been allowed to do.
While we are pleased that after months of delay, the Pallister government is finally prepared to take the steps necessary to enable the federal government’s 2017 changes to parental leave and critical illness leave – areas which the LMRC has unanimously endorsed – it is deeply troubling that the government would lump these positive changes for working families in with other changes which go completely against what the business and labour community think is in the best interest of Manitobans.
If government were sincere about making the overdue changes to parental leave and critical illness leave, they would bring forward these changes as a standalone bill, rather than as part of Harper-style, take it or leave it, omnibus bill. As it stands, we believe that the parental leave and critical illness leave provisions should be placed into their own piece of legislation. Enhancing supports to working families by extending leave to take care of newborns or critically ill loved ones should not be dangled as a carrot to support a bill which otherwise disregards the needs of working people in Manitoba.
All of us will have an opportunity to speak to this bill later this spring when it moves to Public Committee Hearings, and we can assure you that the MFL will be there to raise labour’s voice. We will keep you posted on developments with this bill, and we encourage interested affiliates to register speakers when the time comes.
Manitoba Federation of Labour