Home » The Canadian Press » Manitoba Plans to End Restriction on Labour Agreements for Big Projects

Manitoba Plans to End Restriction on Labour Agreements for Big Projects

March 6, 2024 5:17 PM | The Canadian Press

By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

Manitoba Legislative Building

The Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government is planning to lift a ban on project labour agreements — deals that require non-unionized workers on large projects to be governed by the same rules and benefits as their unionized counterparts.

Labour Minister Maya Marcelino introduced a bill Wednesday that would, if passed, repeal a ban enacted by the former Progressive Conservative government.

“It’s going to mean that we’re going to be able to have major projects done on time and within budget,” she said.

But the Opposition Tories said the move by the NDP government would drive up costs, in part by dissuading non-union companies from bidding for work.

“I think the best bang for the dollars that Manitobans can ask for is to get as many businesses or contractors bidding on these jobs,” interim Tory leader Wayne Ewasko said.

Project labour agreements set out terms and conditions for a wide array of workers, some represented by different unions, on large-scale projects. The aim is to set wages, benefits and other items while forbidding any strike or lockout for the duration of the project. Workers, even non-union ones, pay dues and are covered by the same rules as unionized ones.

The dispute over project labour agreements came to the fore in Manitoba during the $628-million expansion of the Red River Floodway, which protects Winnipeg from rising water.

The Tories accused the NDP government of the day of driving up costs through what they called “forced unionization.” The NDP said the agreement on that project ensured no work stoppages and a firm timeline.

After the Tories won the 2016 election, they banned project labour agreements. Marcelino said Manitoba isthe only province with such a ban.

Merit Contractors Association, which represents open-shop firms, said it was not pleased with the NDP government’s move.

“It means increased costs to their company, it means increased costs to the taxpayers … and less competition,” said Yvette Milner, the group’s president.

The NDP promised in last year’s election campaign to be more friendly to labour than the Tories, who had also frozen public-sector wages and cut positions in the civil service.

The NDP has hinted other labour bills will come this spring, including one that could ban the use of replacement workers during strikes and lockouts, similar to laws in British Columbia and Quebec.

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