Hundreds of Manitoba Hydro employees will be receiving pink slips starting this week to help with cost-saving measures during the coronavirus pandemic.
About 600 to 700 employees will be temporarily laid off for the next four months, Manitoba Hydro confirmed Monday.
“As requested by the province, Manitoba Hydro has been reviewing its operations to find cost and labour savings to help support the government’s fight against COVID-19,” Hydro spokesperson Bruce Owen said in an email statement to Global News.
“All layoffs will follow the provisions of the collective agreements with Manitoba Hydro’s bargaining units.”
Hydro employees received a memo from president and CEO Jay Grewal that said the Crown corporation had hoped to avoid layoffs but had no other choice.
“We’ve been able to find over $63 million of the needed cost reductions. Another $12 million in savings was realized by, where ever, possible not filling vacant or seasonal positions,” the memo read.
“Regrettably, this achievement still leaves us about $11 million, or 13 per cent, short of the finish line.”
Grewal said Hydro’s leadership team will be working with directors and managers in the coming days to identify “employees critical to short-term business needs and service delivery. We will then make decisions about temporary layoffs based on that assessment.”
Read the full memo here:
“This is reckless. Manitoba Hydro is an essential public service that is operating at full capacity throughout this pandemic,” Michelle Bergen, president of CUPE Local 998, said in a statement from unions representing Manitoba Hydro employees.
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“(Premier Brian) Pallister has had his eyes on our public Hydro since he was elected in 2016. Pallister’s cuts are not to support the fight against COVID-19, they are purely political. This will be devastating.”
The unions said a number of previous job cuts and wage freezes for workers at the utility have left no room for more job cuts.
“Hydro is an essential service, we are frontline workers, we provide power to the province and we can’t do that with such devastating cuts,” Bergen said. “There’s no business case for these mass layoffs. So yes, we’re upset, we’re angry, and we intend to fight back.”
Late Monday afternoon, Bergen said the unions still haven’t been told which workers will be affected by the layoffs.
Leader of the Opposition Wab Kinew said the cuts had nothing to do with layoffs and claimed they were setting the stage for the privatization of the Crown corporation.
“Hydro itself has said more layoffs would put the safety of workers, Manitobans and the services they rely on at risk—something we can’t afford in the middle of a pandemic,” he said.
“But rather than invest in services and protect jobs, the Premier ordered the biggest single-day budget cut in Manitoba’s history.”
Kinew also noted the Manitobans could see the impact of the layoffs on their hydro bills.
“It’s probably going to raise the cost of your hydro bill in the winter, because all the work that 700 people did still needs to be done” Kinew said. “But now Hydro is going to have to farm it out and they’re going to have to pay a premium to do so.”
“This is going to make the quality of Manitoba Hydro worse, it’s going to make your bills more expensive, and putting that many Manitobans out of work right now is just a bad idea.”
In an emailed statement to Global News, a spokesperson for Crown Services Minister Jeff Wharton said the province’s number one priority is fighting COVID-19 and protecting the healthcare system.
“As part of its own workforce strategy Manitoba Hydro’s management is proposing a workforce expense reduction of just 1.8 per cent over the 2020/21 year,” the spokesperson said in the emailed statement. “How it goes about that plan is between it and its unions, but we expect it will pursue all constructive efforts to minimize layoffs.”
— With files from Marney Blunt.