Liberal threat to broader public sector remains vague

Last week Dalton McGuinty hinted that he would bring in legislation affecting collective bargaining across the public sector and now the Globe and Mail reports the government "plans to introduce legislation that would freeze wages for all workers who bargain collectively in the public sector."

The government has been reasonably clear that it will legislate if its goals are not met in a given round of collective bargaining, but now they are edging into the idea that the legislation will be across the broader public sector, not just legislation for specific bargaining groups.  

“My sense is we’ll be talking about something that is more holistic in nature, more across the board,” McGuinty said. 

Broader based legislation attacking collective bargaining has long been advocated by Tim Hudak and the PCs.  But up until now, the Liberals have shied away from this, possibly out of concern that such legislation will fall afoul of the constitution.  The advantage of broader based legislation for the Liberals and the PCs is that it will allow them to move pass this ugly period more quickly and give workers fewer opportunities to organize and fight back.

McGuinty however is not yet ruling out more negotiations. 

Finance Minister Dwight Duncan added, "the government will not attempt to re-open any agreements, but employees may be forced to forego future wage increases... If somebody in an agreement didn’t follow the government’s instructions in my July letter, we may not make it retroactive but we may make it apply to the next round of bargaining.”

“We have to be fair,” Mr. Duncan said. “We have to treat people equally across the broader public sectors."

It's not clear if the government will try to impose concessions comparable to those imposed on school board workers, or if it will look to other freely negotiated provincial settlements.  

(The government has tried to label the contract concessions it is imposing on school board workers a 'wage freeze' and the business-owned media has often gone along with that framing of the concessions, so a Liberal / PC 'wage freeze' may well mean concessions.)

For her part, NDP leader Andrea Horwath told the Globe, “Mere weeks ago the government denounced a Conservative plan for an ‘unconstitutional wage scheme’ that would ‘cost families billions
’.  I just want to know when the Premier changed his mind."

The PCs have joined with the Liberals in imposing legislation on teachers and school board workers, so they may well come together for future legislation as well.  

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