Bill to cut bargaining units gives commissioner sweeping powers

Excerpts from CBC Manitoba. To learn more, read the whole story here.

Depending on your vantage point, Bill 29 is either the path to better patient care through reduced bureaucracy or the first step in pitting union against union by way of a commissioner with unprecedented power to change the role of labour in health care.

The Progressive Conservative government's drive to cut the number of bargaining units in health care as prescribed in the Health Sector Bargaining Act heads to a legislative committee Monday night.

Bill 29 cuts the number of bargaining units from 183 to seven. That, in turn, substantially reduces the number of collective agreements or contracts with employees.

From Bill 29:

  • "The commissioner has exclusive jurisdiction to inquire into and make decisions and orders about all matters and questions arising under this Act."
  •  A decision or order of the commissioner may amend or rescind a decision or order of the Labour Board.
  • The decisions and orders of the Commissioner are final, binding on the parties and are not subject to appeal or judicial review.
  • The commissioner and any person acting on his or her behalf may not be compelled to give evidence in a court or in any other proceeding in respect of information that they have become aware of in the exercise of their powers under this Act.

Bill 29 would allow the government to appoint a commissioner with a wide swath of powers to cut down the number of bargaining units.

The commissioner will be allowed to determine which employees get to vote and establish the procedures for voting; supersede Manitoba's Labour Board; and would not be accountable to legal challenges.

Marc Lafond, the business manager for Operating Engineers Local 987, said forcing his members to negotiate with thousands of other staff under a broad category called "facility support" does not reflect their skills or education background.

"They are going to be lumping the maintenance and trade workers with health care support. From our perspective, they are two separate sectors that are unique and distinct and they don't have commonality," Lafond said.

Many of Lafond's members are tradespeople who repair and maintain building systems and complicated medical equipment.

"They are different in the fact they have qualifications and credentials. A lot of them are journeypeople. These days a journeyperson's status is almost equivalent to a degree at university; they spend four years [getting their papers]," Lafond said.