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Government, Labour

Manitoba labour advocate, Opposition square off on delayed PLA legislation

Warren Frey
Manitoba labour advocate, Opposition square off on delayed PLA legislation

A strategic move by Manitoba’s Opposition party causing legislative delays on several bills has raised the hackles of the province’s labour leader.

Manitoba legislature rules allow the Opposition to pick as many as five bills each spring to push back voting until the fall.

Among the bills chosen by the Progressive Conservatives is a proposed extension of paid leave for injured or ill workers up to 27 weeks from 17 weeks and a lifting of the ban imposed by the previous government on project labour agreements (PLA).

The other proposed bills are not related to construction.

Manitoba Federation of Labour president Kevin Rebeck voiced his concern over the delay of the PLA legislation.

The previous Progressive Conservative government banned the use of PLAs on public projects and the current NDP government is looking to reinstate the practice of requiring non-unionized workers to be under the same regulations and benefits as unionized workers on the same projects.

“All large contracts (in the province) have a union and non-union mix. In Manitoba there’s a long history of these projects working on time and under budget,” he said.

“PLAs don’t let businesses compete in a race to the bottom.”

Manitoba Opposition Labour Critic Jodie Byram said she has heard concerns about the plan to re-implement PLAs “since the first day the NDP introduced the bill. We had phone calls coming in with industries concerned (as to) what this will do with business in Manitoba.

“These industries don’t want to pay union dues and (PLAs) inhibit the ability to work on union jobs, inhibit tendering ability and drive up costs for projects in Manitoba,” she said. “Many of these contractors and businesses have great wages and benefit packages and are legislated to maintain great levels of safety as well.”

She added the NDP government did not substantially consult with businesses and industry about PLAs before proposing the legislation.

“I’m not sure they’re getting the input they need. Consultation is an important part of this. Go outside unions and talk to people,” Byram said.

Rebeck also stated delaying the leave extension legislation will have an adverse effect on Manitoba workers already under stress.

“It makes people fearful at a time they’re already vulnerable, unhealthy, worried about their health, stressed about their job and may come back to work sooner in order to keep it. They might end up losing their jobs and look for new work. Those are all things that are unfair,” Rebeck said.

“These are really sick people on unemployment insurance (EI) benefits. Sometimes EI recognizes you have to be off work longer, and the Conservatives seem to be against people having a job to get back to,” he added.

Byram said the NDP also failed to consult on the leave bill.

“The minister (Malaya Marcelino, Manitoba minister of labour and immigration) has a duty to consult and I’m not sure she’s done proper consultation on this front,” Byram said.

“There will be impacts to businesses whether small, medium or large. They don’t seek the input from those organizations. We’re seeing a labour shortage here, not just in Manitoba, but across the country and when you have extended work periods that impacts the workforce.”

The delay will push voting on the bills until the fall, though since the NDP has a majority with 34 of the 57 seats in the Legislature it is unlikely they will not pass.

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