Premier Brian Pallister says he will be asking non-essential government workers to consider a reduced work week in an effort to save money during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Manitoba premier said he will be talking with “more than a dozen” public sector unions later Tuesday to discuss the proposed measure, which would affect civil servants and Crown corporation workers who are not on the front line.
“It doesn’t solve all our problems. It’s not designed to, but it does give a chance for all of us who are not on the front line to support those who are,” Pallister said.
Global News has confirmed nearly 20 union leaders were invited to the Tuesday afternoon meeting.
These unions represent both core and summary entities of government, excluding health care sector and teachers.
The savings from the reduced work week “might generate about a dime toward the dollar” that Manitoba must borrow this year, Pallister said. However, he said the province will still need to borrow billions to help get Manitobans through the pandemic.
The premier said details are still being worked out but said it could mean workers spend two days on the job a week while collecting federal benefits for the other three days.
“They’d be at about three quarters of their regular salary through that next four months in the middle of Manitoba summer with a lot of them their kids at home.”
The hope is to avoid layoffs, he said, giving a possible example of an employee working two days a week and going on employment insurance for three days a week during the summer “when their kids are home already.”
“We don’t think that’s too much to ask.”
The measure would be temporary, Pallister said, but there is no definitive end-time at this point.
“I say that having the ability to work part time and to get paid for three quarter time, approximately or two thirds time is better than being laid off.”
Pallister is looking at the Federal Work Sharing program to make this work.
Worksharing is a program available through the Employment Insurance (EI) program.
As an example, if a business had 100 workers, but only had work for two-thirds of them, they would have a choice. They could lay off a third of the workers, or they could lay off none of them but have every employee work three days a week, and collect EI for the remaining two days.
“We have paid into, as a government over the last 10 years, more than $2 billion in employee and employer contributions funded by the taxpayers of Manitoba,” Pallister said. “More than $2 billion has gone into that program.”
But currently, Work Sharing is not available to public sector employees. The Manitoba government has previously had approval from the federal government to loosen the stipulations in the past week to allow crown corporations to be eligible.
Now, the government needs Ottawa to make central government employees eligible.
Asked if MLAs would also take a reduction in hours, Pallister said MLAs have already “taken a pay cut.”
Earlier this year, PC MLAs refused their standard raise after a four-year wage freeze for all MLAs. The basic pay for all MLAs is $94,513.
Manitoba lost 23,000 jobs in March, according to the latest jobs numbers released by Statistics Canada.
Pallister also announced that front-line health-care workers will get 14 days of administrative leave if they need to self-isolate due to COVID-19.
Previously, those who got sick or were exposed to the virus had to use sick or vacation time for their leave.
Pallister said all front-line workers in the health-care sector will qualify.
The administrative leave will be retroactive until March 1, 2020.
There were four new cases of COVID-19 in Manitoba as of Monday. A probable case was determined to be a false positive, so the case count stands at 246.
Eight people are hospitalized, four in an intensive care unit. Four people have died and 99 have recovered.
Those numbers will be updated at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
On Monday, Pallister announced a $4-million bureaucratic measure to help small businesses access federal funding.
–With files from the Canadian Press
Watch the entire press conference here:
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