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Manitoba Hydro asks unionized workers to take unpaid days off

Manitoba Hydro workers perform maintenance during a shoot with Focus Manitoba. Global News file

Manitoba Hydro is offering workers unpaid days off in an attempt to cut costs during the COVID-19 pandemic as a less severe measure than the layoffs that were proposed earlier this month.

In an email to employees Friday, Manitoba Hydro president Jay Grewal said executives, managers and engineers will take three unpaid days off before the fiscal year ends next March, and a similar option was being discussed with unionized workers.

“Our unions have been asked to respond by Wednesday of next week,” Grewal wrote.

READ MORE: Manitoba Hydro laying off hundreds of employees in $11M cost-saving measure

Three weeks ago, the utility was seeking short-term salary reductions or up to 700 temporary layoffs to meet a directive from the Progressive Conservative government to cut $10.7 million. The government has also ordered universities, school divisions and other publicly funded bodies to cut labour costs to help lessen the pandemic’s fiscal fallout.

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Manitoba Hydro says it managed to find millions of dollars in savings through early retirements, managing vacant positions, among other things. Combined with the unpaid days off for executives, managers and engineers announced Friday, that leaves only $4.3 million to cut.

“Three days of unpaid leave for every employee would eliminate layoffs entirely,” Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen wrote in an email.

Click to play video: 'Manitoba Premier defends cuts to public service, crown corporations during COVID-19' Manitoba Premier defends cuts to public service, crown corporations during COVID-19
Manitoba Premier defends cuts to public service, crown corporations during COVID-19 – May 12, 2020

The Canadian Union of Public Employees, which represents some 900 office and technical workers at the Crown corporation, said the cuts are not justified.

“CUPE Manitoba Hydro workers are front-line workers. We are essential staff,” said Michelle Bergen, president of CUPE Local 998. “We have been in 100 per cent operation since this pandemic started.”

–With files from 680 CJOB’s Dan Vadeboncoeur

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