Q25. What is Bill 148? How is it connected to Bill 75?

A25. Bill 148 is a piece of labour-relations legislation that passed through all stages of the law-making process in December 2015 but has not yet been proclaimed in force.

The correct name of Bill 148 is the Public Sector Sustainability (2015) Act. That name is hard to remember, so most people still call it Bill 148.

Bill 148 does two things:

  1. It imposes the government’s four-year fiscal framework on all public-sector employees, including teachers. (The most prominent part of the framework is wage increases of 0% in the first year, 0% in the second year, 1.0% in the third year, 1.5% in the fourth year, and another 0.5% at the end of the fourth year.)
  2. It forbids any arbitrator from making an award outside the fiscal framework. (Arbitration is a common process by which labour-relations disputes are decided if collective bargaining does not result in an agreement. An arbitrator is like a judge or referee. The two sides in the labour dispute present their arguments, and then the arbitrator makes a final decision.)

Even though Bill 148 passed through the legislature and received Royal Assent, it is not yet in force. That’s because Bill 148 is subject to proclamation. A bill that is subject to proclamation comes into force only when Cabinet issues an order saying that it is in force. Proclamation can happen at any time, or it may never happen. Proclamation does not require any further action by the House of Assembly.

The McNeil government has not yet proclaimed Bill 148 because it does not yet need to. When Bill 148 was passed, the McNeil government still hoped to reach agreements through collective bargaining. If collective bargaining breaks down and any public-sector labour dispute reaches the arbitration stage, it is likely Bill 148 will be proclaimed.

The dispute with teachers is unlikely to go to arbitration. The Teachers’ Collective Bargaining Act says that arbitration is a possibility, but only if both sides agree. The McNeil government says it will not agree to arbitration with teachers.

Unlike teachers, some other public-sector workers have a mandatory arbitration clause in their contract or in legislation. It is for these workers that the McNeil government might need to proclaim Bill 148.

Once Bill 148 is proclaimed, it applies to everybody in the public sector, including teachers. (The premier has said that he can apply Bill 148 on a union-by-union basis, but I don’t think he’s correct. That’s just my opinion, based on a reading of Bill 148.)

Even if Bill 148 is proclaimed, teachers could still go on strike. That’s because Bill 148, unlike Bill 75, does not impose an entire professional agreement. All it does is impose a compensation plan and change the service awards.

Some people believe that Bill 148 is unconstitutional. If it is, then it cannot be enforced. The same constitutional question has been raised about Bill 75.