Union wins court battle against Manitoba government

WINNIPEG — The union, which represents government civil servants, has won a court battle against the Government of Manitoba.

On Thursday, the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union (MGEU) announced that the Court of Appeal confirmed the union has a right to an arbitration board to determine the terms and conditions of the next collective agreement.

“We won the court case, they appealed it. We won the appeal,” said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the MGEU.

“Now all we want is to get in front of an arbitrator and let him, her, them making a ruling for what is fair and just for the workers of Manitoba.”

The MGEU’s collective agreement expired in March 2019, and negotiations began the following month.

The MGEU said from the beginning it needed to know if there was a possibility to negotiate wage increases that exceeded the wage freezes and caps set out in Bill 28.

“We went to the bargaining table, we asked if the government was going to be willing to negotiate wages or anything outside of Bill 28, and they didn’t give an answer to that,” Gawronsky said.

“What the government representative made very clear to us, that if we started bargaining and we hit an impasse and decided to exercise our right under the Civil Service Act and apply for arbitration, that the government wouldn’t recognize anything we agreed to at the bargaining table.”

In the summer of 2019, the MGEU filed for arbitration. However, the union said the province didn’t agree with the request, saying it was premature.

The union then took the matter to court, with the Court of Queen’s Bench ordering the province to appoint an interest arbitration board. The Manitoba government appealed this court decision, but the court ruled the arbitration board should be appointed.

“It’s very clear that legally MGEU and the civil service workers of this province have the right to go to arbitration to have a third party actually sit down, hear the proposals and what is there, and to make and to make a just and fair decision for the rights of the workers in the province of Manitoba.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for the Pallister government said it respects the Court of Appeal’s “statutory interpretation decision.”

“This whole case was about government’s view that the parties should actually try to make reasonable efforts to resolve the issues directly through collective bargaining before going to arbitration,” it said.

The province added that it continues to “be open to the certainty of a bargaining approach, but the situation will move forward in any event, and government and the MGEU agreed last year on an arbitration panel for that purpose.”

The MGEU said this court decision impacts those who work for the Manitoba government, including anyone who works in health care within the civil service, corrections officers, highway workers and conservation officers.

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