Let’s start off with a recap – why are we here?
What we know generally, and are about find out more in very great legal detail, is that the Public Services Sustainability Act freezes the wages of employees in the public sector in Manitoba. Most of these people are represented by public sector unions, who object to this as an unconstitutional interference with the collective bargaining process, where negotiations over wages and benefits are almost always the main events.
The Government of Manitoba claims that the wage constraints are necessary “to protect the sustainability of public services” in accordance with the principles of “responsible fiscal management.” In other words, if Manitobans are going to be able to continue to receive the same level of public services they expect, the government won’t have enough money to keep providing those services, unless they are able to cut back on the costs of public labour.
Hmmm. Well I suppose, that may be true, but it does of course depend on what other fiscal choices are being made. Not to second-guess the experts in the Ministry of Finance, but, as a matter of public policy, and the public interest, if you are going to cut, freeze, or limit the income of 123,000 people (about 20% of the workforce), and you are claiming that it’s because we, the people of Manitoba, need it, I’d like to see some clear and compelling reasons to justify forcing just this one group of people to make this kind of sacrifice for the benefit of us all.
The Manitoba Federation of Labour and the public sector unions say that the PSSA is unconstitutional because governments cannot legislate their collective bargaining rights away. Apparently, the Supreme Court of Canada agrees with them, but we will find out what the Government of Manitoba has to say about that. There has to be something. That’s why there’s a trial.