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Five governments that have imposed contracts on their workers

By Pieta Woolley

Say you’re a provincial labour minister. Your voter base is aging, transient and impoverished. Your big industries are threatening to close up shop or leave altogether if they don’t receive tax breaks. So the pressure is on, and you don’t raise taxes for any reason whatsoever. And you’ve come up with another strategy: push down payrolls for your teachers, nurses and civil service unions.

After all, provincial public sector employees earn more than 20 percent more than their counterparts in similar private sector jobs, if you include benefits. In the Maritime provinces, they’re ahead by nearly 30 percent.

So maybe you can count on voter support for dragging those wages back down to reality and refusing to negotiate with civil servants. That’s the gamble several provincial governments have made in recent years. Of course, how it’ll play out at the polls is a crapshoot. But we do know that for many families, a public-sector job represents a stable, full-time, benefit-paying life raft in a sea of otherwise temporary, contract and benefit-free gigs.   

Here are five provincial governments that have recently taken that union-crushing, middle-class-slaying gamble by imposing contracts on their workers.

1. Nova Scotia, 2017 — right now!

The union: Nova Scotia Teachers Union

What’s at stake: A two-year wage freeze followed by one-percent and 1.5-percent raises in the following years. Bill 75 will also limit teachers’ ability to work-to-rule. Teachers also note that this negotiation is about “conditions in schools,” such as overcrowding and understaffing caused by underfunding. 

What happened: After collective bargaining broke down, the province introduced Bill 75, which imposes a contract without bargaining.

Re-elected? Too early to tell. Nova Scotia doesn’t have fixed dates, so the next election could be as late as November 2018.

2.  Alberta, 2014

The union: Alberta Union of Public Employees, representing prison guards, social workers and more.

What’s at stake: The province has already wrote laws that ban strike action; this imposed contract offered a virtual wage freeze and removed the union’s right to ask for binding arbitration during negotiations.

What happened: A judge granted an injunction against the imposed contract and said that “the effect of the legislation is to emasculate the AUPE.”

Re-elected? Nope. There was a shocking upset in 2015, when the NDP took the Alberta government for the first time.

3. British Columbia, 2014

The union: B.C. Teachers Federation

What’s at stake: In 2002, the newly elected Liberal government imposed a contract and stripped teachers’ bargaining power over class size and composition. Several battles ensued over the years, culminating in a three-week strike in September 2014.

What happened: In 2016, a Supreme Court ruling forced class size and composition back into the negotiated contract, and made the government hire about 1,000 new teachers.

Re-elected? Yup, in 2005, 2009 and 2013. The next election is in May 2017.

4. Ontario, 2012

The unions: The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario and the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation

What’s at stake: In 2012, the province froze wages and limited teachers’ ability to strike under an imposed contract. That deal expired, and a new round of bargaining ended in 2014. That contract has since been extended to 2018 in order to avoid contract negotiations before Ontarians go to the polls.  

What happened: Unions took the government to court over the imposed settlement and won.

Re-elected? Yes, but the Liberal’s Dalton McGuinty gave way to the fresh face of Kathleen Wynne in 2014.

5. Manitoba, 2016 and 2017

The unions: Manitoba’s public sector unions

What’s at stake: In 2016, the province switched from an NDP to a Conservative government. Newly elected Premier Brian Pallister announced late last year that he’s planning to re-open public sector collective agreements and impose wage freezes in order to address the province’s significant deficit.

What happened: This spring, legislation is expected to tie contracts to “what the province can afford.”

Re-elected? Pallister has another four years to make his case before facing voters.   

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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