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Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government faced protesting students and the threat of a labour lawsuit Monday as it moved to freeze public-sector wages and raise post-secondary tuition fees.

A bill introduced in the legislature would force a two-year wage freeze on public-sector workers  including teachers, nurses, and doctors who are paid through fees – when their current collective agreements expire.

They would receive a 0.75 per cent pay increase in the third year and one per cent in the fourth.

“We’re taking a moderate and reasonable approach here that we think will put us on the road to recovery in this province,” Premier Brian Pallister said.

While he described the bill as fair because it does not call for existing contracts to be reopened, a top provincial labour leader said the government is interfering in collective bargaining and the bill could face a court challenge.

“We want to work together to balance the budget and we think we can do that at the bargaining table,” said Kevin Rebeck, President of the Manitoba Federation of Labour.

“Them limiting our ability to do so isn’t fair and isn’t reasonable.”

Finance Minister Cameron Friesen wouldn’t rule out further moves to cut labour costs. The government has already floated ideas such as cutting pension benefits or forcing workers to take unpaid days off.

“Our conversations with labour are ongoing. They don’t stop here,” Friesen said.

Source: The Canadian Press

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