WINNIPEG –Manitoba legislature members are taking a voluntary pay freeze as the government eyes possible wage and benefit concessions for public-sector workers.
Premier Brian Pallister announced Wednesday that his 39-member caucus will forgo a 1.6 per cent cost-of-living increase that was set to kick in April 1. The wage freeze is to continue until the next election, expected in 2020.
“When you ask a worker in the civil service to take a zero (per cent wage increase), I know what that’s like … and that’s not easy for any family,” Pallister said.
“And if we’re asking other people to do it, then we should say, ‘Us first.’ “
The New Democrats and Liberals quickly followed suit and announced they, too, will freeze their wages as the government wrestles with a $1-billion deficit.
NDP labour critic Tom Lindsey said a wage freeze is the least Pallister could do, because the government has mused about going much further with public-sector workers –musing about unpaid days off, reduced pension benefits and reopening collective agreements.
The Manitoba Government and General Employees Union said its members have already faced restraint in recent years.
“Our members have already agreed, at the bargaining table, to two years of wage freezes to help with the deficit. They don’t need any lectures on sacrifices to help the province’s bottom line,” union president Michelle Gawronsky said in a written statement.
Gawronsky said the premier’s salary is about four times that of a health-care aide.
The government has promised legislation this spring to control the growth in public-sector salary costs and has put a wide variety of options on the table. Pallister has said he won’t decide until the government consults with union leaders, although two meetings so far have not yielded any results.
Before being elected last April, Pallister promised to balance the budget within eight years and to cut the number of cabinet ministers to 12 from 19.
The previous NDP government froze politician salaries for four years starting in 2010, and negotiated wage freezes in the civil service in exchange for no-layoff provisions.
Members of the Manitoba legislature make $93,000 a year as a base salary. Cabinet ministers get a total of $144,000, while the premier earns $170,000. A 2012 report from the independent commissioner who decides political salaries said Manitoba legislature members were the third-lowest paid among the provinces.