Winnipeg Sun: Critics say reduction of health-care bargaining units 'a waste of money, time'

May 10, 2018

The Manitoba government will greatly reduce the province’s number of health-care bargaining units, a move one union alleges will interfere with workers’ rights.

And while government says the process will streamline and simplify labour negotiations, critics argue it’s a waste of time and money.

Bill 29, the Health Sector Bargaining Unit Review Act, has now been proclaimed into law, government confirmed Thursday. The legislation aims to reduce the 182 health-care bargaining units in Manitoba to less than 50.

Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said that will trigger both negotiating and operating savings, while making the system easier to manage.

“When you’re trying to operate a health-care system and properly schedule and properly manage and co-ordinate a system, having 180 bargaining units doesn’t allow that to happen,” he said.

Goertzen said too many collective agreements mean employees working similar jobs operate under different rules, which complicates management’s ability to schedule staff to meet patient needs.

Goertzen said the forced mergers of bargaining units will cost up to $250,000 and take up to 18 months to complete. But he insists there’s “no question” government will be able to save enough money to compensate for that expense in the long run.

The legislation calls for the province’s five regional health authorities, as well as additional health agencies, to offer up to seven bargaining units each. These would group workers in the following categories together: nurses; physicians; medical residents; physician assistants and clinical assistants; professional/technical/paramedical staff; facility support staff; and community support staff.

Robert Pruden, a previous chief labour negotiator, has been appointed as the commissioner to oversee the restructuring. He’ll be responsible for conducting secret ballot votes of employees on which bargaining units should remain.

But at least two unions quickly opposed the changes, arguing government resources would be better spent improving front-line health services.

“Every dollar and every moment that we put into this reshuffling process could and should be put into protecting and improving patient care,” said Michelle Gawronsky, president of the Manitoba Government and General Employees’ Union.

Gawronsky argued the changes aren’t needed because several contracts are already united under bargaining councils that were created to standardize wages.

“I don’t see how this is going to be an improvement anywhere,” she said.

The Canadian Union of Public Employees said it’s seeking legal advice on the legislation, based on a concern it violates workers’ freedom of association rights.

“We would continue to get good legal advice on what our options are … as we see how this is going to be implemented,” said Lee McLeod, CUPE’s regional director.

But Goertzen said he’s confident the process respects such rights and would survive a court challenge.

“(Workers will) have a free vote, a secret ballot … I believe that (right) is being protected,” he said.
Manitoba’s NDP opposition argued the creation of larger unions also risks greater service disruptions during labour disputes.

“Imagine how disruptive it’ll be if one big union with 1,000 workers or 2,000 workers or 5,000 workers goes on strike,” said Tom Lindsey, the party’s labour critic.

jpursaga@postmedia.com


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